Are you responsible for communicating COVID-19 updates in your organisation? If so, this article will help you.
I’ve collated advice and guidance to share the resources my clients and I are using. You’ll also find a list of suggested questions for you to source the answers for inside your company.
Over the past week I’ve noticed a shift from keep calm and carry on messaging to we’re still calm, but trying to be prepared and educate ourselves.
10 March update – further reading via the All Things IC blog: Free crisis communication guide.
3 March update – further reading via the All Things IC blog: How to use tech to communicate with employees during COVID-19.
What is it?
COVID-19 is an airborne high consequence infectious disease (HCID). It’s a virus causing severe lung disease. As I write this on 2 March 2020, there are 88,930 confirmed cases with 3,043 deaths and 65 countries with cases.
Where to get accurate information from
My advice is to refer to official sources of health information when you are trying to communicate inside your organisation.
Feeling overwhelmed? Don’t be, you’re not expected to be a medical expert. I’m not, you’re not.
However, there are some excellent official resources around that you can point your people towards. I’ve collated them below for you.
As ever, I encourage you to think about mapping the Known Knowns and Known Unknowns. You’re welcome to download the Knowns and Unknowns document I use when I’m working on crisis or Change Comms. If you’ve been to my Change Comms Masterclass, this will be familiar to you.
I’ve been encouraging my clients to use these sites for health information related to COVID-19: Public Health England’s website, the dedicated NHS website https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19, the Health Service Executive, the World Health Organization (see below) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Based in the UK? This website has the latest Government response.
This website gives you the latest statistics.
8 March 2020 update: This website has details about each country, confirming number of confirmed cases, deaths and recovered.
What to think about
Here is some of the advice I’ve been sharing with my clients:
Source of truth
Make sure you know where the source of truth is in your organisation. Is it your intranet? Line managers? Do they contain/have the relevant information so your people can make informed decisions? (Regular readers of my blog will know my unscientific test for this is snow comms – if it snowed, would people refer to their people managers or intranet first?).
What are the rumours? Consider publishing myth-busters if you have rumours re: home-working / self-isolation happening in your company. See above – you need a source of truth where you publish credible, accurate and reliable information.
For medical information, refer to any of the sites I’ve listed in this blog.
Consider creating a glossary. There are a few unusual terms around e.g. self-isolation. You may know what it means based on medical websites, but what does it mean for your organisation?
What it means for your company
For company-specific information, you need to firstly know what people are talking about, then point them towards accurate and reliable information. This could be a Q&A section of your intranet, a conversation thread on Yammer or a line managers’ briefing.
The method doesn’t matter, what’s in it does – if you’re creating content, make sure your employees know where to go to discover the latest situation and be able to ask questions – you need to have two-way mechanisms in place. This is not the time for broadcasting. .
In crisis situations, my rule is to give certainty of communication, even if I can’t give certainty of content. I recommend doing the same for COVID-19.
This means statements like we will keep the intranet updated daily. Then you need to stick to that. It becomes your source of truth. Yes sometimes the update will say there is nothing new to add, yesterday’s information still stands. You’re still providing an update (certainty of communication).
In my experience, when you say nothing, employees fill in the gaps or think you have something to hide. Ideally to champion the two-way element, you need comments on and you need to monitor what is coming in from employees so you can respond. Sentiment analysis on enterprise social networks will help you see at a glance.
Work with your internal network
Create a guiding coalition (this will be familiar to Kotter fans if you’ve studied Change Comms). This is essentially a group of decision makers, typically Comms, HR, IT, Facilities and Legal in situations like this who make decisions e.g. who is providing equipment if employees are able to work from home, are you closing sites etc.
Tip: Don’t forget to update your employee assistance provider (EAP) if you are making internal decisions they need to be aware of.
Official resources you can refer to
Dedicated section of NHS 111 online:
Public Health Wales
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Questions to answer internally
Thank you to the internal communication practitioner who shared their Q&A document with me today.
These are the questions organisations are creating answers to inside their companies.
Tip: Work with HR to make sure you are joined up in the advice you’re giving employees..
Here’s a suggested list for you to answer internally and publish.
- Should our people still be expected to travel for work?
- Are there any restrictions on personal travel?
- What should people do if they have travelled to an at-risk area recently?
- What should people do if they have visited a workplace that has subsequently been identified as having a case of Coronavirus?
- What should people do if they feel unwell at work?
- What are the arrangements for someone who decides to self-isolate?
- What if people within my team don’t want to come into the office but have not been told to self-isolate?
- What considerations should we have when arranging/attending industry events involving large numbers of people?
- Where can I go for further and current information?
- What’s happening in the background that I might not be aware of?
- What will happen to people’s holiday allowance if they need to cancel plans to travel?
- What happens if we have a confirmed case and the employee affected has been in the office?
- Do we have any different arrangements for people who may have a reduced immune system?
- What if I cannot attend work as my child’s school is closed?
- Is there a chance that the office will become temporarily inaccessible?
Resources you can download from the World Health Organization
There has been a lot of talk about masks. The World Health Organization has resources you can refer to including this video and advice:
- If you are healthy, you only need to wear a mask if you are taking care of a person with suspected 2019-nCoV infection.
- Wear a mask if you are coughing or sneezing.
- Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water.
- If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly.
- How to lead your business through the Coronavirus crisis – Harvard Business Review.
- Employee communications and the coronavirus – what you need to know, by Poppulo.
- Corporates focus on internal comms as coronavirus fears grow – thank you PRovokemedia for highlighting this to me.
- Where to get fact-based information from – by Stephen Waddington.
- How to plan your first virtual conference.
- Using Workplace to stay connected to your activity.
Prudential Singapore created this video:
What are companies doing?
I asked on Twitter this morning @AllthingsIC for internal communication practitioners to share what they’re doing. Thank you to the Comms pros who responded.
Simply-communicate will be hosting a webinar on 3 March 2020. If you’d like to attend and you’re an IC practitioner, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Kim’s Remote Worker manifesto at Pearson she mentions below can be accessed online.
I hope this is helpful.
If you have an example to share of the work you’re doing, feel free to contact me or comment below.
Don’t panic, do your thinking, be prepared and keep referring to official sources.
Thank you for stopping by
First published on the All Things IC blog 2 March 2020.
Coronavirus image credit: Gov.uk.