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Six things COVID-19 has taught us about crisis communications

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Join our discussion around what businesses have learned and are continuing to learn about crisis communications, focusing on the ever greater role internal comms is now playing within organizations.
6 things covid crisis social us

Unsurprisingly we’ve been talking about crisis communications a lot over the last few weeks. We continue to be amazed by the incredible work our community has been doing as we continue to operate in this strange new world.

Today we were able to explore our collective learnings further in our webinar, Six things COVID-19 has taught us about IC crisis communications. Hosted by SimplyIC, our very own internal communications expert, Chuck Gose, was joined by Giulia Cherbavaz, media manager at ConvaTec and Bridget Therriault, strategic communications and corporate affairs leader at Main Line Health and Stephanie Sobala, internal communications manager, also at Main Line Health. During the webinar they shared how they have adapted communications at a rapid pace to reach all employees, across their entire organizations.  

As Chuck highlighted it’s a very different world for all of us now — as business leaders, as managers or indeed, as employees. Communications professionals have never been under so much pressure to step up and lead their organizations through this time, quickly guiding their leaders and colleagues through the maze to deliver meaningful, honest and immediate communications for all employees.

So what were the six things that our guest speakers have learned about crisis communications at this time?

1. We were not prepared, but how could we be?

When something hits you, completely unexpectedly, the best approach is to go back to basics but move fast. ConvaTec formed a rapid response team a week ahead of the lockdown in the UK. Drawing upon key individuals across the organization they were able to offer immediate support to employees while making decisions and actioning them straight away. 

Providing sound communications and acting quickly reassured people and helped them to become a united team. People on the manufacturing floor may be tired, management and comms may be tired but they’re pulling together to provide critical services to their clients and to support one another no matter what.

2. Out of necessity, anything is possible

Businesses can adapt quickly when needs really must. Elements of business transformation projects can be deployed immediately (rather than rolled out in phases over months) when there is no other choice and you will find that the previous resistance to change dissolves in an instant. As Giulia noted, “There’s nothing like a pandemic to break the last part of resistance to digital transformation.” 

People quickly accept and adapt to their new circumstances and some of the old school rules are broken. CEOs are now holding town hall meetings via video link from their kitchens. Formality becomes less relevant and the human connection starts to flourish.

3. People are incredible

We’re social creatures by nature. Technology is enabling people to connect like never before and share their incredible stories and experiences. It’s enabling them to volunteer, whether that be from a medical support point of view in their community or indeed to support colleagues and their families during this difficult time.

Every person has to juggle their lives right now – working from small spaces at home,  home-schooling their children while juggling the daily chores – the experience is being shared and so is the support. As we share that vulnerability we are able to show greater appreciation and humility to those around us.

4. Transparency itself is a message

Never doubt the importance of open and honest communications in a time like this. Not only will it drive greater levels of trust across your workforce but it will naturally transcend from your employees across to your customers, business partners and suppliers. 

If you’re transparent and the people you work with trust you then the people you serve will put their faith in you too.

5. In a crisis, people crave connection

As the Edelman Trust Barometer highlighted the most trusted source of information is employer communications. Despite the non-stop news stories people don’t want scaremongering, they want information from a source they can trust. They want powerful stories but they also want good news or fun stories too, pictures of pets joining in the home schooling or work, a distraction that can also unite.

Our speakers also highlighted that employees want to access your news wherever they may be. By adopting a multi-channel approach they’ve been able to ensure that people can be reached wherever they are. Be that working at home or on the manufacturing floor while producing the life saving components to ventilators and diabetes machines or sitting with incredibly ill patients suffering from the virus. Businesses are finding that connecting with every single employee, however and whenever they want is critical at this time.

6. A crisis is a true test of your brand

Every business and every person will have their own story, their own experiences to share from the pandemic. Those organizations that act with humility, support their people through the heartache and worries while also celebrating one another’s successes will show their true selves. Your brand and your people are being tested in more ways than you could have ever imagined and if successful you will be celebrated for your actions as we begin to move forward.

There is no doubt that internal communications has played a critical role in carrying businesses through this crisis. While the peak of the first COVID-19 wave might be passing, our work is far from done. The ability to remain agile and transparent while reassuring employees is critical to any organization’s survival. And as we’ve learned internal communications doesn’t just impact your workforce but permeates across your external audience too. We must not forget the lessons learned to date as we continue to adapt, evolve and move forward.

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Sonia Fiorenza

Sonia Fiorenza

Sonia Fiorenza leads Stratgic Advisory Services and develops communications and engagement strategies for SocialChorus. Sonia has more than 20 years experience in Corporate Communications at Fortune 500 companies across the financial services, biotechnology, and retail industries.

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