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4 lessons disaster response teaches us about engaging employees online

By Paul Conneally, Head of Global Communications at LiveTiles

For twenty years and more I worked in humanitarian action and international development with a specific focus on communication, community engagement and disaster response. The aid sector has learned many hard lessons over the years on how to effectively engage communities who are the most important stakeholders when responding to disasters and complex crises.

These lessons are directly relevant to solving similar challenges for engaging employees on digital channels, such as is being experienced with the global ‘working from home’ phenomenon.

1.      Information and communication are lifesaving

In the aid world it is now recognized that information sharing is as vital as food, water or shelter. Communities affected by disaster or conflict crave life-saving information and need easy-to-use and accessible means to provide feedback in a two-way dialogue. Likewise, for your employees. Provide clear and consistent information through channels that are relevant and user appropriate. Be empathetic, show (through your actions) that you are listening and keep the dialogue two-way and participative. 

This lesson is vital for building trust and openness across your organisation.

2.      Embrace people power during disaster response

It is only by tapping into the knowledge and experience of communities that aid and development operations will truly succeed and be sustainable. In the new ‘working from home’ world the same is true for our communities of employees. By prioritizing and designing platforms that can virtually consult and include your organization’s people you will improve employee engagement, empower teams and facilitate greater collaboration. When we come out of Covid-19 I think we will see a strong re-emergence of online communities, perhaps mirroring the exciting early internet days when communities organically formed, shared and collaborated. 

This lesson is vital for business continuity and sustainable innovation.

3.      Use tech for good

Tech is perhaps best known for the benefits it brings to productivity and efficiencies and perhaps less well known for how it can contribute to your organization’s social and mental wellbeing. Properly used, tech can help employee communities feel a greater sense of shared purpose and feel stronger levels of closeness to colleagues. Related to this is normalizing the use of platforms for informal initiatives that tap into people’s creativity and add to a sense of togetherness such as crowdsourced ideathons or digital drop-in rooms for a social chat over a cup of coffee. Think beyond any utilitarian or instrumentalist notions you have about tech and see how it can be used to bring human qualities, balance and some simple fun to your workplace. 

This lesson is a vital ingredient for maintaining productivity and staff retention.

4.      Learn from a Crisis

Without sounding too trite we should never waste a good crisis. This is a hugely important point for me. No matter the crisis, whether it is responding to an earthquake, addressing a horrible reputational mess, or pivoting to manage your entire operation online – it is nevertheless an extremely useful opportunity to learn. Set time aside (make it your habit) to observe what is working, and what is not. What can you bring forward to post-crisis times that will improve your processes? This is also a time to try new stuff. Innovate and see what sticks. This is your real-time, real-life sand box. Use it wisely. And, going back to point 2 above (People Power), use actionable data analytics to learn from the user behaviour of your employee community. Which location is emerging as prime (digital) real estate in your digital workplace? What are users lacking most? What are their productivity apps of choice and have you seamlessly integrated them? Is there any in-house digital activity taking on an organic virality? The online behaviour patterns of your user community (of employees) is a living, breathing focus group that can guide and inform your strategy. 

This is a vital ingredient for innovation and future-proofing your organization.

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