As the COVID-19 crisis has ramped up, employee communicators have had to stay agile and flexible from day to day. In a recent webinar, co-hosted by Velaku Software and the consulting firm On The Same Page, three senior communicators, David Berger, Sr. VP Communications from Wells-Fargo, Tina Tuttle, Head, Enterprise & Executive Communications, Novartis US Pharmaceuticals, and Mick Trevey from Northwestern Mutual shared their experiences and provided some very powerful guidance on ways to  handle this crisis. Over the course of 45 minutes, each one passed on practical insights for both communications and human resources professionals.

1. Realize that Employee Communicators Are Affecting Their Company at the Core, Not at the Margins

As everything from work policies, benefits plans, infrastructure to customer support, are changing literally on the fly, and "it has been enormously stressful at times", says Berger, “I would say this has been one of the most rewarding times I’ve ever had as a professional in communications. So much of the work we typically do is great and we are affecting the business, but often it [employee communication] can be viewed at the margin. Here we are affecting business at the core.”

2. Create A "Single-Source-of-Truth" (but don’t limit to a single distribution channel)

With a company of 260,000 people worldwide, David Berger and his team realized that it would take too long to align messages, which can get muddled if there are too many disparate sources of information. In response, Wells-Fargo established a single source of internal communications. “It has proven to be the single most important decision we’ve made”, says Berger.  “I can’t imagine what would have happened if individual teams were posting their own information. It would have been chaos and high risk for the company”. 


How to create a "Single-Source-of-Truth" and content syndication channels:

  • Create a communications hub where all key content is curated and then syndicated out to various audiences .
  • Control and coordinate communications so that messages are not conflicting or contradictory. 
  • In addition to a primary intranet area for all COVID-19 content, use a content syndication solution, that can take a single message and push it out to multiple channels, and curates multiple sources into the trusted core.
  • Use data analytics to determine what messaging and channels are important and effective for your employees.

According to the Edelman Trust Barometer, during COVID-19 employees want communications on facts and details, such as how many colleagues have contracted the virus (57%), to how the virus is affecting the organization’s ability to operate (53%). Employees want to be informed beyond the effect on the company, including advice on travel and what can be done to stop the spread of the virus. Ideally, they want to get the information delivered via email or newsletter (48%), posts on the company intranet (33%) and during phone/video conferences (23%).

3. Choose a “Face of the Response” for Your Company

Choose one person, whether it be the CEO or the President of the company, to deliver all the communications for the company with the full force and confidence that employees can trust. This one person should have the implicit authority to make company-wide changes to policy. This is especially important during the COVID-19 crisis, as the Edelman Trust Barometer showed that the most credible source of information for employees is their employer’s communications.  63% said that they would believe information from that channel after one or two exposures, versus 58% for a government website and 51% for traditional media.

Behind the face of this person there should be a committee of experts who are meeting often to determine the nature and content of the communication. Communications officers should have a strong voice in this group, as the representatives and strategic directors of the brand and voice of all internal and external content.

4. Give Employees a Forum to Help

Novartis has enacted a crowdsourcing forum where employees can contribute both ideas, resources and time to helping others. Tuttle emphasized that creating a place where employees can give back will help to boost a sense of community and engagement. She also listed a number of other techniques and technologies that help drive engagement.

5. Be Open to What The “New Normal” Might Look Like

Trevey advises that there will be a time where the company will need to recognize that they are shifting from a crisis-based employee communications event to the “new normal” -- a more permanent shift in the way the company is run. For example, shifting to a single company-wide employee Town Hall has become a potential permanent change for Northwestern Mutual.

6. Learn From Your Global Connections and Colleagues

With a global footprint of 140,000 employees, Tuttle says she had the benefit of foresight from her colleagues around the world. She emphasized that although her role is specific to the US, which as a nation is behind the COVID-19 curve globally, she has made it a point to take learnings and best practices from her global colleagues in China and Italy, especially.

Velaku is hosting a series of webinars featuring panels of experts in the field of human resources and employee communications. Sign up for alerts of upcoming webinars here.

7. Remember the Human Element of the Crisis

Tina Tuttle feels that the COVID-19 crisis is probably going to end up being one of the biggest crises to manage as a communications professional. However, she said, it is important to remember the huge impact on us as human beings, not just employees. 

For example, Novartis is seeing their remote employees working longer, not fewer, hours. To help them stay healthy and juggle the needs of their home and work life, Novartis has encouraged employees to limit meeting times from 10AM to 3PM to take into account those families with children. They also have discouraged meetings on Monday mornings to give employees time to prepare for the week ahead.

8. This Crisis is Bigger Than You or Your Company 

One of the things that Novartis, as a pharmaceutical company - with the power to help on the frontlines of treating the epidemic - is doing is to think beyond their own business needs. 

They have been asking themselves how they can get medicines out faster. How they can deliver medicines to people who have lost their jobs and can no longer afford them. And what could they do to help as a pharmaceutical company to help solve the crisis. As a response, Novartis donated 130 million doses of Hydroxychloroquine and a related drug, chloroquine, which are currently under evaluation in clinical trials for the treatment of COVID-19.

9. Learn From The Past

If, like Northwestern Mutual, you have been around for well over 100 years, apply what you have learned from the past and previous crises. Mick Trevey said that knowing that they had survived similar situations armed the organization with a long-term view. For example, because Northwestern Mutual went through a pandemic flu in 1918, the communications team has been drilling and practicing reacting to a crisis similar to COVID-19 for a long time. 

10. Be Tolerant

Along those same lines, Mick Trevey says that Northwestern Mutual is asking their employees to act in an environment of tolerance. What does that mean? During video calls or meetings, be patient with kids, pets, background noise and doorbells. Understand that not everyone has the same competence or understanding of video protocols like not speaking over one another, or using the chat feature. Be tolerant of frozen screens and underwater sounding video for those who are working in a closet or remote part of the house. Everyone is challenged with a new working (and living) environment, and people adapt at different paces and in different ways.

Trevey recommends that every company should have, at a minimum, a crisis management protocol or playbook, and that they should be running practice drills regularly.

Want more details?  Watch the full COVID-19 webinar.

Velaku dramatically improves the employee experience by engaging employees with content that appears right in the flow of their work. The results are personalized, contextualized and seamless for the employee. Visit www.velaku.com or contact info@velaku.com to schedule a demo today.

 

“While it has been enormously stressful at times, I would say this has been one of the most rewarding times I’ve ever had as a professional in communications. So much of the work we typically do is great and we are affecting the business, but often it [employee communication] can be viewed at the margin. Here we are affecting business at the core.”

David Berger, SVP, Communications, Wells-Fargo

Related Articles