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Organisations are quickly working to develop communication plans to respond to Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Here are some handy tips to keep in mind when assembling your organisation's strategy. 

The following content is based on information available at the time of publishing.

Employees are bombarded with information about the Coronavirus (COVID-19) but what happens when they are at work? 

The truth is that the COVID-19 pandemic has most Australians rethinking purchases and tightening the purse strings in case their employer has to start reducing hours or making redundancies.

Without a clear and consistent communication strategy, workers may experience high stress and draw incorrect conclusions about their employment. The following are some key tips to support employers in their communication strategy.

Ai Group Members can access the 'How to effectively communicate with employees about COVID-19' summary with extended tips on communicating successfully with workers. 

Tips for effectively communicating with employees about Coronavirus (COVID-19)

Quickly determine who will be the ‘voice’ of the business

  • Devise a Business Continuity Plan (BCP). 
  • Bring together the key leaders/stakeholders in the business. This will usually be the executive/leadership team; however, it should also include a representative from WHS, HR, Communications/Marketing and Risk.
  • This ‘task group’ should meet regularly to discuss known issues and direct appropriate action and to plan for future risk mitigation.  Importantly, this group must have a united voice and decide who will be communicating to the broader employee group, how often and with what messaging.
  • Just as Australians want to hear from the Prime Minister and not a backbencher, organisations are encouraged to have the CEO or GM deliver the updates as this provides the most comfort to employees. 

Update or create a crisis communication plan 

A crisis communication plan supports organisations with a structure to navigate uncertain times and outlines a clear chain of command to allow for decisions to be made quickly.

Aspects that should be included in a crisis communications plan include:

  • Chain of command for decision making related to critical business decisions and dealing with key stakeholders.
  • Contact details for all employees.
  • Important contact details for HR support and relevant government agencies.
  • Predrafted statements to address immediate quarantine/isolation requirements. 
  • Key policy details including leave and work from home.  
  • Relevant supporting information from all underpinning industrial arrangements (e.g. award, enterprise agreement an contracts).
  • Preprepared statements to address impending scenarios such as positive testing to Coronavirus (COVID-19) and work from home policies to allow the business to act quickly.
  • The crisis plan should also have details around who, how and when employees will be communicated with.  Most organisations are currently on a day by day operating structure.

Consider responses

Following the 9/11 attacks, many businesses were quick to develop a contingency plan for terrorism and met regularly to role play different risk scenarios.  

Though the circumstances are very different, we are operating in a crisis state, so it is recommended that potential scenarios are explored, solutions are brainstormed, and actions are practiced.

For example, employers should consider their response to aspects such as:

  • If an employee tests positive?
  • If employees need to all work remotely?
  • If parts of the business need to be closed?
  • If employees are unable to physically complete their tasks at home?
  • If business performance slows to a point that employee reduction needs to occur?
  • If the key decision makers contract Coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Determine communication channels

Organisations may communicate with employees once a month via a newsletter, but in this climate, employees need more regular communication and via many channels.  

There are endless options, but employers may consider:

  • Creating a dedicated intranet webpage that is updated daily to enable employees to go to one place for all the relevant information.
  • A weekly CEO update meeting where all employees have the option to ‘dial in’. Holding a video conference via software such as Skype or Microsoft teams can be useful rather than having a meeting over the phone. 
  • A summary email to be sent to employees with key messages.  
  • Team leader, front line managers and department heads being encouraged to make themselves available for questions however the core messaging should be left to key leaders to avoid confusion.
  • Details about contingency plans, shutdowns and quarantines need to be provided in ‘real time’ to employees.

What consistent message should we tell employees?

It is difficult to over communicate in a time of crisis and uncertainty, so employers are strongly encouraged to communicate early and often with their workers. 

Employees have heard government officials say many times that we don’t know what to expect tomorrow and we can only plan for today.  Sometimes the best message is that the business does not know, but they are committed to updating employees when they do.

It is recommended that the following content remains consistent across all messages:

  • That the organisation is committed to being as prepared as possible to respond to the crisis;
  • That the needs of employees and customers remain a priority;
  • Details about precautionary measures to safeguard the business (should be repeated often);
  • Information around expectations and restrictions around travel, working from home and other key aspects;
  • Links to reputable government websites with updated health and travel information;
  • Links to any Employee Assistance Programs (EAP); and
  • A statement that leaders are available to answer questions or concerns at any time from employees.

Further assistance

For further assistance please contact us or call the Workplace Advice Line on 1300 55 66 77. 

More Coronavirus (COVID-19) advice and resources can also be found at Ai Group's dedicated webpage

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