Crisis Communications: Advice For Employee Comms In The Covid Era

Employee Engagement and the Role of the Intranet in the COVID Crisis and Beyond

In times of crisis, company intranets can play a crucial part in employee engagement and communication. Since the lockdown, we’ve witnessed an explosion in collaboration tools, such as Microsoft Teams. But would a company intranet be more useful for your crisis communications? Would it serve you better through the future phases of the lockdown and a return to the workplace?

At our recent webinar: The Intranet: Your Crisis Management Tool, veterans in their fields shared advice. David Bowman is our Product Director for Fresh – a modern company intranet and Marc Wright owns simplycommunicate, a popular community for internal comms professionals. Our Microsoft specialist Chris O’Brien joins them.

Here, we distil the insights they shared and the core themes we’ve seen emerge in the Covid era. And we predict what the ‘new normal’ workplace will look like and the vital benefits of an intranet.

Crisis Communications – How Did Organisations Respond to the Initial Challenges Presented by COVID?

As the coronavirus crisis unfolded, hundreds of companies contacted us for advice. These are the trends we observed in the early days and weeks.

The fast-breaking news accelerated technical decisions and shortcuts were taken

Against a backdrop of unpredictability and uncertainty, the value of IT teams was thrown into sharp relief. Daily government briefings evoked memories of the BBC’s World War II newsreels, as organisations were compelled to react to a rapidly evolving set of challenges.

Technology had a critical part to play, and through necessity, new tools were adopted at speed. Consequently, many apps were rolled out without the usual due diligence. Best practice, compliance and security considerations would have to wait. And employees – confined to working in kitchens and bedrooms across the land, learned as they went.

covid comms activities

Across the IT Lab group, the bulk of enquiries we received revolved around:

    • Remote working solutions – with Microsoft Teams adoption skyrocketing
    • Office 365 enrolments
    • Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) rollouts, with Microsoft Managed Desktop (MMD) attracting enquiries too.
    • Changes to software licencing for organisations furloughing employees
    • Supplying laptops

And our observations are confirmed in the numbers, including a three-times increase in Windows Virtual Desktop and 2.7 billion minutes in Teams calls in the space of a single day.

Internal comms and employee engagement: no longer the Cinderella of the business world

The late-breaking, critical nature of the news and radical changes to working practices led to torrents of questions from employees, which many organisations found tough to manage. Companies lacking modern collaboration tools and company intranets struggled more – especially those burdened by legacy systems.

Email communications were the popular but often unwieldy choice, as mass communications from the CEO or HR director announcing updates and policy changes rained into people’s inboxes.

Consequently, the need for a robust internal communications strategy is gaining traction, as leaders wake up to its value in a crisis. And they recognise how technology is pivotal to smooth and manageable employee engagement: the moment is ripe for review.

The capability to target the right people at the right time via the most appropriate platforms (Microsoft Teams, Yammer, mobile company intranets) using effective mediums like videos is vital.

As the coronavirus emptied our streets and workplaces, listen to our Chief People Officer’s frank account of how our leadership team managed our employee comms and the lessons they learned along the way. Watch Engaging Your Workforce in the New Virtual World, where Thea Fineren addresses the people and technical challenges familiar to many.

Organisations are accumulating content and technical debts

As companies continue to communicate with their remote workforces and adapt to new ways of working, debts are building:

    • Technical debt. As new systems were hurriedly implemented, some lack the necessary foundations to be sustainable in the long term, e.g. the proper governance and compliance, structure and security.
    • Content debt. Information in silos and residing in the wrong places. Multiple iterations and overlaps, with no single version of the truth.

As the typical planning and thinking that goes into technology implementations was by necessity sidestepped, organisations will – as the dust settles – require to address these debts.

And there will be debts in employee information. A review of the content created and amended over the different phases of the lockdown is advisable. And soon will come the time for organisations to take stock and learn from the successes and failures of their employee crisis communications.

Returning to the Workplace and the New Normal; Our Experts Predict the Future

As we consider what the workplace will look like in a post-Covid era, our technologists and communications pros give the headlines on what to expect:

    • C-level execs revisiting the tools necessary to facilitate change, with scalability, remote access and performance core.
    • Internal comms will become a standard boardroom agenda item so that wherever their people are, they feel connected to their company.
    • An increase in Office 365 usage; the rise is expected to continue exponentially.
    • A permanent shift in how meetings are conducted, with remote participants becoming the norm. This shift will see the continued growth of Microsoft Teams users.
    • Radical changes in working practices, which IT teams will need to support – e.g. staggered working hours, greater use of mobile devices for work.
    • Increase in Windows Virtual Desktop, and the growing popularity of the Microsoft Managed Desktop.

Our expert panel expands on these predictions and shares advice in our on-demand webinar – The Intranet: Your Crisis Management Tool.

Tips for Managing Communications with a Remote and Returning Workforce

While collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams are fantastic for bringing colleagues together, such feature-rich and sophisticated tools can prove tricky for people to accustom themselves to. And if not managed well, they can inadvertently create more information silos.

A focal point for internal comms – a company intranet – delivers measurable benefits. It simplifies life for those communicating the messages, as well as those receiving them.

Whether your organisation is issuing a return to work instruction or a policy change, a central hub allows people to return to information when they want. And it’s ideal for new starters.

Here are some top employee comms tips from our intranet and engagement experts:

    • Consider how you’re presenting your message; videos and infographics can be highly effective.
    • Look at targeting your messages, so people aren’t drowning in communications that aren’t relevant to them.
    • Reinforce changes through employee engagement campaigns.
    • Use the tools that fit your audience. Meet them where they are in their language; mobile-friendly, multi-lingual.
    • Encourage feedback and make it easy. A ‘you said, we did’ loop fosters engagement.

The best company intranets are customisable and enable fast comms. They should be intuitive, easy to update, and link seamlessly link to company systems and apps, like SharePoint, Teams and Yammer.

The Solution: A Functioning ‘Back to Work’ Intranet Platform

Watch this video snip, where our intranet guru David Bowman gives a brief tour of Fresh – a modern intranet platform popular with UK and global organisations:

The video is from our webinar – The Intranet: Your Crisis Management Tool. You can watch it here and get the answer to frequently asked intranet questions, including tips on managing comms for first-line workers.

Rounding Up: What’s Next for Your Internal Comms?

For these turbulent times, we’re offering a variety of assistance, including free consultancy.

Choose from:

Book a Fresh demo – see how our modern digital workspace could accelerate your employee engagement goals: Book your demo of Fresh here

Kickstart your ‘back to work’ employee engagement with a readiness workshop; these remote workshops are free throughout May and June. Learn more and request your place: Digital Workspace Workshop.

Register for this free event for communications professionals on 21 May, sponsored by Fresh. Find out more: SimplyIC live.

Thanks for reading and stay safe.

Christine Ellis

Content Manager, IT Lab Group

Christine joined the IT Lab marketing team in 2017, following the acquisition of cybersecurity specialists Perspective Risk. Her focus is on delivering content that meets the needs of a diverse client base, and that demonstrates the group’s expanding portfolio of solutions and services. Quality and the customer are at the heart of everything she does.

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