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Communication in a time of COVID-19

By Madelain Roscher, Managing Director of PR Worx

After President Cyril Ramaphosa’s State of the Nation address last night, South Africa is on high alert due to COVID-19 or the Coronavirus. However, this does not mean that every organisation should find themselves in a panic and allow employees to create mass hysteria within their places of work. This rather provides the perfect opportunity for companies to communicate more, not less.

Here are my five tips on how businesses can create a ‘no-panic’ communication strategy in a time of COVID-19:

1. Be quick but be factual

Everyone is looking for answers right now, which means that people have the tendency to speak first and research later, which creates more chaos. Ensure that your employees are educated on the basics first i.e. what is the virus, how can it be spread, what can they do to protect themselves and those around them. Take ownership of this information and share it with them to guarantee that you are all on the same page, before you even consider worrying about whether or not your company is closing doors for two weeks. It’s easy to be fearful about something we don’t understand, so be honest and truthful with your employees. Like any good crisis communications strategy, being upfront will ultimately have greater benefit for you and your company.

2. More is more

Don’t be afraid to share factual information regularly. I’d even say rather over communicate than not share enough. The fact of the matter is the virus has hit our shores and pretending that it’s not here or not serious enough, serves zero purpose. Create opportunities for online engagement and two-way conversations. Speak to your employees, answer their questions, share the news, facts and progress (more on this below).

During President Ramaphosa’s address last night, I was on my company WhatsApp group talking with my staff, sharing what was being said, making a list of unanswered questions and alleviating any concerns. Our office has an open-door policy and nothing has changed. I am now just insisting that my staff properly sanitise their hands and wear a mask when interacting in group meetings. Protecting my employees in the workplace is my responsibility, so this morning everyone on my team received a care pack which included mini hand sanitisers, face masks, antibacterial handwipes, desk cleaner, and a basic fact sheet that was shared by SA Government on

3. Be creative

Aside from just sharing government or reliable third-party information with your staff during this time, also consider how your company is communicating during this period. Be creative to ensure your staff stay engaged, healthy and productive. Think infographics, vodcasts, podcasts, snapper frame posters, and use social media. Do your research and then share the correct information in a way that will make people remember you i.e. you need to be scrubbing your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds which is the equivalent of two renditions of Happy Birthday or one chorus of:

1. “Love on Top" by Beyoncé

2. "Raspberry Beret" by Prince

3. "Jolene" by Dolly Parton

4. "Africa" by Toto

5. "Truth Hurts" by Lizzo

6. "Lose Yourself" by Eminem

7. "Unwritten" by Natasha Bedingfield

8. "Heaven Is A Place On Earth" by Belinda Carlisle

9. "Karma Chameleon" by Culture Club

10. “Jailhouse Rock” by Elvis Presley

4. Create online connections

We live in the digital age so communication is easy through WhatsApp and Telegram groups, Skype and Zoom for meetings, and of course email; all integral tools to help continuity of day-to-day corporate operations. To minimise for all our stakeholders, I have made the decision to cancel all our face-to-face status meetings and the team will be in contact with clients daily through calls, emails and Zoom meetings.

Make sure that your employees know how to keep in touch without physically being in touch. On that point, close personal contact such as shaking hands and hugging must be avoided. Just wave. The foot tap is lame.

5. Consider your stakeholders

Employees, suppliers, customers and contacts of your company are going to be affected by this and you need to consider how to communicate with them all. Not every stakeholder has access to email (think about offsite employees such as truck drivers, cleaning staff, security guards), so simply sending out a well-crafted vodcast isn’t going to work. Many people still struggle with high data costs, so consider sponsoring your employees with a data bundle to watch a short vodcast that is pertinent to them and your business.

While ‘business unusual’ will be the status-quo for at least the next four weeks, I remind you of what President Ramaphosa said last night: “If we act together, if we act now, and if we act decisively, we will overcome it”. Communicating swiftly and accurately with all your stakeholders is integral to overcoming this pandemic as a nation and for you to resume business as usual as soon as possible.

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