By planning and being prepared, you can protect your employees and your organization. You can ensure everyone’s safety, such as when employees should leave and return to the office. You can also help with issues from ensuring employees have a paycheck, to getting your business up and running again quickly. Getting your business operational is key; more than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster.
For the communications portion of your disaster and continuity plan, consider three things.
1. A modern intranet and a mix of reliable channels
Many intranets can’t handle issues like 24/7 availability with more than 99% uptime. That’s not a modern intranet.
Modern intranets are mobile-friendly, enabling people to use any device they want to access information. They’re cloud-based — available, backed up and accessible with failover systems should a disaster affect a large area. They’re secure. Modern intranets even offer targeted communication, tailoring messages for important information like who can return to work or what procedures they should enact.It’s more than just a modern intranet; your modern intranet provides a variety of channels – video, podcasts, discussion forums, blog posts, etc. But you’ll also need other channels available and working to reach your employees, including email, phone calls/voicemails and texts from a variety of people — your team, your executives and your managers. To return to normalcy, the more channels you have that are communicating virtually the same thing, the better the chance your employees will understand and get back to work, safely.
It’s more than just a modern intranet; your modern intranet provides a variety of channels – video, podcasts, discussion forums, blog posts, etc. But you’ll also need other channels available and working to reach your employees, including email, phone calls/voicemails and texts from a variety of people — your team, your executives and your managers. To return to normalcy, the more channels you have that are communicating virtually the same thing, the better the chance your employees will understand and get back to work, safely.
2. Procedures, processes and protocols that involve Communications
It’s obvious that if your communications team isn’t involved in disaster and continuity planning – everyone is in trouble. Some organizations leave this sophisticated planning to HR, and while HR employees should also be involved, so should internal communications professionals. HR employees excel at knowing policies just as internal communications employees excel at communicating and knowing which channels to use. Both groups are vital during emergencies. Employees will need frequent updates to know when they can re-enter the office safely, to information regarding pay and benefits during this critical time, to what they should do in the meantime to help themselves, each other and the company.
The best solution is that HR and Internal Communications should work closely together with IT.
Important to the entire process:
- Know what to expect ahead of time. Have your process and procedures in place — people, phone numbers, email addresses and even physical addresses. Understand who makes the decisions, including authorizing information for communication. Also, figure out which executive or officer — depending on company size — can help with this process should issues arise. Consider proximity when you make decisions.
- Understand what can be communicated and when. Often there are privacy reasons to keep from announcing information, such as which employees have been injured. Although in an emergency you can’t check in with legal counsel on every item, knowing the general parameters ahead of time will protect the company and its employees.
- Have a series of channels ready. Use different vehicles for different situations and adapt, knowing systems may be impacted due to the disaster. Include news organizations in your areas to carry your messages.
- Create a hotline beforehand that employees can use in such an emergency. Update messages on what’s happening, what to expect and how to proceed. Many organizations send out these numbers yearly (such as refrigerator magnets) for employees to keep at home and keep handy if the disaster happens after hours.
- Write general language ahead of time. It can be approved now — before an emergency — and tweaked to meet the specific issues you’re facing.
- Know which federal, state and local agencies can help. Give employees information about these organizations; they may need your assistance so they can be safe and return to work faster.
- Get employees access ahead of time to your intranet and for you to get your team what they need. For example, ensure your team can publish to the intranet as necessary without IT intervention. (IT employees will be busy trying to bring up systems vital to the company.) Also, consider your entire employee population. In the best possible scenario, employees won’t have to return to the office right away to stay productive if they can work with mobile access to key tools, including your intranet. If a disaster happens, they may want to continue to bring in an income, but may need to divert attention to other matters as well.
- Think about other offices. If one office is down, others can take its place. Having structures for various offices, where you’re leaning on local leaders to help with communications, can improve continuity. This includes providing them access to publish information to key vehicles, including your intranet.
3. Run drills and refresh frequently
Disasters are chaotic. Most likely IT has prepared regular drills, but they may not include Communications. Your communications team needs to be prepared as well, with a seat at the table to understand ramifications and how to address them.
Practice. Run disaster drills often — at least once a year — to ensure your team is ready to handle a major event. After the drill is over, debrief on what went well and what you can improve. One person, such as a project manager, should help spearhead changes needed to the process. Communicate those changes to your team and others, including providing documentation on your intranet.
Look out for the following:
- Ensure drills are happening. Your organization should be running regular drills for all the issues that may impact all your locations. If you’re in the headquarters, check in with employees in other offices to ensure they also have drills and that they’re going well. Discuss communications issues and resolutions. It’s important to understand how your procedures will be implemented for those locations.
- Keep names, email addresses, phone numbers, etc. updated. The more automated you can make the process, the better. You shouldn’t ask people to think about this when they move, leave the company, etc. One idea is to use your HRIS system to drive these updates.
- Update emergency information on your intranet regularly. If you don’t have a governance plan for this, create one. Audit this information at least once per year.
- Ensure you have access to what you need ahead of time as part of this drill. For example, do you have intranet publishing permissions? Do you have the pro-approved text you’re using and access to that document? Can you send out alerts to specific offices?
- Keep executives informed about what went well and what didn’t. They may be able to help remove obstacles to improve safety and continuity.
- Know policies and procedures. If you know them ahead of time, you can make better, faster decisions.
The better prepared your business is for disaster, the better your organization can weather issues – small or large, human-made or nature-made. Communications is a huge part of disaster and continuity planning – whether your organization knows that or not. As a communications professional, your goal is to get your company up and running while keeping employees safe. Knowing when to communicate and the right mix of channels, including fellow employees, will do just that.