Current world-changing and wrecking Corona-crisis has raised the need for communication inside company to new frontiers and atmospheres. Employees need information for themselves (what this means to me and to my work, how we continue from now on, what changes) and for the company (how we are communicating to outside, is there a common story for all of us so there won’t be mixed messages to customers and partners). I did a Sulava webinar on 27th of March how to use Microsoft Teams for Crisis Communication. In this blog post I open the first scenario I presented in the webinar in more detail.
When you could use out of the Box Teams for Crisis Communication
Lots of companies and organizations are now in the situation what they didn’t prepare for. They didn’t have a common practices and experience how to use Teams effectively for communication. This solution is not for most of those companies since this requires that employees are
- Using Teams on daily / hourly basis (so communication reaches them out) either on desktop and/or mobile
- Organization has agreed on some practices how they communicate in Teams earlier and they have experience. This can of course be overcome quickly, but the larger the organization the harder the task is (or even impossible in this schedule).
- Employees know about teams notification settings and want to change them so that crisis communication reaches them out
- There is a team (or specific teams) that reach out everyone in the company. So every employee is a member in at least one of those “all-company/division” teams.
Some organizations have been using Teams for year or two already. Sometimes the rollout hasn’t been that successful but people have learned skills how to use Teams – especially how to suppress notifications. Perhaps those organization/division-wide Teams have been causing too much noise and people have hidden those teams and channels and turned all notifications off. On this scenario this crisis communications can not reach them.
This crisis communication can work the best for smaller organizations where every employee is a member of the organizational wide team. While a single team member limit is 5000 usually that large organization can’t be sure that the messages in channel reach out everyone. Of course this could be one channel our of several to provide information.
Breaking info: Team member limit will be increased to 10K members by the end of April. See Roadmap for more info.
Prepare a team and crisis information channel
If you don’t have a organization wide team ready you need to create one. Or actually your Team Admins need to create one. Don’t forget to write a welcome-message explaining what the team is and why it is used. Post that message there a few times so everyone sees it. If you have a large number of employees you may want to limit members posting to General-channel but this depends heavily on the organization culture.
Prepare a Crisis Information channel and spread the word around it. This is easier if you have already a News/Announcements channel you have been using to communicate important information to everyone. In case you have plenty of news and announcements (daily) then you may want to add a new Crisis Information channel. Use a emoji as the first character and mark the checkbox for “Automatically show this channel in everyone’s channel list” to make it visible for all.
Delete Wiki-tab. If you need to share some wiki-style information add a OneNote tab or add a page via SharePoint.
The reason for using a emoji first in channel’s name makes it among the first channels shown in the channel list of the team.
Make the channel limited
To keep the channel free of clutter you should enable channel moderation to it so that only team owners, and selected persons, can post messages there. This is done using channel moderation that is activated from channel’s … menu.
Select channel moderation on from the Channel moderation drop-down:
Then set following options:
- Who are the moderators: team owners. You can add additional people who can write new posts to this channel via Manage-button
- Team member permissions: remove checkbox from “Allow members to reply to channel messages”
Settings are automatically saved. Now you have secured the channel so that only limited number of people can do new posts or replies.
This is done to keep the history in the right order (when no-one replies to posts they appear in the order they have been posted). This way employees can scroll up the history and new posts remain visible.
Writing crisis news
The best way to starting creating crisis news is to use Announcement-feature for channel posts. That allows you to set a background image or color to your post – highlighting it visibly. When you do some posts with title only and some with announcement it will be easy to read. If you post everything as announcement and use the same color or background image your posts don’t stand out but look the same.
Start writing a new post to the channel by expanding the dialog:
Then click on the top-left of the post editor and choose Announcement.
Now you can starting writing the post by choosing a headline, background image or color. On the top you can see that “everyone can reply” is disabled since member reply is disabled. You can also choose to post this same announcement to multiple channels that can be in different teams. This is useful if you have more than one team where your employees are.
When you are almost ready writing your post review it. Don’t forget to add channel and possibly team mentions to the crisis information post. Some employees might have turned channel and some other team notifications off. This creates noise – yes – but now it is urgent that we reach out to those people.
Also, since Announcements support adding attachments these days you should include the company crisis guidelines/info sheet with every post for easy reading.
And this is how your final post looks like
Let employees know how to stay up to date
Teams is full of great features that help to work together better than ever. One of those features is Channel Notifications. Instruct your employees to start following every post in the Crisis Information channel. In case you forget to atmention team/channel they can still be notified about your new posts.
Every employee must make this selection by themselves. Company or admins can’t do it for them. Start by … menu at the end of the channel to activate Channel Notifications.
In channel notification select to receive a Banner and feed notification to all new posts. This will also do the “toast” notification in our Teams desktop and bring out the notification in our Teams mobile in case you are not using desktop.
You should also check “Include all replies” in case moderators add some messages as replies. Also consider enabling Banner and feed notifications for this crisis channel mentions. In case somebody mentions the crisis channel in some other channel you would be also notified.
Share this information to your employees as requirement. If you are using Teams channel messaging to keep them up to date about the crisis they need to make it possible themselves as well. This is one big reason why this isn’t a feasible solution to every company but if your current “maturity level” in Teams use and practices is high enough this can take you a long way forward in Crisis communication.
Use targeted communication (tags) to notify people
Teams also got a new feature rolled out in about a month ago: targeted communication aka “people tags”. Team owners can manage these tags on default. These can also play a good role in the crisis communication since you can use tags to atmention groups of people. Tags are managed in a team, so these work very well if you have everyone in the company in one team. You can use tags inside that team’s channel posts but you can also send a private group chat to everyone with that tag.
Start with team’s … menu and choose Manage tags.
In case you don’t have any tag groups yet start by creating one. For example “Crisis Commo Responsibles” – so you can atmention everyone responsible of crisis communication without having to remember their names.
There is a limit to tag group name so keep names short. You can also add people to that group directly in the creation screen.
You can create several groups of people. Think about who can help people in this crisis especially. It is better to have several names for one “help function” in case someone catches the illness. Using these tag groups it is easy to reach out to people who are responsible of some areas or are subject matters.
And if you click open the group you can add/remove people from the tag and you can also initiate a group chat easily with everyone in that tag group. Your tags = tag groups where you are in.
You can use these tag groups like you would atmention a person, team or channel in teams message.
Add more information using Teams Application
On top of messages in one channel or atmentioning different groups of people you should also have a one central place for all crisis information “Crisis Intranet”. One very efficient and great way to do it is to the information where your employees are – in Teams. Using the app you can selected several modern SharePoint Online pages that contain the crisis information, working from home practices, emergency contacts and FAQ for example.
Since those pages are in SharePoint they can be linked to emails, chat messages and to other information channels – and especially to Intranet front page. During the crisis it is good to have several channels to relay information to employees. But minimize the places there you need to update them.
Adding the application is not possible in every organization and certainly not possible for every communication manager, so it is not “out of the box” feature as is – but it is not too difficult either. You need to speak with your Teams Admins and company policies about apps.
There are, of course, other – often better – ways to keep employees up to date and send them crisis alerts / messages into their Teams chat, email or to other channels. View my webinar recording to see what kind of tools are available. What I showcased in this blog post is the ability to use Teams & channel features to reach out people without any add ons – using just built-in capabilities. In case that would work for your organization – it is a lot better than information that comes late (or never).
Crisis Communication is extremely important.
– To create an overall picture of the situation
– To provide adequate information
– To ensure the community’s operational and business continuity
– To maintain the relationship of trust between the management and employees
– To interact with management and employees on an ongoing basis