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How to Communicate with Remote Workers During an Emergency

Tuesday, March 24th, 2020

With the chaos and disruption of COVID-19, it can be easy to forget that the world itself has kept turning. Nowhere was this more evident than in Zagreb, Croatia over the weekend.

An Emergency During an Emergency

At 6:23 local time on the morning of Sunday, March 22nd, a 5.3-magnitude earthquake struck the Croatian capital, leaving one dead and at least 16 injured. The biggest earthquake to hit the region since 1880 also damaged multiple buildings, with downtown streets littered with debris.

While this event was tragic enough, the tremor occurred amid a lockdown to contain the rapidly spreading COVID-19. As in many countries, citizens were told to avoid public areas and to practice social distancing. However, they were left with no choice as they ran out of their apartments.

“Keep your distances. Do not gather. We are facing two serious crises, the earthquake and the epidemic,” said Interior Minister Davor Bozinovic. “There are rules for when there is an earthquake, but when there is an earthquake at the same time when there is a global pandemic, then it’s a much more complex situation,” Bozinovic added.

Earthquake in Utah

Closer to home, a similar scenario unfolded in Utah. On Wednesday, March 18th, a 5.7-magnitude earthquake struck just outside Salt Lake City, causing widespread damage across the region. Thankfully, there have been no reports of any injuries.

In a somewhat ironic twist, this new emergency knocked out the state’s COVID-19 hotline. While we could say that this was the earthquake asserting its primacy over the pandemic, being in the midst of a crisis does not mean that another crisis can’t strike.

Protecting Remote Workers During an Emergency

While your workers may not live in an area prone to earthquakes, the fact is that mother nature is not going to alter her schedule to accommodate COVID-19. The risk of natural disasters, extreme weather events or any other crisis is the same as it was before the outbreak and having a plan to navigate such crises is crucial.

This is especially important for organizations who have initiated Remote Work Policies to prevent the spread of the virus. While regulations vary between jurisdictions, it is imperative for any Remote Work Policy to include clear guidelines for remote workers in the event of an emergency.

However, more important than the Policy itself is how you communicate the provisions of the Policy to your remote workers. For example, it’s all well and good to have guidelines in place that advise employees of what to do during severe weather but without reliable communication at the crucial moment, such guidelines are effectively useless.

The 4 Whats and 1 How to Communicate with Remote Workers During an Emergency

Whether you’re planning for the current COVID-19 crisis or putting a plan in place for future events, establishing what, as well as how, you’re going to communicate with your remote workers is essential. Thankfully, there are some simple communication steps that are relevant for all emergencies.

What #1. Don’t Expect Employees to Come to You

One of the most important things any organization can do in a crisis is to take the lead. As soon as any emergency strikes, reaching out quickly with accurate information will increase employee safety and peace of mind.

What #2. Keep Messaging Consistent Across the Organization

No matter the size of the company, providing the same information to all employees keeps everyone in the loop. For example, if remote workers in one area will be affected by a snowstorm, informing your entire staff simultaneously will have the effect of warning those at risk while also letting others know that their colleagues may not be available in the short term.

What #3. Act Fast with Information You Know to Be True, Even if You Don’t Know Anything

Getting the word out to employees, and especially those working remotely, is imperative. In any crisis situation, there is no such thing as too much communication and even a simple message to let your staff know that you are aware of the situation can buy you valuable time to plan your next move.

It’s also critical to never deal in speculation or suppositions. Every message needs to be as accurate as possible with all information clear and easy to follow.

What #4. Keep the Messaging as Positive as Possible and Continue to Follow Up After the Event

Providing updates on the safety or treatment of co-workers is crucial for maintaining staff morale, particularly in a remote scenario. When all interaction is online, it can be hard for remote workers to find out the status of their co-workers and regular updates are a simple way to calm their anxieties.

You should also continue the conversation once the crisis ends. It’s easy to assume that when the storm passes, the crisis is over. However, the crisis aftermath is crucial and communication responsibilities still remain. These responsibilities will vary but the most obvious is updating remote workers on how the emergency has affected the organization. You could then supplement this by letting employees know how they can help their co-workers or simply by asking for feedback on how the situation could be better handled in future. Encouraging employee interaction in this way will add an element of closure and confidence to every team member involved and can only benefit staff spirit in the long term.

How #1. Utilize Your Emergency Alert or Mass Notification System to Contact Remote Workers

With prompt, accurate and consistent messaging standards in place, the final piece of the puzzle is the delivery method.

Crucially, this delivery method should be multi-pronged and should make use of all channels of communications available to you. The best way to reach one employee may not be effective at reaching another and ensuring complete delivery of every company directive is imperative. This is especially pronounced in a remote setting where you could have hundreds of employees working from home. Having the ability to notify everyone simultaneously and instantaneously may well be the difference between mild inconvenience and potential tragedy.

For example, a tornado may strike an area where 20% of your newly remote workers live. To protect these workers, as well as inform the rest of your team of the potential disruption, you need to be able to send targeted messages to different groups with the most relevant information. By utilizing an emergency alert and mass notification system like CentrAlert’s Crisis-Driven Alert & Control (C-DAC), you can quickly take control of such a situation and  communicate with your entire team in a matter of seconds.

CentrAlert’s NOW! Module Gets the Right Messages to the Right People at the Right Time

CentrAlert’s personal communication solutions can quickly route unique messages to selected individuals or groups based on their location or role. Whether sending situational awareness information to remote workers or relaying NOAA weather reports to employees in the path of a storm, CentrAlert’s industry-leading message distribution system gets the right information to the right people at the right time.

Our NOW!™ Module delivers email, mobile pop-ups, computer pop-ups, text messages, social media updates and cell phone call-outs to ensure that your message finds its intended recipient as quickly as possible. The Operator can target specific messages to specific recipients simultaneously. For some modules, the NOW! Module even offers two-way communication to account for worker safety.

All of these solutions can be adapted to fit any Remote Work Policy and if you want more information on how CentrAlert can help your organization to mitigate a public health crisis, please click here.



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