Providing a duty of care in critical communications for business continuity

In a rapidly changing environment, an organisation needs to be able to anticipate, prepare for, respond and adapt to incremental change and sudden disruptions in order to survive and prosper. This organisational resilience is a strategic capability and goes beyond just crisis management. It involves learning from experiences and adopting best practices to deliver business improvement by delivering secure communication and building competence and capability across all aspects of an organisation.

With the world still reeling from an unprecedented global pandemic, organisations have been forced to take a head-on approach in managing the crisis, which is now widely acknowledged as a threat that does not conform to conventional risk scenarios. Those who had an existing crisis management plan established will have had a better control at the initial phase, but now may be faced with the challenge of ensuring business continuity as employees return to the office and we face further unchartered territory.

In the last five months, organisations have been required to rapidly provide personal protective equipment (PPE) that quickly went out of stock, abide to workplace safety and health compliance and declaration requirements, communicate stringent personal hygiene measures, and ultimately adhere to mandatory lockdown measures (regardless whether partial or full), causing a multitude of business disruptions. While some organisations managed to experience only a temporary degradation of service delivery, others unfortunately ended up with permanent closures.

At this uncertain stage in the crisis, organisations must continue to ensure their businesses are prepared and can adapt to (sometimes sudden) disruptions. As we begin to see governments transitioning through the “normality phase” and try to open their economy via a phased approach, organisations have to be prepared for the possibility that cluster outbreaks may still occur, resulting in a potential lockdown and once again experiencing the inconvenience of continuing business via alternative means. 

Organisations need to make caring for their most valuable assets – employees and people – and maintaining business operations a priority. Business leaders and public officials now need to test their resilience and challenge their business continuity plans by revisiting their communication strategy and communication process that will enable the next phase in our “new normal”.

Below are four essential considerations to aid a successful transition back to work through an effective communication strategy:

  1. Have an established process and secure mechanism to communicate with your stakeholders. 

Working from home is not a new trend, but the global pandemic has exacerbated the amount of people currently taking advantage of it. This has changed the way people work and their day-to-day routine will take many months to return to what it was.

Having a diverse and disparate workforce can further heighten the pressures faced by IT teams, not only in meeting the demands and needs of your employees but securing them and the devices they are using. On top of this, you must ensure your organisation is able to communicate effectively and reliably in a crisis with its remote workforce.

But simply communicating is not enough in a crisis, ensuring all key stakeholders have received your message in a clear and timely manner is necessary for business continuity. Your communication process should also tell you where your people are and filter out information only relevant to them and their job. A platform that enables communication, connectivity and collaboration, backed up by the highest level of security standards to sustain business, will enable your success.

  1. Use multiple channels to communicate with your stakeholders.

It is well known that people consume and digest information in many different ways, so ensuring your crisis communication strategy utilises a range of different channels is crucial, and assuming only one method or medium is enough will be detrimental to your success. When establishing yourself as the central source of truth during a crisis, you must leverage all the tools and channels available to you to ensure the dissemination of information is reliable.

If you urgently need to contact your workforce we often assume that email is sufficient as one of the most common forms of communication. But in a crisis situation you cannot always be sure that everyone has access to an internet connection or their corporate email, or indeed there hasn’t been a power or network outage. Consider other channels in your strategy like Apps, SMS/text messaging, radio, digital signage and social media.

  1. Being able to account for your stakeholders during any situation. 

Being able to reach your stakeholders and provide them with accurate information in a time of need is the first step in your crisis communication strategy. But you must also be sure you can account for them, coordinate a response if necessary and confirm they are safe.

An effective plan should include two-way communication channels. Having the ability to see where people are, and if they are safe, allows you to make decisions and take action.

As part of your return to work plan, consider introducing employee surveys or health checks, or sending out daily safety reminders to capture employee sentiment and get staff what they need to help with the transition or manage a critical illness outbreak.

  1. Network with trusted community organisations. 

Emergencies don’t occur in silos and having a network of trusted community organisations like local fire, ambulance and health authorities will prove critical as we navigate the different regional health guidelines and plan for returning back to work.

To keep on top of these relationships you must leverage the same best practices you have for your internal communications and ensure you can communicate, connect and collaborate with these external stakeholders. This trusted network will be a source of factual data that can influence your ability to respond to a situation, like an illness outbreak, or other threat that puts your people or other assets at risk.

To build organisation resilience and ensure business continuity, organisations need visibility over as much information as possible in order to make the best decisions for the benefit of the company and its people. It is clear that is no easy task, but an established process and secure mechanism for communications will ensure that come what may, disruption won’t spell disaster as we start upon the road to recovery.

Contributed by David Wiseman, vice president of secure communications at BlackBerry

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