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COVID-19 and comms’ – We’re not done yet

By Nicole Alvino, cofounder and chief strategy officer, SocialChorus

We’ve been living with the reality of COVID-19 for nearly two months now. The shock and stress that has rippled across the globe is gradually being replaced with an acceptance that the way we live and work is changing for the foreseeable future. So, as we continue to adapt and find our way, what have the initial learnings been from the internal communications community?

We were recently able to explore the challenges faced in our webinar, ‘Six things COVID-19 has taught us about IC crisis communications’. As I watched and listened to our clients at global medical products and technologies company, ConvaTec and  not-for-profit health system provider, Main Line Health, describe how they have rapidly adapted their communication practices, I was struck by how much the role of internal communications is changing, forever.

The ability to send timely, targeted and transparent communications to the entire workforce means that many employers are fully engaging with their employees properly for the very first time. It seems the days of formal CEO newsletters are gone. People are getting a small insight into their leaders’ personal lives with authentic videos made from home, and this little glimmer is making the relationship more genuine. Could this be where trust begins to flourish?

As we continue to grapple with this different way of life, we start to explore how human and business behaviour is adapting.  As Giulia Cherbavaz, media manager at ConvaTec, noted, “There’s nothing like a pandemic to break the last part of resistance to digital transformation.”

People have stopped railing against technological change because, well, they have little choice. Unsurprisingly, the adoption of cloud services is on the up as businesses strive to better equip their remote workforce or reach those key workers on the shop or manufacturing floor. In early April Microsoft reported a spike in the use of its Teams product, adding up to more than 44 million daily users, worldwide. That’s double the number of users the company reported back in November last year and interestingly, requests for Team integration from our clients has almost tripled in this time.  And according to app tracking firm Apptopia, Zoom was downloaded 2.13m times around the world on 23rd March, that’s up from 56,000 a day two months earlier.

And it’s not just the software usage that’s increasing. It’s the hardware too. The CIO of Cisco Australia and New Zealand reported the roll out of 130,000 corporate provided devices to employees and partners critical to keeping their business running, in just 10 days! It’s amazing what happens when people quickly accept the situation and adapt to their new circumstances. The old rules get broken and transformation can happen at lightning speed.

One thing all our guest speakers agreed on in the webinar , was that people are incredible. While resistance may be futile, our ability to adapt and cope will have surprised many of us. Sure, let’s not pretend it’s stressful trying to work and homeschool the kids and be with your partner 24/7 but despite the social distancing people are supporting one another, whether it’s colleagues or family members the virtual tools and channels of communication have come into their own. Company cocktail nights, fancy dress pub quizzes, cookery classes, working out with Joe Wicks. You name it there is something for everyone.

We may still be in the thick of COVID-19 and recovery will be a staggered affair, but every business and every person will have their own story from this experience. It’s therefore critical that the trust, empathy and transparency we’re seeing now continues not only in the aftermath but for good. And it’s worth remembering what Bridget Therriault, strategic communications and corporate affairs leader at Main Line Health , said in the webinar, “Those organisations that act with humility, support their people through the heartache and worries while also celebrating one another’s successes will show their true selves. Your brand and your people are being tested in more ways than you could have ever imagined and if successful you will be celebrated for your actions as we begin to move forward”.

Internal communications has played a vital role in carrying businesses through this crisis but our work is far from done. It’s time to start on the road to recovery. The world is still watching and how we mobilise our employees while ensuring their safety won’t be easy. How we sustain or drive productivity will be a challenge. Returning to work will call for a fluid approach and shift in our companies’ priorities. Providing credible, personalised and measurable communications will be at the very heart of this next phase.