Good communication has never been as important as it is today. Rumors, misinformation, and fear can spread as quickly as a virus. Clear, factual, and reliable communication is vital.
As I wrote in a previous post,by now you should have a crisis-management team in place. A key role for this team is the oversight of communications. At a minimum, messages should be reviewed and verified by the team to ensure that they are consistent with policies. Test your process to verify that they will reach all employees, and that all employees are able to have questions answered.
Develop messaging for different scenarios to inform coworkers or third parties about increased risks or exposure, along with a current phone and email contact list by location for health reporting. A great communication protocol clearly designates a person(s) to promptly notify local public health authorities about confirmed as well as suspected cases of the coronavirus. Ensure your designee is properly trained: while employees may be obligated to disclose contraction of Covid-19, personal health data is protected under HIPAA.
Up Your Quality and Quantity
Thoughtful, intentional, and honest communication is a vital strategy to navigate a fast-moving crisis. Avoiding or burying bad news serves no one in the long run. Transparency requires preparation for the “worse before better” reality.
And while we can learn from past recovery processes, things will be different. New business models will emerge. In the meantime, leadership must anticipate challenges and clearly explain facts as they are, what their vision is, and how it will be accomplished.
When internal and external clients—your stakeholders—have confidence in your motives and commitment, they’ll respond in kind. The most important catalyst in a time of crisis is a trust in the word of the leader and the actions they take.
As Harvard Novartis Professor Amy C. Edmondson, author of The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth (Wiley, 2019) says, “ Transparency doesn’t happen without psychological safety: a climate in which people can raise questions, concerns, and ideas without fear of personal repercussion.” Ensure you have a strong, two-way communication system in place as we navigate through this time of crisis.
Up Your Virtual Meeting
Here are a few best practices to strengthen your communication and virtual meeting skills:
- Prepare and test. And test. And test some more. If possible, practice using the tools as a smaller team. Some software allows for screen share, so be sure to practice with this, and turn off alerts, pop-ups, or anything that could interfere. Review outcomes: strengths, weaknesses, obstacles, and threats.
- Whenever possible, meet via video, with an option of audio/dial-in for slower bandwidth. Ideally, you should be meeting with your team frequently, in person or via video. Some virtual meeting apps/tools allow for the recording of the meeting. This is a great tool to use to transcribe conversations, but inform participants before the meeting starts. (Some meeting leaders refrain from sharing this in advance to discourage invitees to “wait for the recording.”)
- Consider having a virtual meeting assistant or facilitator. Some tools/apps allow you to designate a person who can manage the tools, while others provide a specialist who will manage the meeting for you.
- Send an agenda before the meeting, with all needed materials (preferably in e-format) and instructions to read the materials prior to the meeting. This will allow for greater, more efficient, discussion time. Be clear on the meeting objective, and monitor time and focus.
- Allow for instruction and if needed, practice time. Include reminders about disabling interrupters, i.e. cell phones, alerts, IMs/pop-ups, and closing any programs or tabs on their computer with sensitive or private information. For any meeting lasting more than 50 minutes, build in breaks.
- For smaller groups (<20) have all participants introduce themselves by name, role, geographic location (town/city) and surrounding (my home office). Consider other ice-breakers: for example, have them point out their favorite nearby object, and explain why. For more intimate groups, an option could be to share a “happy,” “glad,” “sorry,” or “sad” moment since you last met. During the meeting, ask people by name to contribute. For larger groups (20+), use polls and voting (raise your hand) to encourage engagement. Of course, polling with smaller groups is effective, too, and the data can be captured for later use.
- Just like your in-person meetings, allow adequate time for questions, and discussion on next-steps: deadlines, roles, and when to expect updates.
Virtual meetings are a great tool, even to have those difficult or controversial conversations. As a leader, all participants will look to you to set expectations and boundaries. Model the behavior you would like to see.