3 ways to make sure crisis communication meets employees' needs

My husband and I cared for my mom in our home for almost four years. As it became clear that we could no longer meet her increasing needs, we had to make a difficult decision—one that I had long put off.

We moved mom into a long-term care facility in our New Jersey town. Just 12 days later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic.

Within 24 hours, the facility stopped allowing visitors. A few days later, a staff member called to tell me that a patient tested positive for COVID-19 and all residents would be confined to their rooms. After that, I was only able to reach my mom twice by phone and the nurses stopped taking calls.

The silence was painful.

Last week, I received an email from the facility that began: “It is with deep regret that I share with you that another resident has passed away in the isolation unit.” What?! Another? I had no idea there had been any!

Turns out the facility had been sending daily emails for weeks. And I was not the only family member who didn’t receive these crucial (and required) updates. Apparently, there was a glitch in the facility’s email platform.

This experience reminded me of the importance of thinking through distribution and developing a solid plan. Here are three ways to help ensure employees receive the communication they need during a crisis.

1. Prepare in advance
Don’t wait until a crisis hits. Work with HR and IT to develop clean distribution lists for digital to reach senior leaders, managers, functional areas, specific facilities, etc. And be sure you have updated postal addresses for print communication you want to deliver to employees’ homes.

2. Target key groups
Don’t rely on all-employee emails unless the information really pertains to everyone. Customize your communication to meet the needs of your target audiences and use the distribution lists you created with your HR and IT colleagues.

3. Remember non-desk employees
Don’t rely solely on managers and workplace channels, such as digital signs and bulletin boards, because facilities may be closed. If you don’t have a mobile strategy, now is the time to explore the many mobile apps designed to get information into employees’ hands (literally) anytime, anywhere.

Working on distribution is not easy—and it’s certainly not glamorous—but it’s essential.

It’s hard to think about these details in the midst of a crisis. As we move forward, I encourage you to build distribution into your overall communication strategy as well as your crisis communication planning.

I’m happy to report my personal distribution issue has been resolved and emails arrive like clockwork at 5 p.m. every day. And thanks to help from one of her caregivers,

I’ve finally been able to talk with my mom. Thankfully, she’s doing just fine.


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