The COVID-19 pandemic contains a number of challenges for companies in their external and internal communication. In this blog, we highlight three key issues to consider.

  1. Ensure your company speaks with a single voice

Many organisations have relatively decentralised communication, with different divisions or teams communicating regularly with clients and other audiences.

In this environment, companies should establish a single team responsible for developing and implementing a strong co-ordinated and consistent communication strategy. An external communication adviser can provide valuable counsel and support, introduce perspective about what’s being undertaken effectively elsewhere, help mediate between differing internal views, and act as a useful sounding board.

This group should be the primary source of information about how the company is responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, provide regular updates, and take into account different constituencies’ communication needs and preferences. The group should ensure that there is internal agreement about what will be communicated before any announcements are made, to avoid conflicting or confusing messaging.

The team should ideally contain representatives from different functions to analyse and understand the implications of COVID-19 on the organisation. Representatives of the business development and client service functions can effectively funnel clients’ questions and concerns into the group, for instance, to help ensure that ongoing communication responds to different audiences’ needs.

  1. Ensure that your communication is credible, consistent, and inspires trust

COVID-19 has generated an enormous amount of misinformation, amplified through social media and fuelling anxiety and panicky behaviour.

In this era of ‘fake news’, companies need to ensure that their communication has credibility by only drawing on reputable sources of information (such as the relevant state health authority and the Australian Federal Government).

Companies should also be upfront about the challenges they face. Honest communication will build trust and credibility, while disinformation or lack of information are likely to generate distrust. Audiences are more likely to place trust in an organisation which states that it cannot know all the potential implications of COVID-19 on its operations, product lines, supply chains, and current and future earnings, but is committed to analysing and understanding these and communicating regularly.

Companies should be transparent with shareholders and market analysts about the short-term challenges, and what the company is doing in response, while at the same time reminding these stakeholders about the longer-term fundamentals and other favourable characteristics.

Companies should also be very careful about attempting to use COVID-19 as a promotional or sales opportunity. This can be perceived as in questionable taste when people are sick and dying and reflect poorly on the company’s brand and reputation.

  1. Make sure ‘remote’ working isn’t remote

Concerns about viral transmission and federal and state government restrictions on gatherings of people mean that for many Australians, their workplace has for the first time shifted from a shared office to working from their living room or kitchen table.

Although described as ‘remote’ working, it’s important to put in place structures and ways of operating to combat potential feelings of isolation.

Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, Slack, WhatsApp groups, conference calls, and other technology channels can be used as a substitute for regular in-person team meetings, enabling employees to continue to collaborate and communicate effectively with their colleagues, clients, and others.

A great deal of communication in the workplace is informal, for example through ad hoc short conversations, so it’s also important to provide channels to enable this kind of collaboration and way of working to continue.

It’s also important to remember that as humans we process information, listen and understand nuance differently in verbal conversation. This means that team leaders and line managers need to consider carefully the most appropriate channel for communicating, depending on the subject matter and the potential sensitivity.

At the time of writing, there are still many uncertainties about the COVID-19 pandemic, including the speed and extent of transmission, and how significant and long the disruption to normal life will be.

Companies which ensure that communication with their audiences is consistent and credible, and which enable their staff to communicate and collaborate effectively, will be well-placed to continue to operate successfully and inspire confidence and trust in this ever-changing environment.

Phillip Gray (p.gray@fcr.com.au) is an Account Director with Financial & Corporate Relations (FCR).