Communicating with your team in a crisis doesn’t have to be a nightmare. With the right tools on hand, you can keep your team engaged, motivated, and invested in the business.
Send Three and Fourpence...
It was a dark night in the trenches, and the soldiers were restless. The First World War was well underway, and the only thing you could expect was the unexpected. The men were watching and waiting, anxious for any sign, signal or hint. Finally, the moment arrived, and after much anticipation, the message was received: “Send three and fourpence. We are going to a dance.”
Clear Internal communication is an essential element of any organisation, and can be the difference between a successful outcome and outright disaster. After much confusion, the intended message was revealed to be “Send reinforcements. We're going to advance,” - information which made an awful lot more sense than the initial interpretation, given the context and circumstances.
No matter the situation, good internal communication is an imperative aspect of a successful business. The current situation means that communicating with employees during a crisis is more important than ever before; the spread of the Coronavirus has forced a drastic change in the workplace, and a crisis communication strategy is important to keep things running.
Many team members will need to work from home, and plenty more will no longer be able to work due to the nature of their jobs. This means they will likely have lost access to their desktop, as well as the usual communication tools which are a key part of their everyday working life. The challenge is on to allow businesses to communicate with staff, helping keep them up to date on developments, changes and requirements, to help maintain safety, while still maximising productivity and efficiency wherever possible.
What Is Internal Communication?
In the most technical terms, internal communication refers to “The planned use of communications actions to systematically influence the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of the current employees.”
In layman's terms, this can be broken into three key areas: internal communications must be planned - make sure there is a clear, valid point to them, and systematic - they need to follow an organised, logical format. Finally, business owners should ensure that their communications persuade their employees, rather than demand and bark orders.
To this end, internal communication trends have evolved to focus primarily on the end result. The goal is to ensure clear, open communication with your team, focusing on what you all want to achieve, and focusing your attention on the outcome, rather than the activity itself. In other words, you need to consider how successful the messages themselves are, as opposed to the method of communication. As an organisation, you need to identify your priorities, and make sure you regularly review and monitor your internal communications by how successful they are at achieving these goals and targets.
Experts suggest that internal communications can be broken down to three main areas: they should be concise, clear and compelling - don’t waste time on confusing messages or waffle. Allow your staff to be privy to the bigger picture, and provide them with the tools they need to have their voice heard, and their ideas and opinions recorded. This helps everyone to feel included and valued - points which are an imperative aspect of any crisis communication plan. You need colleagues and team members to feel part of the whole, even if they are unable to actively work.
The Issues With Remote Working
In some cases, remote working is going to be a great way for some businesses to stay active and productive. This does, however, come with its own set of complications and issues, and these are also relevant to staff who are unable to work from home, but must stay away from the premises.There are two main challenges here when communicating with employees during a crisis:
Feeling part of the team
When employees are on site and working, they naturally feel far more engaged and valued thanks to their physical proximity. This helps them to feel as though their contributions and input are valued and appreciated, and heightens their investment. Losing daily, face-to-face contact can reduce this feeling; staff will not have the chance to express their opinion on important issues, or give and receive feedback which can be a great motivation. Opportunities for team building and peer-to-peer recognition are lost, and there is no chance to build a solid, working relationship with coworkers and managers.
As a result, employees can feel undervalued and unappreciated, and this can have a detrimental impact on their overall engagement. If they cannot see the benefits and feel the team spirit, it is easy to feel isolated and left out, and this can really impact the quality of their work and their contribution. Communicating with employees during a crisis helps to ensure that innovation is still respected, and allows creativity and new ideas to thrive.
With a distributed workforce it becomes hard to maintain the vision, values and culture that define your business. This can make it harder for employees to see the bigger picture, and breaks down the accepted working culture and values. Maintaining these aspects is a crucial element of successful internal communications, and this helps you to retain an inspired team, all singing from the same hymn sheet, in the long term.
When normal communication methods are unavailable
In addition to creating issues with unity and harmony, remote working has practical issues which must also be considered. Staff away from the site are unlikely to be able to access work email accounts, and these may not be a feature of many workplaces. In blue collar professions, contact with employees is far more likely to be face-to-face, and so a shutdown can be very tricky to manage. Team meetings are an essential element of many productive environments; they are a chance for colleagues to collaborate and exchange ideas - as we mentioned earlier, this is crucial for fostering an inclusive working environment which helps team members feel valued. Such events also help to ensure that essential information is passed on, and that everyone is on the same page.
Being unable to access email or traditional communication methods means that staff are likely to find themselves out of the loop; this is a bad thing both for practicality and for morale. Some businesses will compensate by cascading information down from management, but, as we have seen from the front line, the message at the end can be very different to the original intention! Similarly, a central intranet, which can be useful when on site, is not an option - these are not easily available if employees are working from home. As a rule, Intranets fail to engage employees, and this can increase the sense of isolation.
The Biggest Challenge
During a crisis, the biggest challenge is keeping your business informed and up to date with everything that is going on, as well as maintaining high levels of engagement and a team spirit - even if there are people off site. Taking steps to improve internal communication is a critical part of this. It is crucial that team members feel bonds to their business even when they are out of action, and they feel a strong emotional investment to the goals, aims and ethos of the company. Communicating with employees during a crisis is not merely about relating information to employees; you want them to still feel connected, even when employees are scattered and the situation is uncertain.
History tells us that great ideas can sometimes come from the most unlikely situations. World War One, for example, birthed many of our everyday essentials - from zips to teabags - and allowed something exciting and innovative to come from a dark time. While the creativity of your employees must be applauded, it is more important than ever that there is a clear chain of communication in place to manage the ideas and inspiration which emerge. A good system is imperative to allow the creative mind to flourish in a productive and useful way.
An internal communication app can be a great way to overcome the common challenges, and help keep everyone in the loop, engaged and feeling part of the team, no matter where they are. Employees can contribute to the bigger picture, and feel valued and appreciated, as well as maintaining their connections to their team and the wider business. They remain an active, valuable part of the whole, as well as fully informed.
Talkfreely: A Crisis Communication Plan
The world of work is changing, and you need the right internal communications tools to help you keep up. Talkfreely is a platform designed to help you keep in touch with your team - no matter where in the world you are working from. News, updates and ideas can be shared across the whole organisation, with the added bonus of keeping your email inbox clear and uncluttered.
Data is stored on a remote cloud server, and this allows it to be instantly accessible to employees. Documents, PDF files, images, scanned files, audio or video can be made available, and this is crucial for keeping everyone in the loop. No matter where staff are working from, or whether they are unable to work, they will still have the opportunity to keep up with key developments, as well as offer their own additions and suggestions.
Stay In Touch
The best way to avoid a garbled message, or a dance in exchange for cash, is to ensure that the information you are sending goes directly to the recipient. An internal communication app is the perfect tool, allowing you to connect directly with your business. Reach each individual, and allow them to strengthen the group with up-to-date, high-quality communication which can be accessed from anywhere - even in the middle of a crisis.