Internal Communication Examples: What works in a Crisis?

Stuart Sinclair - July 20, 2020

The recent COVID-19 crisis has impacted businesses in many ways. Not only has it affected sales and market values, it has also changed the way we work. Organisational structures and internal processes have had to be dramatically adjusted in order to work within the new rules. With remote working becoming the norm rather than the exception, companies have had no choice but to rethink their internal communications.

The crisis has forced businesses to take a closer look at their internal communication strategy and evaluate whether it is still fit for purpose. In fact, recent research by Deloitte suggests that only 47% of employers say they have the capabilities or processes to meet a crisis with the best possible outcome.

Your strategy needs to face up the challenge of reaching off-site workers, wherever they might be. It also needs to have a new level of immediacy, as yet uncalled for in day-to-day business. It’s no longer good enough to wait for everyone to open an email over a period of hours. The risk of misinformation and the need for guidance has never been greater.

It’s clear that the COVID-19 outbreak has changed the internal communication landscape. In this blog, we take a closer look at communication in a crisis. We explore six key examples of internal communication where the challenge of business upheaval has been successfully managed and overcome.

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6 Internal Communication Examples for Crisis Management

While no one could predict the current crisis, it has at least prepared us for any future disruptive events which may occur. By incorporating some of the following internal communication best practices into your plans, you will be future-proofing your business. These examples of internal communication will help to make your employee communication robust and flexible, whatever is looming over the horizon.

1. Clarity and Transparency

In times of business disruption, your employees need clear guidance, without any hint of ambiguity. It’s natural for them to be worried and confused. They will inevitably have a lot of questions, for example:

“How will all the changes impact my role?”

“What are the new rules and processes?”

“Will the reorganisation of the company mean I lose my job?”

This is a situation where effective internal communication is absolutely crucial. Even without a crisis in play, many employees feel they don’t have access to all the facts. A survey by Gallup revealed that 74% of employees have the feeling they are missing out on important information at work. Your internal communication plan needs to ensure everyone has access to the information they need and have all their questions answered.

Example

One example of internal communication to be particularly aware of is the risk of misinformation. If your employees don’t receive information from the company about internal reorganisation or role changes, they will go seeking the information themselves. Once your employees start calling their colleagues to find out the news, the risk of rumour and distortion rises dramatically. Communicating change needs to come from the top, and it needs to be as clear and well-defined as possible in order to avoid misunderstandings at this crucial time.

2. Instant Notifications

Timing is everything in a crisis. In order to avoid misinformation spreading throughout your company, you need to give answers and guidance immediately. This is not the time to say, “I’ll get back to you later”. You need to have those answers at your fingertips, and you need to get them out to your workforce without delay.

Your employees don’t have the luxury of time to wait or search for critical information. According to Gallup, the average employee spends 2.5 hours per day looking for information they need. In a crisis, this time lapse needs to be eliminated.

Example

Your choice of internal communication channels is critical in this instance. For example, while an employee intranet may be suitable for sharing policy documents or company reports, it lacks the immediacy required in a crisis. Research by Medium shows that only 13% of employees use their company intranet on a daily basis. Consider implementing an internal communications app that offers the ability to send out instant notifications to mobile phones. By ensuring that everyone receives the same message at exactly the same time, you’ll put a stop to the rumour, gossip and fearmongering that can cause panic to spread throughout an organisation.

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3. Visible Leadership

A strong leadership presence becomes even more important when the chips are down. Your senior team have a vital role to play in calming fears and reassuring employees. They are perfectly placed to act as key message carriers and the tone they adopt will filter down through the company ranks.

It’s also important to assign clear role of responsibility for actioning both internal and external communication, ensuring there is clear corporate authority behind it. In times of uncertainty, direction needs to come from the top and cascade down through the organisation.

Example

Some examples of internal communication that make the most of leadership include video clips and audio messaging. While it is important to provide written documentation on any changes of direction and procedure, people need to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice to gain that extra reassurance. There are many channels you can deploy to deliver this including YouTube and WhatsApp groups, however an internal communication platform will give an added level of security. In addition, by giving employees a choice of devices on which to access the communications, you will find you gain far greater reach across the company.

4. Message Segmentation

Does your strategy currently segment the content you’re sharing internally? Do you send out personalised messages, tailored to suit the audience in question? If you’re looking to improve internal communications, this a good place to start, particularly in times of change and disruption.

Sometimes a company-wide message is exactly what’s needed. However, there are times when it’s important to ensure employees receive only the information they need and nothing more.

Example

Segmenting your content is even more critical in times of crisis. One relevant internal communications example is the question of furloughed employees. You have a legal requirement to desist in asking them to complete reports or finish projects. In order to avoid serious internal communication mistakes, you need to make sure that message is only reaching the correct segment of staff. An internal communications app will give you the flexibility to segment your content based on locations, teams and business units, as well as furloughed and working staff.

5. Feedback Channels

Your employees will have questions. Lots of them! They will want to know about the impact of the crisis on their work, how it will affect the internal structure of the company and how it will influence sales revenue. The benefits of good internal communication really come into their own if you can answer these questions quickly and directly. Fail to do this and you will find fear and panic spreads quickly across the company.

The answer is to make it easy for those questions to be asked and answered. You need to put feedback channels in place that will collect and process the questions and concerns of your workforce.

Example

When it comes to collating feedback, there are many internal communication ideas that can be put in place. For example, using an employee engagement app, you can create a channel dedicated to the crisis situation, inviting employees to post and share their questions. To avoid overload, you can create channels specifically for each sector that needs addressing; e.g. COVID-19 Safety Procedures; COVID-19 Internal Reorganisation; COVID-19 Remote Working. By providing a platform dedicated to your employees’ needs, you will be removing the element of uncertainty and encourage open discussion. Once you have a freely flowing two-way channel of information in place, you’ll find confidence and certainty returns to your workforce.

6. Impact Measurement

It’s always vital to know whether your communications are being received and understood. But in times of crisis, this need becomes acute. If employees are not receiving key messages, their health and safety could be compromised. According to IABC, only 40% of internal communication practitioners are measuring the success of their strategy. This is a risk you simply can’t take in crisis situation.

You need to know whether your employees are reading your content and updates. You also need to know which employees are not reading them and address the situation immediately. Measuring internal communication is not a nice-to-have policy; it is essential.

Example

One of the most examples of internal communication in an organization is health and safety.

When a crisis hits, you will be sending out messages containing safety procedures and the necessary steps your employees need to take. These messages need to be instant and unmissable, reaching every single employee. This is where an internal communications platform really comes into its own, with the ability to fire out real-time notifications to every single mobile phone across the organisation. Every employee instantly receives a text, and you receive a detailed report of who has opened the text, and who hasn’t. This isn’t just an extremely effective method of internal communication, it’s potentially life-saving.

A well considered Strategy

When it comes to crisis management, you need to prepare for the worst-case scenario. However engaged your teams are, however hard you work to make your systems robust and secure; some crises simply can’t be avoided. However, these internal communications examples demonstrate how a well-considered strategy can make the difference between riding the wave of a crisis or sinking under the strain.

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