The coronavirus is spreading globally at a fast pace. So far now, more than 89,000 cases have been identified and health professionals keep finding new cases every day. But the coronavirus is also on economists and business experts’ radar as it’s severely impacting the global economy as well.
So far now, more than 1 million people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus.
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More and more health experts are describing the coronavirus pandemic as a public health crisis. But it goes without saying that the coronavirus is affecting the global economy as well. According to experts, the coronavirus could cost the global economy more than $1tn in lost output.
Some companies have started to close factories where coronavirus cases have been detected, airlines have canceled some of their flights (including direct flights from and to China), and more and more firms are dealing with the sudden adoption of remote work.
Even the most robust businesses seem to be affected by the pandemic — so far now, Apple, the Google parent Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, and Facebook have lost more than $200 billion in market value in a day from coronavirus fears.
Coronavirus fears hit global markets
Source: Recode by Vox
The thing is, the coronavirus pandemic is changing the game. A lot.
Businesses are reorganizing their teams, updating their road maps and changing their supply chain plans. Some businesses are even reviewing their long-term strategies.
Unsurprisingly, HR and IC teams are having a tough time.
They are urged to find effective ways to inform their employees about the virus and how it affects their daily work. And one of their top priorities is to avoid the spread of fear and panic across their organization.
The Coronavirus Crisis Is Changing the Internal Communication Landscape
Not only does the COVID-19 crisis impact businesses’ market values and sales, but it also changes companies’ organizational structures and internal processes.
In this context, businesses have no choice but to rethink their internal communication strategies and here’s why:
Remote Work Becomes the Norm
Several cities and regions around the world have been quarantined since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak. China and Italy have decided to quarantine entire cities and regions while other countries such as Germany, the US or South Korea are asking people to self-quarantine to avoid the spread of the virus.
Employees under quarantine have no choice but to work remotely and it becomes tricky for companies to run their internal communications smoothly.
How do you, as an employer, manage to instantly share the information your employees need to do their daily jobs when hundreds if not thousands of your employees are located in many different places? How do you keep the workplace productivity high and team collaboration strong when your teams are geographically dispersed? And how do you engage with your employees if most of them are working remotely?
Under “normal conditions", remote work comes with some challenges as you can see below: remote employees may feel disconnected, they may struggle to communicate with their colleagues, and it may be difficult for them to concentrate because of distractions.
But the thing is, because of the coronavirus outbreak, employees have to suddenly start working from home even though they are not used to it, and businesses have to find new ways of engaging with their workforce in no time.
The coronavirus is clearly changing the internal communication landscape.
Your Employees Want Clear Guidance
Panic is spreading at a fast pace and it’s entering the workplace.
Employees get confused, scared and worried. They naturally have a lot of questions. “What’s going on?”, “How are all the changes due to the coronavirus outbreak going to impact my work?”, “If the company’s market value is dropping, does that mean the company is going to reorganize the teams, does that mean I may lose my job?”
Your internal communication plays an essential role in this kind of situation. You need to inform your employees and answer their questions right away if you don’t want panic to lead to a crisis at your workplace!
Related: Crisis Communication — How to Communicate with Employees During a Crisis?
You can’t afford to leave your employees without addressing their concerns. And one particular topic your employees want to be informed about is the safety procedures. They want to have clear guidance and safety tips so they can protect themselves from the pandemic.
Indeed, even though a part of your workforce is working remotely, some of your employees are still working at the office or in factories while others are still traveling around the world as a part of their job.
They want you to communicate with them your safety procedures and to instantly inform them about any issue or risk they may face.
While some employees may ignore the safety procedures you usually share with them, they are paying high attention to the safety procedures related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Risk of Misinformation in the Workplace Is High
Right now, we don’t have a clear understanding of the coronavirus, how dangerous it is and how it’s going to affect us.
The same goes for your employees. They are worried and feel insecure.
