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The Critical Role of HR Communication in Times of Crisis

As the coronavirus continues to spread worldwide, global businesses everywhere are taking the hit. The World Health Organization (WHO) declaring the coronavirus outbreak as a “public health emergency of international concern” in January has resulted in a closer global response coordination and allocation of resources to manage this outbreak.

During this time of uncertainty and concern regarding the outbreak, employees are seeking guidance from their business leaders on how to navigate the threat within and outside of the workplace. While individuals in executive leadership roles may be an employee’s go-to for insights, there lies another very important point of coordination: the Human Resources department—we call them the Talent Team.

With health and wellbeing of staff being its top priority, the talent function is a key department for educating employees—ensuring that they feel safe and know what precautionary measures are being taken in their office for virus spread prevention. At APCO, our talent team has been diligently working to provide open lines of communication across all our worldwide offices to achieve this.

Leveraging our four main values—boldness, curiosity, inclusivity and empathy—we have put into place four key strategies to successfully establish ourselves as a key resource for employees amid the coronavirus/COVID-19 outbreak:

1. Boldness: Clear, candid and consistent communication

Communication is key and sending a weekly email does not suffice when dealing with an issue of this scale. For global companies, boldly facilitating clear and factual communication across all offices and stakeholders is of the utmost importance. Finding other ways to connect with and engage employees in your company’s crisis management and spread prevention processes helps to build trust. Scheduling company-wide conference calls, leadership briefings and providing an email alias offers employees multiple opportunities to express their concerns and ask clarifying questions. Be bold and candid in sharing what you know and what you do not yet know, but are working to understand and solve.

2. Inclusivity: Collaborate and coordinate

Inclusive collaboration is always important but even more so in situations when leaders and teams must partner remotely and don’t see each other face-to-face. The talent team and other company leaders must work together to ensure that they are providing consistent and accurate information to employees, no matter the location. Personalizing messaging based on each office location is also crucial. Make sure to understand specific office culture and operational dynamics and have procedures in place for employees from each office, while also keeping all employees up to date on these procedures. Also, continue to ask employees for their ideas, inputs and suggestions, doing so means both inclusion and getting the best inputs to help you manage and communicate about the situation.

3. Curiosity: Provide external and internal resources

In times of change and crisis, employees are always curious, and curious leaders are better positioned to make informed decisions and find solutions. Identifying reputable sources of helpful information and providing external resources, in addition to internal relevant information—such as insurance policies—further attest to the organization’s prioritization of employee health and safety. At APCO, we offer additional services for our traveling employees, including emergency medical benefits, concierge assistance as well as 24/7 IT assistance. Making sure that employees are aware of these offerings before embarking on business related travel is always important—especially during a global outbreak. In addition, providing resources as simple as guidelines on proper hygiene practices and creatively sharing those messages with graphics, videos or other memorable tactics can go a long way.

4. Empathy: Mindful and caring messaging

When keeping employees up to speed about the coronavirus, what kind of precautionary measures are being taken within your company and what is being done to support colleagues in impacted locations, it is not only about what you need to tell people, but how you deliver the message. It is important for the messaging to feel sincere and caring to reassure employees that their safety is truly a top priority of the company. Messages need to be followed up by actions. Assure your employees that the situation will continue to be closely monitored, and as it rapidly evolves, be intentional and timely with following-up and inviting any questions or concerns.

As the coronavirus outbreak rapidly progresses, HR departments across all companies can and should be fully engaged and at the forefront to demonstrate caring and become part of the solution. In situations when employees’ personal or family situation calls for flexible work arrangements, or if they feel uncomfortable or at risk coming to work, be empathetic and work with them to find the right arrangement for them and the business. By living your values and commitment to employee well-being, by being bold and inclusive, staying curious and empathetic, even the biggest crisis can be managed with employees feeling supported and cared for, and your business continuing to deliver high quality work for clients.

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