It’s been exactly two weeks since the WHO characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. More countries are going into lockdowns, or variations thereof, and measures taken are becoming more drastic. Lives are literally at stake. Businesses everywhere are implementing remote-work protocols, and suddenly physical presence becomes less of an issue for business continuity. It’s amazing to see how fast organizations adjust. In the past it would take months to decide on a remote-work protocol, but now the crisis suddenly forces these decisions at a break-neck pace. What seemed impossible yesterday, is suddenly reality today. “Necessity is the mother of all decisions” it seems.
I’ve been reporting on how companies react to change for more than half a decade now. I’ve never seen change go this fast. After this pandemic is done I can’t help but wonder how the decisions we make today will shape our decision-making in the future. Large corporations that struggle with “sluggish” perception have a real opportunity to turn that around, if they can make this mindset last after life has returned to normal.
But, there is danger too. Remote workforces communicate digitally. There are no more watercooler conversations or desk-interruptions. Everything happens through static, dynamic and Rapid communication. In other words: the flow of visible information just turned into a tsunami. And therein lies Internal Communications’ next challenge, which play to our strengths: source-checking and streamlining communications.
When newspapers stopped hiring journalists and opted to go with a freelance-fleet, many journalists were left unemployed. Not everyone wanted to be a freelancer. Now, journalists are smart people – so they adjusted. They realized that their skillset can be exploited to benefit companies. The result? An influx of copywriters. The start of content marketing. And more Internal Communicators with a strong reporting skillset. As any journalist knows, your reputation lives and dies by the credibility of your sources. Now is the time to bring that ethos into our business, more than ever before.
Anyone reading this has probably noticed a flurry of messages on social media and Whatsapp around COVID-19, what to do when you get it, how to avoid it – that stuff. These messages get shared into the company’s digital communications channel, as a way for colleagues to warn one another. It’s done with the best of intent – people are concerned and want to help each other. The thing is, quite often they’re entirely false.
Spinning the rumour mill
Every country has bogus advice flying around on re-using masks, specific coats you can wear that will prevent you from getting sick (I know…) and more confusing information. This information cannot spread in companies. Even if it doesn’t do harm, right now it’s crucial that employees can enter companies and expect nothing but correct information. As Yuval Noah Harari mentioned in the Financial Times, the way we deal with information now will be key to how the world looks after COVID-19. We need to share information globally in order to defeat this virus, and whether companies like it or not, they’ve become a place for information to be shared among their employees.
Now is a beautiful time for Internal Communications to step in and take responsibility. Start source-checking, please. We can’t - and shouldn’t - stop the tsunami of bottom-up communication flowing now. Bottom-up communications is a dire necessity for companies to adjust quickly. Changes, after all, are felt at the bottom-line long before the top layer. So what do we do? We step in to help source-check, and make people in our organizations aware that they need to do the same.
Organizing the flow of information
The second job comes in the form of an information-tsunami. The amount of visible information flowing through companies is unmatched*. But, much like water, directed information is easier to digest – when it’s channeled properly. To categorize the flow of communications, I start at its speed. Slow, medium and fast – or Static, Dynamic and Rapid. Here’s an excerpt from a guest post I wrote for Onix:
Static communication is information employees need, but doesn’t require an update every week-or-two (your mileage may vary). A list of preferred suppliers. Office information. Onboarding material. An org chart or even your brand guidelines – all simple examples. This information is best left in intranet pages that are easy to discover through search functionality.
Dynamic communication’s easiest example is a post on your Enterprise Social Network (ESN), or an email. Email has its place, don’t get us wrong, but there is a significant downside to its lack of transparency, boring format and bad searchability. It’s still an important business tool and a preferred method of communication for one-way, critical information.
However, with a good social intranet, email becomes a channel to send and link information present on that platform, rather than hold the information itself.
A quick message from Slack or Google Chat is often all you need to get something done, fast. Likewise, group discussions in chat can jump start a project or inform a small selection of key stakeholders.
But, there is a danger to this. Too much communication in chat causes an information overload. Important details get missed, and topics can get derailed quickly. That’s why it’s important to bridge these quick conversations into something easier to find and less “noisy”. Easy way to overcome that: link to chat conversations and post a quick summary on your Enterprise Social Network or social intranet.
Using your channels to form a remote-communication policy
Knowing how to categorize communication makes it easier to form a policy around it. An empowering one, not a limiting one. Share which types of communication belong to which category, attach your relevant channels to that category and there you go. Then it just becomes a matter of divide and conquer – you know you don’t have to moderate or source-check static communication too much, because not everyone can create intranet pages in your organization (I hope). You should monitor what’s going on in your Slack or Chat channels, but it’s tough to jump in when the speed of communication there is the equivalent of an oncoming train.
Personally, I would focus the majority of my attention on dynamic communications. It’s fast enough to stay topical, but slow enough to keep up with – and it’s far easier to search. The key to success, for me, often comes from the bridge between dynamic and Rapid communication. If you see misinformation in your Rapid-communication channels, you can link to that conversation with a well-argumented (and sourced) correction in a post on your dynamic communication channels. You can even turn “the top-three most corrected posts” into an article.