2020 has certainly been a year we will never forget. Who would have thought a year ago that a year on we’d be in the midst of a worldwide pandemic?
Let’s be honest, most people have spent 2020 figuring out how to forget about 2020. But actually, if we take a moment to pause and reflect, there is a silver lining, and that is that it’s taught us valuable lessons that no other year could. While it has no doubt been a scary 12 months for the world, the pandemic has triggered a need for deep reflection and positive transformation, particularly with regards to communications.
Businesses have had to react at a drop of a hat, with no forward planning, and ramp up their communications in response to the crisis – all while trying to keep their sanity intact. Resilience has truly been tested to no end.
Now that we’re in the final weeks of this whirlwind of a year, we thought we’d gather some feedback from our team members. Read on to learn what 2020 has taught each of them about communications.
Amy Bell, managing director and communications consultant
“The key thing that seemed to be highlighted at every level of the pandemic is: keep it simple and accessible to everyone. Every message, even the message that you think is as simple as can be, can be misunderstood.
The Government fell foul of this at every turn. Where they thought something was simple, their audience did not, and they managed to find confusion in just about everything that was said. With confusion and uncertainty comes anxiety and stress. You can’t please everyone, but you can do your best to think like your audience and make your messages as easy to understand, find, and digest as possible.”
Dr Stephanie Fitzgerald, health & wellbeing partner
“2020 has taught me an awful lot about communications. Firstly, how important it is to consider the global implications for every announcement. I saw communications being published across companies which were only applicable to the UK. For example, ‘don’t worry you’re on furlough, but you’ll be paid 80% because of the Government support’ was being sent to countries without furlough schemes, which was frightening and confusing.
From a mental health point of view, you need to update people as soon as you know. Uncertainty is anxiety provoking, and there is nothing that generates uncertainty more than a ‘we will update you next Wednesday’ message. If you know the update then let people know, don’t wait and give them a lot of anticipatory anxiety. Also pre-warn managers. If a lot of information is coming at once, then managers need to know, or else they will be inundated with questions, whilst they themselves, are processing a lot of new information.
Work together. It is such a great opportunity to unite and embed messages with a consistent approach. Combine your comms, leadership, HSE, HR and health and wellbeing teams’ messages and approaches to ensure clear, simple, straightforward messaging, being reinforced by several different parties.
Be proactive with mental health messaging. Add links to health and wellbeing resources to every communication. You never know how news will land with people and it’s so important to support and promote the resources.
Callum Whitten, social media & communications executive
“2020 has shown us that we have to be on our toes, and that planning communications over the long term won’t always be smooth. We have had to learn to be pragmatic and react to events as they happen to ensure we deliver a clear and concise message, whether that be one we are delivering to our customers or others.
This year has shown that we should avoid ‘chopping and changing’ our messaging as it causes confusion. The pandemic has made it clear that most people are prepared to listen to clear communications, but they can become frustrated and almost apathetic when messages are altered so often. By setting out key messages which are unlikely to change, small alterations can be made if necessary. The key is to avoid making communication changes off the cuff – take your time – people are patient if you are clear in your communications.
2020 has also made us realise how important keeping in touch with others is. Whether that be with your colleagues over Zoom, a client, or with a lonely relative – regular communication is so important and mutually beneficial. Make it your aim in 2021 to reply to that question on social media as quickly as possible, or to go to the effort of having a quick phone call with your client to discuss that complex briefing.”
Emily Moxon, business support manager
“2020 has taught us about the importance of pausing. With the enforced isolation and lockdown that we have all endured, it’s highlighted the need to take more time and care with communications. This is something worth adopting in both our professional, and personal, lives. For some of us, this year has provided space to notice areas of our lives that we have previously neglected. Taking the time to take stock of your communication style, the impact of your words and their intentions and meanings is crucial.”
Gemma Colley, PR & communications associate
“One thing I think we can all learn from this year is to lead by example. For instance, there were occasions where leaders were giving communications about the rules for controlling the spread of the virus, but even they, or their community, were not following those rules or behaviours. It’s one thing to communicate to the masses how things should be done, but it needs to be embedded from the top – that applies in any business (not just Government and Covid-related).”
Marie Davis, HR partner
“From a people perspective, I hope that we learn from 2020 that consistent, simple, and clear communications is always needed. We have been bombarded by complex instructions from a government perspective, which means that people need comfort and clarity from their employer to help them navigate this unchartered territory.
I also think people want to feel like someone cares about them. There has been a lot of division, highlighted with home nations tweaking their own responses to the pandemic, making it hard for everyone to understand what can and can’t be done. None of this is helpful, so if an employer can provide communication that is understanding, simple and with compassion, it can offer people added security in these uncertain times.”
Jennifer Derrick, content and copywriting associate
“If 2020 has taught me anything about communications, it’s that you can never predict what is going to happen. Be prepared to change and adapt at the last minute, be prepared to plan.
Clear communications have always been essential, but I think the pandemic has pushed this to the forefront of everybody’s mind which can only be a good thing. With so much going on in this world, now, more than ever, we need to convey our messages succinctly to cut through the noise.
At the same time, I think trusting your gut when communicating is equally important, especially when you have less time to reflect and respond to change. This year has also taught me the importance of teamwork and collaborative effort – clubbing together to help one another and boosting morale is crucial in times of crisis.”
There’s no doubt that the pandemic has had a significant impact on communications, as businesses have had to learn to rapidly adapt their messages due to the fast-moving nature of Covid-19.
But so many of us have powered through, finding the inner strength to remain resilient throughout it all. While we’re sure the number one rule of 2021 will be to not talk about 2020, taking some time to reflect on our learnings can do us the world of good. Let’s just hope next year is a less turbulent one!