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Hints, tips and help

Five ways you can deal with an ongoing comms crisis remotely

As the on-going COVID pandemic continues to occupy our time, and throw up new challenges for public sector communicators, we asked FirePRO Chair, Paul Compton, for his top tips when it comes to getting through times like these. 

If there’s one thing that communicators are good at: it’s dealing with a crisis. But in all our crisis comms planning, how often have we thought that we’d find ourselves in a worldwide, long-term crisis that has sent everyone packing from offices and working permanently from home? I’ll bet only in a fleeting moment of: what’s the worst that could happen.

We know that Covid is going to be with us for some time. And that it will be a very long road to ‘recovery’, or rather the ‘the new normal’ or maybe just ‘a place that will be picking the best of what went before and the best of what we’ve done since’.

To help see you through this time, however long it may be, here are our best five survival tips for a coping with long-term comms crisis:

1. Teamwork is definitely dreamwork

Staying connected as a team is hard to do when you’re not in the same office. But video conferencing has a provided an opportunity to do this, even with some interesting quirks (is it odd to wave at the end?). It’s important to make sure everyone is involved in discussions so that they’re clear on what each other is doing – remember people could go off work at a moment’s notice. Handovers are vital. But it’s also important that regular catch ups are focused on more than just tasks: joke, socialise, have fun, check everyone’s ok, allow space for people to share thoughts and concerns. Don’t let being out of an office environment stop you from being an effective team.

2. Rest and recuperate

You’ve got to take some time for yourself. The busy early weeks of the crisis might now be calming down, but there’s a long slog ahead with different challenges – test and trace is a current spicy one. People may have been in this for a long time with fatigue setting in. Make sure you take time off, rest people who have been particularly in the midst of it, and look out for your colleagues. If you see someone not themselves on a video call, it won’t hurt to give them a call or a text afterwards to check they’re ok. You also need to check in with yourself occasionally and let people know if you need help.

3. Be prepared for another crisis

In the film Crimson Tide, there’s a dramatic scene where a fire erupts on a submarine and the captain immediately follows it with a missile drill before anyone’s had a chance to draw breath. The view being that even in the midst of a crisis you could be hit by another one. With an ongoing business continuity situation like Covid, the chances of another situation demanding your attention are high. The warm weather has increased the risk of wildfire – experienced already in Dorset and Wiltshire and South Yorkshire – and there’s a greater risk of cyber attacker trying to take advantage of the public sector being distracted. Make sure you’re prepared for this and able to respond quickly, move people to different tasks or even draw in people from other teams to support.  

4. Train and support others to create content

With communications professionals working at home and unable to easily get to places to capture content, now has never been a better time to get some key people trained in how to do good image-based content. Or to encourage members of the public to be your content providers – within reason and making sure they’re doing so safely. Think about your key spokespeople: do they have reasonable tech to record their video? Buying a mini or full tripod and sending it to your chief’s house is a good investment. Think about what can you do at distance to support people to create good content? You can easily talk a firefighter through how to make simple video of how they’re supporting partners during this time. Or do a Zoom masterclass on photography or video. A comms WhatsApp number where people can drop content to you can mean you can turn around social media content quickly.

 5. Learn hard and fast

In any crisis situation you’re going to have to accept that you’re not always going to get everything immediately right. And that’s a good thing. The ability to do something, test if it works, and then adapt based on what you learn is the only way to manage the situation. But you need to make sure that you do learn and adapt as you go along and not keep something in place that’s not working. It’s also worthwhile putting some time aside to come together as a team and debrief, even in the midst of crisis. You want it fresh, not someone trying to remember something that happened six months ago when the fog of time has set in. Get this right, and you’ll be able to continually adapt and improve the quality of your work and the efficiency of how you do it.

Throwback - what a tool!

Most of us are probably busier than ever right now. Will things calm down? Who knows. One things for sure - there's probably never been a better time to adopt the life-changing project management tool Pete Richardson, London Fire Brigade's Digital Manager, introduced us to in the last issue. We thought it was worth a throwback...

My team look after a wide range of work. We get roped into everything from intranet redesigns, to email marketing strategies, to video production and social media campaigns. There are a lot of moving parts. Sound familiar? 

The stress of keeping track 

None of us are superhuman (well, maybe a couple of you), so remembering all the details, updates, deadlines and schedules can feel impossible - sometimes just trying to keep track of everything that’s going on can double your stress levels before you even think about how your going to get any of it done (i’m hoping this doesn’t sound familiar, but I’m pretty sure it does).

My saviour

Early on in my career I started looking for tools to help manage the amount of info us comms professionals have to juggle; Note pads, post-it notes, dictaphones, memory palaces… Then one day I was introduced to Trello, and it has changed my life.

The ultimate to-do lists

Trello is basically a project management tool that lets you create the ultimate to-do lists. You can set up a Trello Board however it suits you or your team. In my team we use Trello Boards to track the progress of developments on our website, video production projects and collaborating on news content for our intranet etc. But most importantly we use Trello to list and track the progress of our individual work tasks.

Better memory 

For me personally this means as long as I add it to Trello it will get done. I can add as much detail as I like: images, documents and copy. And I can set reminders that come to me as an email, or a message on my phone. Trello has become my more reliable (searchable, taggable, shareable) memory.

This guy uses Trello in a similar way me for my day to day, and helpfully he’s made a video about it: 

Great for management 

As a manager, using Trello means I can dip into my team’s Trello boards to check progress of actions, add new actions or even add images or documents I think would be useful for their work. It also means if someone comes over needing an ‘urgent update for the [insert important name here] any of the team can give an update - obviously that never happens though...

You can assign items on a Trello Board to your team members, tag different actions as part of one project - so you can view the actions for only one project at a time, or all the actions for everything, add deadlines and much, much more. have written about how they use Trello here.

Not the only one

For me Trello takes away that nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something and gives me the ultimately satisfying feeling of moving a card from ‘to-do’ to ‘done’. But it’s not the only tool that can do this. gets pretty good reviews

Asana has been used by some big corporations for some time

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