15 Mar Communicating through COVID-19 isolation: lessons of the pandemic
More than two years ago, we had no idea we had said farewell to what we believed was a ‘normal’ life. COVID-19 quickly ushered us into a world of physical distancing, mask wearing, and (for some people) good hand hygiene.
The pandemic has also moved us towards a new way of communicating, with many businesses shifting employees out of the office and back home and pivoting to communicate with stakeholders in new ways.
So, what has COVID-19 taught us about communications strategies generally, and what can we take forward into what many are referring to as our ‘new normal’?
Lead with kindness
More than two years ago, as Aotearoa New Zealand prepared to enter its first lockdown, the Prime Minister urged the team of five million to ‘be kind’. The same sentiment should ring true in your communications strategy too.
At the heart of every organisation is people. Your staff, your stakeholders, your customers – they are all human. Leading with kindness and empathy, and using the right tone, is vital. Stakeholders paid attention to the way communications were unfolding, as they worked from home offices.
Internal communications became a focus for many organisations, who were working to keep staff engaged and operating in a ‘new normal’. Customers who could not ask about products face-to-face as shops closed turned to emailing stores for advice.
Communications, for many, also became more deliberate. Informal updates in the office kitchen became a distant memory in April 2020, and for some, again in March 2022 as New Zealand grapples with the Omicron variant. The times organisations spoke felt fewer and further between for many; so, when there was talking, people were listening.
It’s also important to remember that people who listen also talk. They discuss their lives, work included. The tone in which you speak to your employees helps to establish your brand reputation through word-of-mouth. Get it right, and your stakeholders will be singing your praises beyond the pandemic.
Crises happen – have a plan
COVID-19 has been a stark reminder to expect the unexpected – and then expect something else unexpected will follow that. With that said, it’s a good time to evaluate your crisis plans and your subsequent communication strategies.
If you’re not sure where to start, why not look backwards? Even if you have not needed your crisis plans, look at your processes. Think about what might have worked, what wouldn’t, what you might have missed, and what you’d like to be doing moving forward.
With your communications, the key might be in your relationships. Tailoring your messaging to your stakeholders and their perceptions of the crises may help you navigate any potentially murky waters.
It is also important that you accept there will be some uncertainty. Crises are just that for a reason, they are never clear cut and for that reason, it makes it very hard to plan precisely for them.
Build a crisis communications plan that’s as flexible as your organisation is, keep your key stakeholders in mind, and breathe.
No matter how fast you think you need to act, there is always time to get a breath in, pause, and think about your next steps.
Look to the future
While COVID-19 is our reality today, it won’t be forever.
Pandemic fatigue has set in. People are tired of hearing COVID-19 and its associated buzz phrases being bandied around. More so than ever, people are crying out for something to look forward to.
So, what are you planning?
There is no time like the present to get ready for your future. Use what you’ve learnt today to guide your tomorrow. That includes having a strategy for communications that encompasses the highs, the lows, and the lessons you have learnt during COVID-19.
A lesson I’ve learnt throughout COVID-19 is to focus on the positives when communicating. Swap negative words like “don’t” for “remember”. Lead with the good news if you can.
While it’s important to build a crisis communications plan, it’s just as critical to have an overarching strategy. Like your crisis one, it needs to be nimble to ensure it works in its surrounding environment and be grounded by key messages and themes.
If you need support planning for your future, or if you’re after some handy pointers to take your first steps towards a refreshed communications strategy, get in touch with the C2 tīma. We are here and happy to help you – pandemic or not.