The coronavirus pandemic has been a very interesting and cautious time for communications professionals across the world. Almost all comms professionals, especially in Bangladesh, are now experiencing a new element in crisis communication since the pandemic struck more than 200 countries.
Almost all the companies of Bangladesh have their own crisis communication strategies, but this was something they never expected to experience. In the context of Bangladesh, crisis communication only means tackling potentially negative news in the media, or trying to mitigate the damage to a tolerable level.
Keeping comfortable and supportive relationships with the media people is synonymous to crisis communication in this country. Before I started working with a bank about a year ago, I used to work with a telecom company that had about 13,000 mobile network towers across the country.
During natural disasters such as cyclones and floods, we were needed to communicate to the people in the coastal areas of Bangladesh about how to take care of themselves and vacate their homes and go to cyclone shelters. The government always depends on the telecom companies for this.
However, the real crisis communication in Bangladesh started during this pandemic, which went way beyond our plans and thinking. But we learned a lot of aspects about both external and internal communications. We have 8,500 people working for the bank, and we felt the need to make them aware on what was coming.
At the end of February, even before the first case was identified in Bangladesh, we formed an informal core committee that started monitoring the spread, flight, and behaviour of the virus. With an enormous workforce, it was urgent to make them aware of how to remain safe from any kind of contamination.
We have an e-learning platform, which we thought could be utilized. We started gathering as much information as we could from the reliable sources, such as the government, WHO, BRAC, and some major international news organizations. By the first week of March, we were able to prepare a set of FAQs for all employees.
The FAQ was simple: What is coronavirus, how prevent it, what to do when someone is infected. However, communicating this to an enormous workforce was a challenge. Informal surveys say no one actually reads most of the emails that are sent to them.
Therefore, sharing the FAQs with team leaders and department/unit heads was very effective, and they made sure that everyone read the FAQs and knew the facts available at that time. Gradually, many more facts surfaced, and we could know about the life-threatening risks.
When the first coronavirus case was identified in our country, we had to move faster than we thought we could. The government, as well as the media in Bangladesh, began to provide various kinds of information on the prevention. We started implementing social distancing practices.
Communicating this was vital. We observed that people were already panicked, and that helped. Our communications regarding social distancing worked. When the government announced the “general holiday” at the end of March, we fathomed the problem in the message, and we immediately reworded the holiday internally as the “stay-home” holiday.
We had to ensure that our people — who would not be working at the branches — must remain home and not go anywhere outside their geographical locations. The banks were not closed; they had to deliver the basic services on a limited scale. Now, we had to ensure that our people as well as the customers visiting the branches knew how to remain safe.
Communicating on how to remain safe at the same time as serving the customers was highly important. At the same time, we also needed to make the visiting customers aware about the dangers of being contaminated. Apart from visiting the branches, they were also going to the ATM booths.
So, they had to be alerted and communicated on how to remain safe when they came out of their homes with all kinds of precautionary measures. We sent emails and texts to them about the dos and don’ts. We also started encouraging them to use all digital platforms, so that they remain away from the branches and bank from home.
Since the end of March, I started compiling various types of suggestions on how to remain safe, what to do when infected, where to go when infected, etc, and communicated to our workforce almost every day. No one had told me to do that; I felt the need. Yes, people were noticing those communications and calling to thank me. I was inspired.
We also noticed the psychological impact on everyone; our stress level had gone up. Therefore, this was a good opportunity to communicate some general health and safety tips that can keep everyone healthy — both mentally and physically — during this difficult time.
The need for constant communications with the customers as well as the workforce has multiplied manifold. The need actually arose as we monitored their requirements during this pandemic.
These are new learnings for the communications professionals. The pandemic has taken us to a different level, thinking differently and applying extreme imagination while strategizing any communication plan in the future.
First published in Dhaka Tribune.