In a time of extreme weather and extreme news coverage about both mother nature and man-made disasters, it can help to ease the fears of employees to plan for the worst. Many companies and HR departments have started to build communication plans directly into the Employee Handbook so employees have a strategy to refer to in the unlikely event of a crisis.
And while what we care most about during a crisis are very human issues — emotions, safety, family — in the midst of chaos, it’s technology that’s going to be the first and best way to stay connected. Here are a few tools and strategies you might consider having in place to communicate with your team in the face of the unexpected.
Have a crisis plan in place (and in the cloud)
Companies can do their part by making sure the employee handbook is updated with a crisis plan of action and communication policy. This should cover things such as what to do in the case of an emergency, how to report a possible problem, when authorities should be contacted, what technology systems are to be used, and where to seek immediate help. If the crisis directly affects the office space, brand, or employees, there should also be a plan in place as to who should respond to public press inquiries.
Having such a policy in a binder in your HR office isn’t going to cut it when things go awry. Instead, it’s essential to have the policy somewhere every employee can access it on the go. Storing such critical information in the cloud on your centralized communications tool or intranet will ensure that employees can find answers even when they can’t get to the office.
Train in advance
We can’t predict when a crisis will occur, but we can prepare for one. Just like your office performs (or should be performing) mandatory fire drills, you should ensure that all employees have practice on the digital side of an emergency — who to contact, what to do if someone is unreachable, how to ask for help, and so on. A learning management system (LMS) is a great tool for keeping employees up-to-date on essential information because contrary to in-person trainings, a LMS optimizes for different learning styles, schedules, or locations.
Use mobile first
Adults in the United States spend around four hours per day accessing mobile devices, an increase of nearly 70 percent since 2015. It’s apparent that the fastest way to get in touch with most employees during a crisis is via mobile communication and it’s also the method many employees prefer. You should use text messaging as the first option to communicate critical information during a crisis. However this doesn’t mean you need to create an epically large group text or chain. Several texting tools exist at relatively low price points to enable you to automate texts, reach many employees at once, and manage the incoming responses.
But cover all the bases
A common practice for communicating during a crisis is the recorded voicemail. That’s the solution a Nashville-based architecture firm was using to communicate with their nearly 700 employees until they looked at the data. As it turned out, only a dozen out of those hundreds were calling in to hear the critical pre-recorded message.
That firm changed their crisis communication plan to include outreach via voicemail, email, and text message, and it’s a smart strategy. Cover the bases — reach out via the most common communication channels as well as those where your particular employees are used to turning for information, such as on your intranet or chat tool.
Assign a crisis response team
Create a crisis response team consisting of senior-level employees and HR team members who have experience with various challenging situations, authority that makes them the people everyone else will turn to, and the respect required to make others pay attention. This team should be in charge of kicking off all digital communications during a crisis and should regularly test the plan. Without dedicated leadership in place, employees could receive mixed messages or so many messages from so many people that they stop paying attention.
Plan for after the crisis
It’s often not a disastrous event itself, but the aftermath that can cause the most anxiety for employees. Even a temporary power outage can ground things to a halt and bad weather conditions or damaged roads can prevent employees from making it into work.
You should work with your IT team to have a plan in place for technology problems. How can data-loss be prevented in the case of a power issue? What if remote employees can’t get online? What’s the backup plan when office equipment is damaged? These questions should be answered to the best of your ability in the crisis response plan.
You should also cover how employees can communicate issues with attendance, and create a backup staffing plan in case part of your workforce is unable to work. Cloud-based attendance software or an intranet are great places to call for such updates so that everyone can stay informed.
We all hope that our teams won’t be faced with a crisis. However, we can’t predict the unexpected. What we can do is prepare, and use technology to the best of its capabilities to help our employees safely through.Tess C. Taylor, CCC, PHR, SHRM-CP is a contributor for TechnologyAdvice; founder and CEO of HR Knows, a niche content and consulting firm in New York; career coach, and author. Tess is also a regular contributor to HR Dive, HR Magazine, Forbes, and US News. You are welcome to follow Tess on Twitter @hrknows1.