Crisis communication in times of pandemic

11/27/2020   •   Blog
Crisis communication in times of pandemic
Everyone involved in communications has seen how important their role is in this pandemic. The pandemic changed everything,  and what did it change in the area of communications, how did you adapt to the mess that the virus was creating?

Tamara Bekčić: The pandemic brought crisis communication to the agenda of literally all companies overnight. From a management perspective, I think everyone is aware of the value that quality internal and external communication can bring, helping people, companies and brands to be connected and engaged during a crisis and to think ahead.
We, who deal with public relations, have found ourselves in a certain advantage because crisis communication planning is an integral part of our support to clients, i.e. expertise. Although no one could have predicted a scenario identical to the COVID-19 pandemic, the mere fact that the plans existed and that we went through the crisis training of teams with clients on a regular basis helped greatly to establish some control that provided everyone security and hope.
We continued to plan, monitor the situation and react. Despite the circumstances, we have succeeded in two main goals - to provide client support and employee safety, and for me that is an impressive illustration of our core business as a communicator.
Since no one knows how long the red pandemic alarm will be on, on behalf of the Chapter 4 team, I can say that we will continue with strategic communication planning and client-specific support.

We have seen how vague messages and misinformation confuse the public and destroy trust, and from the very beginning there was a warning about "infodemia". How do you generally evaluate the communication by the institutions, ours and of the world, did they fail and why?

Milena Avramović Bjelica: Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been talking about how important it is for communication to be timely, accurate, transparent, focused on specific groups, with defined key messages coming from a small number of relevant people. Following what has been happening and is happening, from the communication point of view, I can claim that there is no institution or government that has communicated well and that can serve as an example for some subsequent, possibly similar, crisis situations. Perhaps Angela Merkel is the closest to the desirable way of communicating in a crisis by timely, good, measured, clear communication with a dose of empathy appropriate to a statesman. The biggest problem for me is that institutions and the profession, instead of dealing with communication that is in the interest of citizens, actually worked in political interests, not only in our country, but around the world and by communication with contradictory and frightening messages led to panic, confusion and mistrust. .. And they should have clearly defined, with the help of the profession, how the population should behave and define measures that will protect the nation, but they "wandered" in the adoption of measures, without adequate monitoring of how these measures work and led to general distrust and that people themselves looking for information in different places, make their own decisions whether they will respect some measures, to what extent or not at all. Communication was simply not coordinated at any level, nor according to certain age groups of the population.

How much has the role of the HR sector changed in the coronavirus pandemic when it was necessary to save people, their health and psyche, and what challenges are yet to come because of the consequences that are yet to be felt?

Tamara Bekčić: The task of the HR sector during a pandemic is extremely important and complex, and involves regular activities with an increased level of security concern. In addition, the Human Resources sector works intensively to maintain the level of productivity, motivation and engagement of employees and how to stay connected despite divisions and physical distance, which are strong factors in team disintegration. The psycho-physical consequences of the pandemic are almost unimaginable - both in terms of scope and complexity. Therefore, our efforts to anticipate and mitigate them must be well planned and long-term.

As someone who works with people, what did you conclude about their behavior in times of crisis, what are the most common fears, how big is the fear of losing a job and what is the role of the HR sector in the process of crisis adapting among employees?

Milena Avramović Bjelica: When we talk in Chapter 4, we always say that three things are key to successful business - business strategy, human resources sector and communication strategies as a support to both business and HR. People are the most important resource that any company has, no matter the industry. As for our team, I am fascinated by the amount of responsibility, commitment and motivation that each team member has shown individually. I believe that the reason for that is that they all know how unique they are and how important they are for the agency and how much they contribute to Chapter 4 successfully operating in Serbia for ten years. We were busy with work and the only concern was to stay healthy and to be adequate support and advisors to clients. We are a small team and everyday conversations, online team meetings have helped us a lot. In large teams, the role of the HR sector is crucial because they must, through transparent and communication in which employees believe, explain new models of work, adjustments, changes, in order for employees to remain motivated and efficient.

The text was initially written for Nedeljnik daily.