Four ways the COVID-19 pandemic reinforced best crisis communication practices

Recently, The Department of Energy’s Science Public Outreach Community (DOE-SPOC) reflected on their crisis communications during the COVID-19 pandemic, highlighting best practices. Below are four takeaways to consider for future crisis communication implementation:

  1. Regular, consistent communication is key.
    This has been essential during the COVID-19 pandemic because of both the long timeline and physical distancing. Many offices had weekly all-staff messages go out and regular, virtual all-hands meetings.

    FAQ documents also became essential. While the pandemic information was uncertain and changing so quickly, SPOC found it was important to have those messages go out even when some answers weren’t yet available. As answers became available, they would be added to the existing messages.

  2. Include your communications staff members as part of the strategic decision-making during a crisis.
    For all crises, communications staff members should be included in strategic planning from the beginning. Many offices implemented a COVID-19 planning team, which involved leaders and communications team members from the beginning. Implementing this practice now helps build those relationships ahead of time, and ultimately can lead to better communications outcomes.

  3. Be aware of the emotional aspects of crisis communications.
    Between the pandemic and the challenges of isolation, both staff members and the public were and still can be under a huge amount of stress. Expressing empathy and acknowledging people’s hardships was an important part of the communication. Address the emotions that people are feeling. It’s easy to default to the facts, but SPOC said when they addressed some of the “softer” subjects in their messages to staff, they received positive feedback.

    They also found that adjusting communications to meet different groups’ needs was vital. From employees who had contracted COVID-19 to working parents with children at home, each set of people required unique resources. Targeted communications were a great way to help in those instances.

  4. Internal and external communications are interchangeable.
    Because everyone has been affected by the pandemic, there was even less of a clear-cut barrier between internal and external communications than usual. It was likely that employees shared the information heard at work with their friends, family and neighbors. Assuming that all internal communications will become external is always a good rule of thumb.