Communicating through the blizzard

My thought of the day for Communicators: Snow comms should be like snowflakes – each one unique and tailored to your audience.

Like lots of Comms professionals, I’ve been up since the small hours drafting messages for employees, arranging for employee information lines (hotlines) to be updated and dialling into various conference calls with IT, Facilities, Security, HR etc, all from the relatively warm comfort of my home.

The ability to connect with employees regardless of your and their location really comes into its own when looking at crisis comms and business continuity plans (bcp).

What do I mean by the snowflake statement above? Well in order to give yourself a head start when responding to a crisis or looking at bcp communications, I think it makes sense to have a template to work from or at least an understanding of what has been said before.  It goes without saying that there will of course be certain unforeseen situations that you can do nothing to prepare for in advance. But of critical importance is remembering to tailor your new message to your audience and situation, just as you would with any other communication. Blanket statements which are too generic and leave employees with more questions than answers are less than ideal.

Who are they?
Bear in mind your audience – do you need to send separate messages eg to senior managers, line managers, frontline employees which includes different information for each group? If your frontline employees are not online, do they know where to get info from? What channels do you have in place that you can use – how do they usually hear information? If you rely on frontline managers, are you providing them with everything they need, do they need additional support?

Timing is everything
Remember to let employees know when they can next expect to hear information – this reduces the questions coming directly to the comms team and manages expectations. I’ve found that saying a hotline will be updated at a certain time or email will be sent at a specific time is helpful. Remember it’s also useful to say things like “at this point in time there is nothing further to add to previous communications, but we will update this information at X time”. The fact that you are constantly communicating is helpful, it’s ok to say you don’t have anything extra, just keep those lines open and keep in touch. Remember to listen as well as broadcast – are you providing ways for employees to ask questions and find out more? Are you using comms champions or social media? The opportunities are endless.

What are your experiences of crisis/bcp comms? Here are my top tips:

1)    Preparation is key
Can your comms team access their email, shared drives and send messages remotely to the whole organisation when not physically in the office?
Do they have all the mobile numbers they need pre-programmed into their phones and the relevant chargers etc at home? Does everyone know how to update information lines remotely? Top tip: Don’t keep access codes and instructions solely on email. If your system is down you won’t be able to get to the information you need – have a hard copy at home with instructions to follow and lists of phone numbers.
Can you prepare anything in advance – e.g. set up a conference call number for a cross-functional business continuity team or write basic statements as a starting point which you can tailor as required.

2)    Refresh your memory
What have you said before? Did you have ‘snow comms’ earlier this year? What did you say then? How do your employees expect to know information?

3)    Promote your crisis comms channels
If you have identified channels you will use solely for crisis communications, are your employees aware of them? For example if you have an employee information line, ensure you promote it all year round and encourage people to save the number in their mobiles so it is to hand if they need it. I’ve worked in companies that produce wallet-sized cards for employees containing info like this which are distributed during induction.

4)    Keep in touch
If you have a comms lead to respond to crisis or business continuity plans, remember to keep the rest of the comms team and your stakeholders updated about decisions and next steps.

5)    Review
Once the crisis is over have a review of how things went. What worked well, what could be improved for next time, what do you need to do differently? Ask employees for their feedback – what did they find helpful, what did they need?

Good luck to all communicators, both internal and external, who are ‘doing snow comms’ at the moment and stay safe out there, Rachel.

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