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The coronavirus outbreak has changed the way many organizations conduct their business. Remote work has become a necessity in the age of social distancing, while other groups have had to shut down entirely because of the guidelines put forth by federal and local governments. A main concern for many organizations that are looking to maintain their business continuity during this disaster is how they share important updates with their workers when they are not in their typical facilities.

Often the key to maintaining business continuity in the event of a crisis is developing a strong communication plan. Being able to tell people what expectations are for remote work, whether there are schedule changes, and when they can expect operations to return to normal can save time and reduce confusion. The quicker people understand what is expected of them, the quicker they can take action, meaning organizations that are able to reach everyone can resume work much sooner than those that need to waste time tracking people down to share information.

During this crisis, many organizations are utilizing a mass notification system to help share important updates that reach everyone. Mass notification systems are deployed across a wide range of industries including healthcare, K12 and higher education, manufacturing, enterprise businesses and government. These tools are used to keep people safe and informed by helping organizations improve the speed and reach of their emergency messages. They can help organizations lockdown a facility if there is a violent intruder, stop production if there is severe weather approaching, and evacuate a building in the event of a fire. Mass notification systems can also tie together different devices, so the same message get communicated with a push of a button. Organizations don’t need to waste time logging in and out of different tools because everything is united through a single system. The goal is to get information out quickly to keep everyone on the page about what is happening. This can mitigate disruptions and get operations back up and running as quickly as possible.

However, these examples are how mass notification is used under normal circumstances, when a majority of an organization’s people are within their facilities and can hear a message delivered through on-premises devices such as desk phones, IP speakers, digital signage, and flashing strobes. Intrusive audio and images help capture people’s attention to alert them that an emergency is taking place and they need to get to safety. Those alerting methods become useless once people are working remote, but mass notifications can still get people to stop what they are doing and notice new messages by pivoting to a mobile alerting strategy.

As people move to remote work, mobile devices will be the best way to deliver information that impacts work schedules and expectations. Business continuity is sometimes hindered by an inability to quickly resume work following a disruption. This can often be attributed to communications that do not reach everyone, which can slow down the time it takes for everyone to begin working again. With mass notification organizations can reach everyone with the same message at the same time. Mobile alerts can be delivered as SMS text messages, push notifications to a mobile app, emails and recorded phone messages. The more channels an organization leverages, the more likely it is that everyone sees the message in a timely manner. A multi-channel approach is also more effective than simply relying on company-wide emails. Emails are easy to ignore, and when it comes to messages that impact business continuity, organization leaders need to do whatever they can to ensure those messages are read quickly.

That’s why desktop notifications delivered by a mass notification system can be another effective method for reaching people with updates. Organizations that have sent workers home may have given them laptops or desktop computers to perform their duties while not in the office. Workers will be just as likely to be using their computers as they are to be checking their mobile device while they are remote. This provides a direct and immediate line of communication for organization leaders to reach their people. Desktop notifications can pop-up over other open applications, interrupting whatever the recipient is working on, and forcing them to pay attention to the new message. For organizations that have remote workers with business computers, this can the most effective way of reaching them during work hours.

Messages can include operational updates, as well as useful information to help workers get through this crisis. Messages can include links to resources like how to maintain productivity when working from home and tips about social distancing and hygienic habits like frequent hand washing that can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Notifications can also be scheduled to go out at the same time every day. This can get remote workers in the habit of checking their devices at a set time to receive a message. Receiving regular updates lets employees known managers are actively monitoring the situation and can help reduce feelings of isolation as workers remain at home.

Of course, communication is a two-way street. Organizations leaders will want to share information out, but they will also want to hear from their employees.  Desktop and mobile notification methods can offer organizations the ability to check in on their employees through confirmation responses. When a mass notification is distributed, the recipient can respond to simple question to provide organization leaders with valuable insights. This could simply ask the recipient if they had read the message, so administrators can know who they need to follow up with or can ask about how an employee is doing to let managers know if personal check-ups are needed to address employee wellness. These can be preventative measures to intervene before problems escalate that could impact business continuity. 

It can also help organizations identify a potential coronavirus outbreak. Having a large number of workers fall in, resulting in an inability to perform their duties, can have a greater impact on business continuity than simply shifting to remote work. Messages can be sent out with a list of common coronavirus symptoms to help workers identify if they are exhibiting signs of the disease. If a worker is experiencing symptoms, they can respond to the notification, alerting organizations leaders who can then look to alert others that work in close proximity to that person. This can help organizations anticipate potential needs if workers become ill.

Workplace communication tools are evolving, which means messages need to reach people where they are most likely to see it. Remote workers may rely on collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Cisco Webex Teams to conduct regular activities and keep track of projects. Mass notification tools that can have those applications serve as endpoints to offer an additional channel where people are likely to see a message. Beyond serving as a place where recipients can view a message, collaboration tools can also be used for incident management following the distribution of a mass notification. The coronavirus outbreak will require ongoing management to mitigate negative impacts to business continuity. New developments and guidelines will require businesses to adapt and alert their workers about new expectations. Being able to quickly gather key stakeholders can save time and lead to more decisive action to share new plans with remote workers.

With certain systems, a similar functionality can automatically invite people to join a conference call. For smaller groups, or for those who prefer audio communications to written ones, this can be a productive way to take immediate action. It can also be less time consuming than traditional calling trees.

At some point, businesses will be able to reopen their facilities and have their workers return to their normal routines. Making the switch back to a regular work schedule can be just as disruptive as moving to remote work. How quickly workers adjust back to their daily procedures will have an impact on business continuity. Much like mass notification can be used to communicate changes brought on by the shift to remote work, it can also be used to bring workers back. Leveraging the methods already mentioned, workers can be quickly notified about when offices and plants plan to reopen. This gives them time to make the proper preparations and can ease the transition from remote work. This can help organizations recover faster from the impact the coronavirus has had on their business.

When business do reopen, those that have implemented a mass notification will have the added benefit of a tool that can help preserve business continuity during other crisis events. Organizations will have established an authoritative channel their people can turn to for accurate information and instructions. While mobile alerting options will still be useful, they can be combined and expanded with notifications to on-premises devices and well. The goal should be to utilize as many devices and delivery methods as possible to ensure no one misses a message. The sooner people receive a message, the quicker they can act, ultimately minimizing the impact on business continuity.

 

 

 

 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Shain

Paul Shain is the president and CEO of Singlewire Software, developers of InformaCast, a mass notification solution.

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