“What if I’ve been working with a colleague who has symptoms, does that mean I may be in danger?”, “I’ve been working in a factory where a case has been detected, does that mean there are some risks for me?”
Governments are putting together official guidelines, but they're not effectively communicating them, which creates even more confusion, even in the workplace.
What's more, if you don’t inform your employees about the internal reorganization you’re implementing or the impacts the coronavirus is having on the business on time, they’re going to try to find the information by themselves.
They’ll start calling or messaging their colleagues to try to get as much information as they can about the consequences of the coronavirus on the business.
Related: 11 Reasons Why Business Communication is Critical to Your Company's Success
Employees start sharing what they know so far, even though the information is inaccurate. This is how fear and concerns around the coronavirus outbreak turn into rumors in the workplace, which leads to stronger fear and stress among your employees.
This is how you end up dealing with misinformation and a crisis in the workplace before you know it.
But keep in mind that employees may spread rumors and false information outside the organization as well through their posts on social media and the discussions they’re having with their peers.
You may want to rethink your internal communication to avoid such a situation!
Coronavirus & Internal Communication: How to Effectively Communicate with Your Employees During the Crisis?
Your internal communication is the glue that holds your business together and it plays an even more critical role in times of crisis, including pandemic crises such as the coronavirus.
So, what are the best ways to communicate with your employees during the coronavirus crisis?
We share below 5 of our internal communication best practices you can implement already now to effectively inform and engage with your employees during the coronavirus outbreak:
1. Inform Your Employees on Time
As mentioned earlier, not answering your employees’ questions right away may accelerate the spread of fear and rumors across your organization.
With the coronavirus we’re facing now, you can’t afford to say “I don’t know” or “I’ll get back to you on this matter when I’ll have more information” to your employees.
The trick here is to turn your current internal communication strategy into real-time communications.
But you can’t do that by hanging posters in your office or sharing pamphlets (remember, a part of your workforce may be working remotely) and sending out newsletters or sharing updates through your Intranet may not work either!
Indeed, only 13% of employees use their company Intranets and 2 in 3 employees ignore emails from their employers.
In times of crisis such as the coronavirus outbreak, you need to instantly notify your employees about any changes you’re launching and any business news related to the pandemic.
Your employees don’t have the luxury to wait for the critical information they need to do their job. That’s why you need to make it as easy (and fast) as possible for your employees to get the information they need.
The average employee spends 2.5 hours a day looking for the information they need in the workplace.Your employees can’t wait that long to get the information they need during the coronavirus crisis!
So make sure your employee communication platform allows you to instantly notify your employees about any changes or perturbations, for example on their mobile phones.
What’s more, you need to make sure that your employees can find right away the information they need.
And to do so, you can use your employee communication platform as an aggregator where your employees will find all the information shared through the different communication channels you’re using at your workplace. That way, you make sure that they don’t miss a beat.
2. Share the Right Updates With the Right Employees
Do you segment the content you’re sharing internally, do you personalize the messages you’re communicating with your employees? If not, you may want to start rethinking your internal communication!
Essentially, content segmentation is the key when it comes to building an effective internal communication.
You need to take into account the languages your employees speak as well as their location and their role within the organization so you can share content that resonates with them. Essentially, it’s all about sharing the right information with the right employees.
Segmenting your content is even more critical in times of crisis such as the coronavirus crisis.
It’s the only way you can stop rumors and misinformation from spreading across the organization. Imagine that one coronavirus case has been detected in one of your factories in Asia. You surely don’t want the panic going on in this factory to spread to the other factories you have in the world!
To avoid the panic to escalate in your organization, you’ll need to make sure you share with your employees the information they need.
And to do so, you can use your employee communications platform to segment your content based on locations, teams, and business units so your employees only receive the information they need, nothing else.
You can of course share company-wide news with your entire workforce, but make sure that you also have local content that you share with the right people.
