In April 2013, Boston authorities told residents to stay indoors while the search for one of the Boston Marathon bombers was carried out. The order came early in the morning on a Friday, just as people were getting ready to leave for work.
As businesses learned of the shelter-in-place order, many told employees to stay home. But some employees had arrived at work before the communication emails had even been sent. And after being told to stay home, other employees blasted their employers on social media outlets because they assumed they would be required to take a vacation day to cover the absence.
While communicating in emergency situations presents myriad challenges, preparation is key to avoiding confusion and acrimony. Many of the snafus that occurred during the Boston crisis could have been avoided had companies’ emergency communication procedures been better planned and executed.
1. EMAIL ALONE WON’T CUT IT
Don’t rely only on email to disseminate a crisis communication. First, technical glitches do occur, and in-boxes do fill up. Second, if employees don’t have work-provided smart phones, there’s a good chance they won’t check their work account until they arrive at the office.
SMS texts to personal cell phones are a quicker way to get information to people. The communication is received instantly on any type of cell phone—smart or dumb. And most people check their phones fairly regularly, especially first thing in the morning.
2. OVER COMMUNICATE
Send messages to any and all employee contact points. By sending a message to employees’ personal cell phones, business phones, home phones, personal and business email addresses, you’ve tried every possible avenue to reach your employees. And don’t just use texts. Voice messages are highly effective ways to pass along information.
Also, provide as much information as you can in a succinct message. When employees feel that they’ve received all the pertinent information, they’re less likely to jump to conclusions and spread falsities to other employees.
3. SHARE THE RESPONSIBILITY
Don’t make one person or one department solely responsible for crisis communications. Empower some employees to activate the crisis alert system when necessary. And don’t rely on a system that requires someone to be in the office, logged into a specific computer. Your business should be able to implement its crisis communications plan from anywhere using simple technology that’s readily available.
4. ASSESS AND IMPROVE
When the crisis ends, ask how you could have handled things better. Give your employees an opportunity to tell you what worked and what didn’t. Employees want to feel valued, and asking them to provide feedback will further improve communications and morale.