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The arguments rage amongst experts on whether herd immunity or early testing and speedy isolation was the best way to address coronavirus. Whatever comes next it’s going to place huge pressure on comms professionals and teams. How can we create resilient teams and look after our wellbeing during the crisis?

by Darren Caveney

The escalation over coronavirus and its impacts over the past couple of weeks have been alarming. From what we were told was a “mild form of flu” just a few short weeks ago now sees countries going into lockdown, flights turning back mid-air, an emerging financial crisis and talk of isolating UK citizens over 70 for up to four months. Wow.

And if you’ve tried to buy loo roll or soap in the past week you’ll know that pleas not to panic buy haven’t quite worked out.

Last week saw comms teams – across all sectors – working hard, long hours to respond to the crisis and the impacts day-to-day, hour-by-hour. What has become clear is that the crisis could go on for months and therefore we need to think carefully about how comms teams and individuals function and remain in good shape – mentally and physically.

Here are 10 steps which may be helpful to consider:

1.  The learning from many a crisis comms case study is that mental and physical fatigue kicks in after a few days of a crisis. So it’s important to agree a rota for comms teams so that everyone gets some down time away from the comms front line.

2.  Your rota should be future-proofed as much as possible too and tailored towards the individual circumstances of your team e.g. those with children if schools close, those with family members who need extra support, those with family members with existing health issues which make them more vulnerable to infection.

3.  Tech: Do a short SWOT analysis exercise with the team around the ability to work effectively from home and off site. Are you fully prepared, or does investment need to be made in items such as phones and laptops?

4.  It’s really easy to skip lunch breaks and work through with just a sandwich at our desks. We’ve all done it. But we know it isn’t the best way to stay fresh and mentally sharp so make sure everyone in the team gets outside for half an hour to get a proper break. This is hard for teams of one and two but actually even more important.

5.  Think about your contingency options for bringing in extra pairs of hands to support you. Budget may not currently exist for this in your organisations so pull together a simple business case for why you may need some extra support – get costings from good local interims and assess their availability to come in at short notice.

6.  Spread the load. If you have just one person looking after, say, media enquiries or social media make sure they are supported with others in the team coming in to help at regular intervals. This may require some quick on the job training so time needs to be allowed for this too.

7.  Don’t let others encourage you to recreate the wheel. The latest medical advice is available from the credible sources, like NHS England and Public Health England, so it’s best to point to that rather than  spending valuable time re-writing it for your own audiences.

8.  Talk to your internal customers to confirm to them that previously agreed priority work is going to be hit by coronavirus in order to manage their expectations. Teams cannot deliver all of the previously agreed priority work AND coronavirus work. Comms teams will break if they try to do everything over the next couple of months. Get this agreed by your most senior people and then share the message to all teams.

9.  If you have work and projects planned with agencies, consultants, freelancers and interims let them know straight away if this work is likely to be delayed or cancelled. The knock-on effect of this to these people could be huge. Where possible retain their services as you may need them now more then ever. And do make sure they get paid quickly.

10. Finally, make sure your ‘emergency kit bag’ is fully equipped – think batteries, cash, snacks, torch, phone chargers, emergency contacts list – and always in the possession of your out of hours rota person.

Here’s what other leading comms and wellbeing professionals recommend…

“Take time out, have a sense of humour and try to be proportionate. And for me don’t do drama. There is enough of it already out there so just try and remain calm. It is not helpful for you or others if you do. “

Emma Rodgers, head of communications at Stoke-on-Trent City Council

“Everyone has different reactions to the hype and hysteria, and it can really get to some people, even if they know it’s irrational. 

Taking a moment to ask someone if they’re ok and let them get their panic off their chest can help reduce anxiety just by voicing it. 

And if you find anxiety creeping up on you, share it with someone.  Saying it out loud can help you feel better!”

Helena Hornby, communications officer at Transport for Greater Manchester

“Make sure you make time for the things that make you smile, de-stress and stay healthy. I’ll be going to Zumba as long as classes are running and when they’re not I’ll be dancing in the kitchen!”

Victoria Ford, director at Perago-Wales 

“Think about your own wellbeing. Take a few mins now, before the situation escalates even further, to work out what you need to be well yourself and try really hard to keep those things planned in. 

Also, when you’re in those moments of stress find a moment to ground yourself, close your eyes if you can, pay attention to where you feel the tension and breathe.”

Saranne Postans, communications and public relations specialist and life coach

“We might have to have holidays cancelled during this time because of travel restrictions/airlines, but do still build time in for annual leave and take it, even if you’re not doing anything. Once the crisis is over, don’t continue the habits you built up during it of being ‘always on’. I definitely did after swine flu and other workplace crises. You might also be teaching those bad habits to more junior members of staff.”

Sarah Dakin external communications and PR manager

“As someone who works full time, is a mum and has elderly parents not to try and do all things for everyone. Looking after yourself is just as important and often the lowest priority.

Reach out to those who can support you as far as practically possible.  Prioritise what’s most important and let go of what you can for now. It may be hard but it’s worth it in the long run.”

Emily Powell. Strategic communications manager, DVLA

“Keep in touch with your comms pals – we have lots to learn from each other in the thick of this. Make allowances for people. This brings out the best in many people, and the worst in some, but that’s driven by fear – people need to be supported through that.

Be kind to yourself and others. Find a little oasis or two in the day to just breathe. And if you know folk who have to self-isolate, send them #somethinginthepost and suggest they listen to some good podcasts, including #CUontheair.”

Sally Northeast, assistant director of OD, participation and communications

“For me it’s definitely about trying to keep active with running and yoga and eating well as I know that I start to dip when these things slide. With the team I think it’s about talking and sharing concerns/questions with each other. Even if we can’t solve or answer everything.”

Joanne Ford, communications manager at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park 

“I wonder if this a time for greater collaboration between organisations, especially when it comes to getting the right messages out. Everyone sending out their own messages might be confusing, but sharing fewer, consistent messages might be more effective. We also might make some cross-organisational friends too. Time and capacity permitting of course.”

Joe Crossland, Glasgow Centre for Population Health

“Resilience tips for comms folks: Communicate regularly, wash your hands, ensure messages are consistent, wash your hands, look after yourself, wash your hands, be sensible when shopping, wash your hands, and keep perspective (oh and wash your hands!!).”

Donna Jordan, head of communications and engagement at Derbyshire Constabulary

“There can sometimes be a ‘lack of communications in communications’. Remember that your team is also your customer and your biggest advocate for ensuring consistency of messaging and stopping the rumour mill. All too often we are so busy doing what we need to do, we forget where our strength and surety lies by not keeping them up to date.”

Anonymous

“Recommend, and get your organisation’s senior people to agree, which Comms activities you’ll enhance, maintain, reduce and suspend. So you’re creating capacity for the statutory duties, preparing for increased sickness absence and cutting back on all the non-essential stuff. It might even stick post-covid 19!”

Georgia Turner, head of communications and marketing at BCP Council

And, finally, this feels like a good, positive message to end on, courtesy of Anna MacLean’s – head of communications at Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park – Mom.

Thanks, Anna’s Mom.

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Darren Caveney is creator of comms2point0 and owner of creative communicators ltd

Image via Biblio Archives

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