Communicating during times of crisis

Along with the obvious health concerns and impact on the world finance markets, the corona virus pandemic is having a massive impact on the way we work.

LiveTiles’ Chris Lukianenko caught up with Phillipe Borremans amid the ongoing pandemic to get his insights on how businesses can operate effectively through a crisis without negatively impacting their staff or reputation.

Phillipe is one of the founders of Reputations & Co, a network of senior communications consultants active in Europe and North Africa. He’s a leading PR expert with significant experience in social media and corporate social responsibility.

Phillipe Borremans
Crisis communications expert Philippe Borremans

Phillipe has held senior comms roles at large companies, including IBM, and he has worked as a consultant for the World Health Organization. Here are some of his top tips for operating well through a crisis.

Accept that things will go wrong occasionally- and prepare for it

“Crisis communication is something that really needs to become part of an organization’s culture. Things will go wrong.

“Specifically, around health issues, what we often forget is that we need to invest a lot of time, resources, money and a lot of communication efforts in the preparedness aspect, because that’s where you gain time. That’s where you prepare people mentally and emotionally for when something happens,” Phillipe said.

“So if we inform, educate, and train people on a regular basis that things can go wrong, but that there’s always something that you, yourself, each unique employee can do about it, then already that’s a huge step.”

Start with internal comms

“That is your very first communication activity that you do in the context of a crisis. It’s putting employees first, because no way they should find out what’s happening through reading the newspaper.”

Tell your employees what you know- and what you don’t

“I know that is the most difficult thing in the private sector, and sometimes in the public sector as well, is getting over that idea that we can only communicate when we know all the facts.

“In the context of COVID-19, and any kind of health-related urgency or emergency, you communicate even if you don’t have the full facts,” he said.

“Level with people and say, ‘Look, this is what we know, this is what we don’t know. But based on what we know, the best approach is this. And this is what you can do, step one, two, three.’ That’s in fact the approach for good risk communication.”

Tell employees what you’re planning

“I really think that an organization should sit down with employees and say, ‘This is what we do today, we are putting sanitizing hand rub dispensers everywhere. We’re displaying posters, we’re telling people how to behave,’” Phillipe said.

“Tell people today what you’re planning, because if they understand that you are planning for worst case scenario, that is something that will tell them, ‘Hey my employer knows what they’re doing. They’re taking this seriously, I feel better.’”

Stay connected

“If a meeting can be held virtually, why not? The video aspect is important; it’s just seeing people, seeing that things are moving along, even if we’re not physically together.

“I think it would be good if there’s a social intranet like Yammer and things like that. I would have on the homepage a special section focused on daily COVID-19 updates.

“The best thing always is to mix different channels, but I do think in a modern organization that the intranet should be the go-to place for regular updates,” Phillipe said.

“If it has a mobile version, perfect, and I’m a big fan of audio as well.”

When the crisis ends, take time to reflect

“It’s in that phase after an urgency or an emergency and a crisis that you analyze what you’ve done and see what can be improved.

“’What have we done well? How would we do it next time?’ And I think it’s important that organizations understand that there will be a next time, unfortunately,” Phillipe said.

“That is a moment where you sit down with employees and say, ‘Look, we went through this together. What worked? What works for you? What were your fears?’ That is the moment where you get all that input.”

Listen to the podcast with Phillipe.

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