How to create a company communication plan for times of crisis
Follow these steps to develop and implement an effective communication plan for your business during the coronavirus crisis:
1. Develop a crisis management team
Establish a diverse team of five to seven individuals with varying perspectives and from different departments within your organization, such as health, safety and environment, legal, sales, operations, communications, human resources, marketing, and supply chain. Forming a small group streamlines communication, and helps to represent many teams at once, while creating representative support for your customers. Once you have a team of representatives for your company, decide on the best structure for leadership and decision-making. For example, determine who is in charge of making the final decision and who they need to inform. This team needs to meet regularly, act as the primary source of information during the crisis, provide regular updates, remain transparent and communicate as concisely as possible.
Once you identify your team, here is a great first agenda to discuss:
- Perform a SWOT analysis to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats regarding cleanliness protocols and protective equipment that your organization needs to combat COVID-19.
- Consult the World Health Organization’s (WHO) advice and guidelines for business travel during the coronavirus pandemic. Individuals who have traveled to a country that is currently under a national travel advisory, or have been around someone who has, must stay at home and self-quarantine for two weeks. How can you communicate this appropriately internally?
- Create protocols to ensure efficient and consistent messaging, such as establishing a timeline for regular updates and developing tone guidelines for all communication channels.
- Appoint specific members of the crisis management team who handle all internal and external communication, such as employees in marketing and public relations and human resources.
To help you get started, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has created an Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers that you can use to guide you and your crisis management team through planning, preparing and responding to the coronavirus crisis.
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2. Monitor updates and communications from your industry’s associations and public health organizations
It’s important that you rely on reputable sources for updates about COVID-19 to ensure that you’re providing the most accurate and up-to-date information to your stakeholders and making operational decisions based on that information. Seek resources from medical and scientific officials, such as the CDC, WHO, or similar national government health organizations in different countries. Follow these organizations on social media and create time daily or every other day to check their communications for updates.
Here are a few resources from WHO with reliable information about the coronavirus:
- A Q&A about COVID-19
- A resource that dispels myths surrounding the coronavirus
- Daily updates regarding the status of COVID-19
3. Develop plans for your organizational functions
Your crisis management team must develop procedures for how to handle an outbreak in or near your organization to ensure employees and customers or clients stay safe.
Establish protocols for:
- What would need to be the first, second, and third priorities should an outbreak occur?
- Who is the final decision maker in each department? Overall?
- Which individuals would need to be informed?
- How to issue updates about the situation to all parties involved using one consistent method of communication
4. Create an external communication plan for customers and partners
In order to develop an effective communication plan, first must evaluate the needs of your audience. Identify the key stakeholders who require updates from your organization, and determine what information they need, what purpose it serves, and who needs it first. Center your communication efforts around compliance, practice, and empowerment by delivering information in a friendly and accessible manner from one, consistent channel of communication.
Establish communications and messaging strategies for each unique audience that include:
- Assigning an individual in charge of leading communications for each audience
- Messaging tools needed to communicate with each audience, including website, email, texts, blog and social media
- Tone that you plan to use in all communications
Establish a human resources plan
If your industry and organization allow employees to work from home, you must establish the rules and policies regarding telecommuting accountability. You also need to assess whether the coronavirus crisis affects your company’s ability to pay its employees, make any changes to the organizational or pay structure, and develop strategies to minimize the effects on your staff. Collaborate with your human resources staff to ensure staff has all necessary equipment as they work at home, make any new accommodations for pay (if needed) and provide information on any additional benefits offered through health insurance providers to assist during the outbreak.
If needed, create an initial list of work from home policies for employees that include what tools and resources they should take home from the office, expectations on employee work hours, and whether or not your company will subsidize resources like office supplies and furniture.
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6. Communicate with your employees
It is extremely important that you regularly communicate with your employees throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Aside from passing along educational resources to keep them informed, like this WHO document on using personal protective equipment, provide your staff with information about how your company is preparing for the impacts directly related to coronavirus. By regularly communicating the ongoing developments within your organization, you are building trust among your team members. Create a folder or “source of truth” for updates and resources. Use one consistent channel of communication with employees when providing updates to avoid confusion.
If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, be sure to inform all employees that they have potentially been exposed to the virus. Additionally, ask any employee who is sick or experiencing symptoms of respiratory illness to stay at home until they have been fever-free for a full 24 hours. The CDC has identified multiple risk categories that may be beneficial to share with your staff.
7. Regularly communicate with clients and customers
Foster confidence and trust with your clients and customers during a crisis like coronavirus by identifying their concerns and creating messaging that assures your clients that your company has done and is doing everything in its power to maintain consistent and safe delivery of their services and products. If you are expecting changes, such as substitutions or other delays in processes, keep your customers informed to demonstrate your gratitude for their patronage.
Communicate the measures that your organization has taken to protect them from exposure to COVID-19, and provide helpful quick-read resources to answer any questions or concerns, such as through an FAQ sheet or dedicated hotline. Though it’s important that you are constantly communicating with customers throughout the crisis, you need to maintain this sharing of information once things start returning to normalcy to continue building trust.
8. Reassure the shareholders
The COVID-19 outbreak may impact businesses of all sizes in terms of operations and earnings, so maintain transparent communications with your company’s shareholders about these challenges and provide them with a plan for addressing them. If the travel restrictions still apply, you may also need to make arrangements for a video conference instead of your annual shareholder meeting.
9. Prepare for questions from the media
Your crisis management team needs to also prepare statements for the press concerning the impact of COVID-19 on your clients and business functions. Have your team collaborate on messaging that focuses on company-specific news and updates, including whether your company has knowledge of any contact with the virus. Consider also mentioning how you plan to continue to meet customer needs, what advice you are giving to your staff so they remain healthy and any policies you have developed relating to the pandemic.
10. Take an active role in the community
The outbreak impacts companies and communities alike, so make plans to decrease the negative impact of COVID-19 in your business’s local community to enhance your organization’s relationships. Some options include:
- Providing transparent communication about the changes that are happening within the company that may impact others in your community
- Giving the local media information that the local community will find helpful or reassuring, which serves to also strengthen your company’s credibility
- Helping people under quarantine or others without access to necessary goods and supplies by passing out food or cleaning supplies
Examples of business communications during a crisis
Here are a few examples of effective company messaging during the COVID-19 outbreak:
Since our inception, we have always been committed to providing an environment that is clean, safe and comfortable for our guests. In light of this unprecedented time, we have decided that the best way to uphold these values is to suspend all operations until further notice. We apologize to our guests with existing reservations, but we feel this is in the best interest of both our customers and our staff. We will be providing flexible rescheduling options and hope to see you all soon.
We have always ensured that we keep a clean and safe space for our patrons, and we are constantly monitoring the CDC for updates to safety regulations during this virus outbreak. In order to continue safely serving the community that we love, we are closing our dining area and offering take out and delivery only. We feel that this is the best way for us to take care of the wellbeing of those around us while still serving you the food you love.
We value our clients, employees and the work that we do. In light of the coronavirus crisis, we have transitioned into a remote working structure so that we can preserve all three. Though our staff will be working from home, our operations should remain unaffected. We will continue to update you with any additional changes that may need to be made as we all strive to overcome this trying time.