Related: Top 5 Communication Skills and How to Improve Them
3. Use the Content Formats Your Employees Like
Whether your employees read your content and engage with it is critical to your business’s success, but it’s even more important in times of crisis.
Remember, 2 in 3 employees ignore emails from their employers. One of the main reasons why employees ignore messages from their employers is because they are not engaging or relevant enough to catch employees’ attention.
Your employees are not interested in reading broad and generic email newsletters. And let's be honest, they probably don’t have time to read long or safety guides, and they may be upset with outdated Intranets!
When it comes to the coronavirus crisis, you need your employees to carefully read your safety tips and any updates related to their daily work.
So make sure you use your employees’ favorite content formats when you communicate with them, whether those are short videos, infographics or short posts, and ensure that you’re communicating with your employees through their preferred communication channels, whether those are mobile apps, desktop, emails, or Intranet feeds.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re going to turn your entire internal communication ecosystem into a mobile app only!
Indeed, your workplace is probably multi-generational and you need to take into account your employees’ preferences when it comes to internal communication.
Some of your employees may prefer to be informed through the company Intranet because they are used to it, while others especially Millennials may prefer to receive notifications on their mobile phones.
Let your employees decide what communication channels they feel most comfortable with so you can successfully reach and engage with them!
4. Make It Easy for Your Employees to Ask Questions
As mentioned earlier, your employees have lots of questions about the impacts of the coronavirus outbreak on their work, the internal structure of the company, and sales revenue as well.
You can’t afford to leave your employees without answering their questions. If you do, you may spread fear and panic across the organization before you know it!
You need to find an easy way to collect and process the questions your employees may have.
One of the best ways to do so is by using your employee communications app as a platform where your employees can react to the updates you share internally by asking questions and sharing the concerns they may have.
For example, you can create channels exclusively dedicated to topics around the coronavirus outbreak, for example “Coronavirus - Breaking news”, “Coronavirus & supply chain”, “Coronavirus & safety procedures”, “Coronavirus & internal organization”... Create as many channels as you feel necessary to effectively inform your employees and let them ask their questions.
The way you’re going to use your employee communication platform to collect and answer your employees’ questions will also depend on the complexity of the internal structure of your organization.
For example, you may want to create specific channels based on the locations of your offices and factories so you can process your employees’ questions locally to avoid information overload and the spread of panic across your organization!
5. Reflect on What You've Learned From Your Internal Communication Plan
Measuring internal communications has always been essential when it comes to building a successful business, but it’s even more important today with the COVID-19 crisis.
You need to be able to find out whether your employees are reading your content and updates, and which content generates the most reads and questions.
That’s the only way you can make sure that your employees know the safety procedures you’ve shared with them and how the strategies implemented to address the coronavirus are being updated in real time.
Transparent and real-time communication is the key in times of crisis. This is how you can maintain your employees’ trust and confidence in you and your business.
If your employees have the feeling that they’ve been left out during the crisis, their motivation may drop quickly, they may start feeling disengaged and they may even consider joining another company where they may feel much more included in the business strategy overall.
Related: 8 Employee Engagement Statistics You Need to Know in 2020 [INFOGRAPHIC]
But how can you make sure that your internal communication is effective if you don’t track it? How do you know what changes you need to implement, either in terms of content types or messages, if you have no way of comparing the performance of the content you’re sharing internally? It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack, isn't it?
What’s more, measuring and analyzing the performance of your internal communication during the coronavirus outbreak is a great way to find what changes you need to make to nail your IC strategy the next time the company faces a crisis, whether it’s a technological, financial, natural or a reputation crisis.
When it comes to crisis management, you need to hope for the best but prepare for the worst. Even though your teams are working hard to avoid any critical situations, some crises are out of control, and you need to get prepared for it.
Interested in learning more about crisis communication? Download the eBook “Building a Better Company with Internal Communication” where we share tips & best practices for communicating with your employees in times of crisis!