Fight fears with facts and consistency
Misinformation and lack of information are viruses that breed fear and divide people. To combat this, you will need to communicate consistently and accurately, using trusted sources and experts to communicate the facts in a calm and rational way.
The key here is factual, accurate and regular communication. You want to become the source that people turn to for trusted information on all aspects of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Lean on the experts
You don’t have to become a health expert to communicate the facts. When it comes to relaying facts about the virus, your role is to vet, curate and communicate information that is based on hard fact and medical science. So choose your sources carefully and always direct your people to credible sources of information.
Here are some critical resources from reputable sources:
- The World Health Organization (WHO) website offers a wealth of information about the virus and how to respond from a place of knowledge and power. Once here, you can browse their FAQ section, download graphics and watch relevant videos.
- Looking for a daily global update? Get daily updates on the situation and countries affected in the WHO’s situation reports.
- Need tips to get your workplace virus proof? Download the PDF on “getting workplace ready” under the WHO’s “advice for the public” tab.
- For local expertise, turn to The National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) for factual and scientific information on the virus. In addition to FAQs, facts and local updates, the NCID also offers a wealth of factual infographics to download under its “communicating resources” and is also active here on Twitter.
- Podcasts to listen to: A Masterclass on Pandemics and Employee rights in the time of COVID-19
Be open, available and transparent
People will have questions. Lots of them. Make sure employees know where to go to get answers. Make sure you leverage as many of your current communications platforms to create a two-way flow of information and questions. You should also educate and empower your managers to discuss relevant policies with their teams and be available to answer any questions.
To support managers, you could:
- Set up an FAQ page on your company intranet
- Create a Glossary page to unpack key scientific terms
- Create a Jargon page that is relevant to your company (eg, what does self-isolation mean to your company?)
Be visual and action orientated
Don’t drown people in a sea of text. Use visual aids (posters etc), videos and infographics to map out the story wherever possible. And while you’re at it, make sure your communications don’t only convey the facts but encourage action. What steps do people need to take? What behaviours do they need to adopt? Use every opportunity to empower people to take ownership and action.
Focus on the holistic human
The COVID-19 outbreak will impact the lives of your employees in many ways, both personal and professional. Take the opportunity to focus on the human aspect of this crisis and reinforce how your company is committed to supporting the holistic wellbeing of all employees.
- Find ways to link information about COVID-19 with relevant guidelines and policies your company has created to support employee wellbeing.
- Don’t ignore the mental and emotional impact that this crisis will have on your employees. The media coverage alone is enough to make people feel anxious. If your company has any resources, services or benefits that employees can turn to when they are feeling overwhelmed, make sure your employees know what these are and how to access them.
Link employee actions with company measures
If you want to change employee behaviours, like encouraging handwashing etc, you need to show how the company is also taking measures to ensure higher levels of hygiene and sanitation at work.
Provide tools and support for remote working
When travel restrictions are part of the plan, remote working will become a reality for some, if not most, employees. Make sure that both managers and employees understand the practicalities and importance of virtual collaboration.
Use inclusive terms and imagery
When fear is a driving factor, people look to find easy scapegoats or single out a group of people to blame. Use your communications to reinforce the message that your company is committed to diversity and inclusion and will not tolerate any actions that erode these core principles.
Identify and address FAQs for your company
Once you’ve created policies and procedures that need to be followed, start thinking of any questions that might arise from these. For instance, some questions around remote working could include:
- Will employees be reimbursed for work-related expenses when working from home?
- What will happen with employees whose jobs cannot be done offsite when they can’t come into work?
Fear and panic are two of the greatest enemies in any crisis. Planning ahead can help create an atmosphere of trust and reinforce a culture of rational thinking and decisive action. Take the time to think through any potential scenarios with the company’s crisis team and agree, ahead of time, how the company will respond and what the messaging should be.
Get the expertise and support you need
If you want to be the pillar of strength, make sure you get as much support as you need to give your teams and employees.
This crisis will require you to apply as much strategy as empathy, as many hard facts as soft touches. And everyone and everything will seem urgent and demanding at the same time.
Make sure you give yourself and your team the permission, resources and time to focus on the task at hand by partnering with external specialists where and when you need the expertise and support. Collaboration will be your most valuable ally in fighting the war against fear and misunderstanding.