Linda Dunbar, Global PR and Corporate Communications Strategist
It goes without saying that in a global pandemic, organizations need internal communications more than ever. Every crisis is different but there is commonality among crises. Unfortunately, this pandemic is a perfect example. Just a short time ago, the coronavirus wasn’t on anyone’s radar. Now, it’s the only thing anyone is talking about. Like most crises, it’s a surprise, but looking in the rearview mirror maybe we should have seen it coming. And now that we know we have a crisis, we know we don’t have all of the answers and we don’t know when or if we’ll get them.
What should organizations be thinking about at a time like this when it comes to internal communications? In times of trouble, internal communications serves up information. But more importantly, it offers reassurance.
Five tips for leading, coping, and providing reassurance in extraordinary times.
- Tell the truth. – The truth is not always pleasant but it is reassuring. In a time when people may feel unsure and confused it is reassuring to know the facts. Whatever you know that you can share, share it in a timely manner. Be diplomatic and deliberate in your delivery but don’t sugarcoat.
- Get leadership out and about in-person or virtually. — Hearing directly from leadership is reassuring. In time of crisis, people like to know someone is in charge and thinking of their welfare. In this case, that means their wellness. It also means the wellness of the business. After the crisis is over, they may not remember exactly what you said but they will remember how you made them feel. How you respond in crisis and how you make employees feel will be your company talent retention brand long after the crisis ends.
- Strike the right balance in your internal communications cadence. – But don’t worry if the cadence is not perfect. Under the current circumstances, it’s better to communicate more than usual. However, employees are inundated with information about the coronavirus at this point. Consider ways to help staff focus on what they need to know, what the facts are, and what is expected of them. A regular cadence of information is important but not so much as to cause employees to tune out or increase existing anxiety or create panic.
- Help managers and employees cope. – Find ways to help managers brush up on their leadership skills. Different skills sets are required to manage remote staff as well as staff who are in the office but may be feeling ill at ease. If this situation goes on longer than three weeks – and it most likely will – companies are going to have to reexamine how they approach work. And employees will need to pitch in together. At the moment, I suspect that people working from home are working “solo”, getting what they need to get done done. Over time, teams will need to coalesce as teams and find ways to be connected to the organization to prevent “social distancing” from becoming isolation.
- Don’t be afraid to be human. – In some industries, love, kindness, and compassion are alien concepts reserved for the weak. But I have never heard a eulogy praising anyone for being ruthlessly competitive and unkind in the workplace. In the best of times, it’s good to remember we don’t know what other people are struggling with. Keep it professional but also be kind — these are strange times.
About the Author: Linda Dunbar is a global PR and corporate communications consultant, strategist, business enthusiast, and lifelong learner. A communications architect who builds corporate brands, she has extensive leadership experience in PR, media relations, corporate communications, and international strategic planning at dynamic, top-tier, global Fortune 500 companies. Her passion is helping companies tell their stories internally and externally in good times and bad. Linda has previously held communications leadership roles at organizations including Sterling Bancorp., Dow Jones, Ford Motor Company, and the American Institute of CPAs as well as at entrepreneurial PR ventures. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies from Princeton University and a Master’s in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School, jointly administered by Harvard and Tufts Universities. She can be reached at LindaDunbar24@gmail.com.