As of this writing, the coronavirus crisis is far from over. Effectively meeting the unique challenges it poses in the weeks and months to come will require companies to plan bold new strategies for internal communication. Will doing so finally give communicators a seat at the table?
As the coronavirus continues its spread around the globe, internal communication is more than ever in focus. For many companies, production has been halted, shops are closed, and millions are working part time or from their home offices, if they're lucky to be working at all. But now is an important time to look ahead.
The first stage of this crisis has been intense, but the second stage is likely to be spread out over several months. In regard to internal communication, it has been necessary for many new methods to be put into practice quickly and for the first time, but they are only a prelude to what’s to come.
How will we know when it’s time to return to normal, and will it look anything like the “normal” we knew before? Or will there be a new normal?
Answering these questions will be a big challenge for us all, but for internal communicators they also present a great opportunity. Why? Because in times of crisis, employees crave information: 63% want to be informed at least daily, and 20% even want notifications several times a day.
Getting your people the news they need will be a matter of calm and strategic planning, concrete recommendations for action, and big-hearted efforts aimed at uniting your organization emotionally.
Staffbase wants to support you in this critical phase. We’ve developed a basic strategy template to help internal communicators plan for the days ahead. The template is described below and also available for download.
Release from Coronavirus Quarantine
A prolonged state of lockdown would mean incalculable medical, economic, social, and psychological damage, all of which in turn would be mutually reinforcing.
Luckily, in every scenario currently in circulation—which of course differ from country to country and region to region—one thing is relatively predictable: there will be a phase of gradual re-opening following the current lockdown phase, through which our public life and the economy will begin to operate again.
This second phase is expected to last until a vaccination is available. All estimates by serious scientists point to the year 2021.
The above graph is taken from a widely read and praised article that discusses possible scenarios for the further course of the coronavirus crisis. The two phases described are "The Hammer"—the initial suppression that includes heavy social distancing—and "The Dance"—the longer-term effort to keep the virus contained until there’s a vaccine.
For companies, returning to "the new normal" will proceed very differently depending on the industry and the global distribution of their workforces. But, as in the “hammer” phase, internal communication will play a decisive role in managing “the dance.”
Priority #1: Keeping the Threads Together
Right now, the first step internal communicators should take is to make a comprehensive assessment of the information and measures that are vital to the proper functioning of their workforces. The next step will be to devise a strategic concept for communicating this crucial information as effectively as possible. These initial steps should be designed to meet the most essential needs of your employees.
If your organization has previously developed an overarching communications strategy, then adapting it to your current circumstances is likely to be easier than starting from scratch. But, no matter your particular process, you’re likely to be covering new ground. As such, don’t worry if your communication threads initially run out of order; the important thing is to keep your messaging consistent.
It will make a big difference to your employees if they see their company speaking with one voice. Failing to do so will allow fake news, rumors, and contradictory statements to gain the upper hand. Don’t let this happen.
Why not approach this phase like a major transformation project? Most companies have well-rehearsed processes and procedures for such initiatives. The big difference here, and one that you can use to your advantage, is that your employees will already have a pronounced awareness of the gravity of the situation and its challenges. Because everyone is affected, everyone should understand the need for companies to adapt their strategy.
A Template for Your Communication Strategy
In order to help you in preparing for the “new normal,” we’ve developed a communication strategy template based on our customer experience and the widely used Business Model Canvas, initially developed to describe business models as simply but comprehensively as possible. The logic of the template can be easily transferred to other applications.
Using the canvas allows one to visualize the customers you serve, what value propositions are offered through what channels, and how your company makes money. In this case, we suggest that you use it to design a communications plan that meets your organization’s needs under the exceptional conditions we can all expect to face in the coming months.
The right side of the template refers to the target group: what they need to know and how to reach them. The left side refers to the stakeholders responsible for the design of your communication efforts. Both join together in the middle and represent actual goals for internal communicators, while the two bottom rectangles concern number-driven factors: on the left side are the costs and on the right side are the measurable results.
Examples in the gray-colored text are intended to give a rough orientation for how content can be described. Your specific content can and likely will look completely different.
There are many good suggestions for how to create your original template. They will also help as you develop your specific case.
An interesting model of different communication approaches, depending on the specific needs of your coronavirus communication, has been published here and can be particularly helpful in the development of your organization’s key messages and activities.
Here is another model from a personnel perspective.
2. Content Development
Content is best developed by a team.
As you begin to complete your template, you’ll notice that its clear framework and different areas can help you to focus your discussion, but also recognize deficiencies in your planning. For example, if organizational issues or important stakeholders are forgotten, the template can work as a checklist.
Completing this template should be enough to lay the foundation for your basic communication strategy. Keep it simple, bearing in mind that if your plans are too complicated, they will be impossible to understand.
In the startup world, companies often create evolving versions of this overview, which they try to improve again and again in discussions with investors, potential customers, and experts. This process can also be carried out by internal communication departments.
Just remember to stay pragmatic at the beginning and be ready to adapt your ideas as needed during implementation.
Idea: Print out your template in large print and hang it on the wall for easy viewing
3. Conclusion: Crises Also Present Opportunities
A common request from internal communications professionals, especially in English-speaking countries, is the desire for "a seat at the table." Communicators have longed to be involved in important management decisions and not simply thought of as corporate messengers.
The coronavirus crisis is providing many internal communicators with this very opportunity. Because the need for solid communication is greater than ever, communication now ranks high on the agendas of most CEOs.
In managing the coronavirus crisis, the power of communication has never had a better chance to show itself and play a leading role in companies large and small. But doing so means taking proactive measures toward actively tackling the challenges of the new normal by planning for how it’s likely to look and finding the tools that will enable you to take immediate action.
Four Benchmarks for a Return to Normalcy
How will officials know when it’s time to reopen public spaces and start to bring life back to normal? Researchers recently outlined some markers:
- Hospitals must be able to safely treat all patients requiring hospitalization, without resorting to crisis standards of care. That means having adequate beds, ventilators, and staff.
- The authorities must be able to test everyone who has symptoms, and to get reliable results quickly. That would be well more than 750,000 tests a week in the U.S.
- Health agencies must be able to monitor confirmed cases, trace contacts of the infected, and have at-risk people go into isolation or quarantine.
- There must be a sustained reduction in cases for at least 14 days, because it can take that long for symptoms to appear.
Source: The New York Times