Magma Fincorp's Diana Monteiro shares a plan to build strong Internal communication during a pandemic

So you are stuck within the four walls of your home due to the global pandemic COVID-19, but your job as a communicator to your organization doesn’t end. In fact, the role has now grown manifold, since you have been forced to go digital and build lines of communication with your internal stakeholders now much more than ever.

The top 5 items on your agenda are:

  • Employee awareness campaigns and taking employee engagement online.
  • Forming an emergency response team and running the BCP.
  • Review HR policies and alter them to provide flexibility in times of such crisis.
  • Open communication on the reality of the impact on the organization.
  • Mental health plan to deal with isolation.

My firm's employees of close to 10,000 are spread over 1600 talukas and 320 branches so just one communication tool doesn’t work. We have to explore using email, WhatsApp, social media, intranet, and messenger. 

Build awareness about do's and don'ts of COVID 

With the mass spread of COVID, building awareness for your internal stakeholders and customers is top of your agenda. 

Connect employees to timely, accurate information from WHO and your state and health Departments. Provide clear instructions about what to do if employees suspect they or their family or friends have been exposed to COVID-19. Communicate how COVID-19 is spreading and how to avoid infection. Clearly articulate and communicate preventive actions the organization is taking to avert or contain transmission of COVID-19 at work. 

Apart from providing awareness, you need to keep the employee engagement lines open. Conduct regular engagement online through zoom, WhatsApp calls for smaller team activities. Avoid going overboard with information on COVID, Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s extremely important to stay up to date on the latest with this virus but I also think too much, in this case, can be a bad thing.

Form an emergency response team

The next imperative is to form an emergency response team that builds the business continuity plan and sets it in motion to ensure its business as usual. Most companies other than consultants and the tech sector isn’t equipped to work from home. Thus putting in place the needed infrastructure to ensure all your employees can work from home for an elongated period of time.

In today’s hyper-competitive market, it won’t take long for your customers to switch to your competition if you are unable to provide them the service they expect. Thus the implementation of a robust business continuity plan (BCP) is essential for safeguarding your business. Simultaneously the setting up of the emergency response team which will act in the event of casualties is needed. Employees need to be made aware of this team so they know who to approach and what to expect in response.

Our company has even set up an emergency helpline for employees to reach out to in case of any concerns with regards to COVID or otherwise. On a given day we receive close to 50 calls which helps in containing fears and also helps the organization to ensure the safety of its employees. Keeping everyone informed of specifics like facility/ infrastructure damages, limitations in supply, and any other changes in day-to-day business operations due to unforeseen circumstances play a major role in safeguarding your company’s brand and goodwill.

Relook at your HR policy 

The need for alterations in the HR policies to accommodate the need to follow public health directives about staying home as much as possible, and continue basic preventive measures. The organization must continue to place the highest priority on the health, safety and wellbeing of its staff as well as the wider community. Because of this, most training and engagements will need to be built into programs online. 

For eg: Allow for paid sick leave on a case to case basis for those employees affected by the virus, with the flexibility of extending it beyond the stipulated number of days. In general, written medical clearance will not be required for return to work. This may be done to avoid overtaxing health care resources.

If you are going to emerge from the crisis as a successful business, you must create an environment with open communication and trust. Open communication in times of a crisis allows your employees to be more engaged and understand that what they do matters in the success of the business. 

A recent CII survey of 100 CEOs across industries, shows that about 52 per cent of the companies surveyed foresee job losses post COVID. In such events, the company needs to maintain open communication with its employees. Instead of forcing your employees to second-guess what might be in store for them, be utterly clear with them about the financial health of your firm and what goals you need to prioritize. Even holding consultations with employees on resolution methods, can increase their buy-in.

Mental health challenges

Finally, mental health in the aftermath of social isolation and bringing people back to work with a fresh mindset will be imperative for the organization. The outbreak of coronavirus will be stressful for all people. Fear and anxiety about a disease can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions in both adults and their children. The organization needs to invest in helping employees to cope with stress which will make the people you care about, and your community stronger. 

Try to help staff keep up with regular routines even when working from home. Encourage employees to take breaks, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and eat well. Connecting with their friends and family members will help employees stay mentally healthy. We have started online workout regimes to help employees unwind. Virtual communication can help one feel less lonely and isolated, thus we have made it mandatory for team calls on zoom or WhatsApp daily to discuss the day plan and also to chat in general about the day which will help in the emotional wellbeing of employees.

Keeping the communication flow going will ensure employees are able to cope and focus on the task at hand which will have long term positive ripples for you and your organization, despite the pressures of dealing with a global pandemic.

 Diana Monteiro is head – public relations, Magma Fincorp and has over 12 years of expertise in marketing and communications.

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