It was mid-March when, in Greece, the government announced a partial lockdown amid escalating concern over COVID19. Restrictions on public transport were put in place and retail, entertainment and hospitality operators were requested to cease operations until the pandemic was under control.
Most private sector firms consequently asked their employees to start working remotely. A very limited number of businesses remained open. For example, physical bank branches continue to operate but some restrictions are in place, including a limit on the number of customers allowed in a branch. However, retail bank branches continue to serve customers.
Co-ordination is critical
During these difficult times large organisations with thousands of employees need to coordinate responses based on their business continuity plans. There is a critical success factor: a response team must be able to reach individuals or groups of employees effortlessly and instantly.
Big organizations have operations that are complex and that are served by a multitude of different systems and underlying infrastructure. The data for each individual is too often dispersed across multiple databases – or worse, stored informally.
Emails and intranet posts can go unnoticed
Many organizations respond to a crisis by communicating information to employees through the company intranet or by sending an ordinary email update. It’s an inefficient method if mobilisation is urgent: the average time for an employee to read an email is 4hrs.
Simply put: emails do not create a sense of urgency.
Similarly, posting an update to Intranet is not as personalised as it should be and it is limited to organisation-wide announcements. Intranet posts can also easily be missed – and might not be viewed in time.
Some organizations may decide to use an existing marketing campaign tool to reach employees across alternative channels such as SMS. This approach will require some initial effort to set up, after all marketing tools are not by design intended for emergency notification.
However, broadcasting across every possible channel is essential: making use of additional channels improves the chances that individual recipients are reached.
Sending targeted cross-channel notifications to your employees during a crisis
When an unexpected crisis like COVID19 strikes your response coordination team must have instant access to up-to-date employee contact details: at least an email address, or a mobile or landline phone number. You also need a current location so that you can target the right individuals with critical information.
Most important of all, your employees should already be grouped according to set criteria. Tagging employees with relevant characteristics is one way to do it. It’s critical that you’re able to easily and rapidly create a new targeted group based on data you already hold.
Finally, your response coordination team must be capable of broadcasting alerts across multiple communication channels. Why? Well, employee X will be best reachable with SMS, while employee Y may only pay attention to you if you push your alert via a voice call.
Unified communications at the core of emergency broadcasting
A unified communications (UC) system makes it easy to achieve targeted, cross-channel broadcasting of a message. UC is a dedicated software solution that improves the safety and security of an organization by delivering real-time alerts and instructions in the midst of a crisis.
Pireaus Bank is one of the largest banks in South-Eastern Europe and Greece’s largest in terms of assets. As soon as the restrictions were announced in Greece, senior management quickly decided to proceed with the implementation of a mass notification solution to appropriately communicate updates to its 12 000 employees.
Deploying an effective, cross-channel UC-based alert system
Implementation time was of essence therefore a proven and secure cloud-based UC solution was identified as the best way forward.
The bank’s COVID19 response coordination team wanted to have a platform in place to be able to communicate updates for any of the following use cases, as and when needed:
|Use case||Communication example||Why a mass notification system is essential|
Informing employees about precarious conditions that may affect them during working hours
|‘Traffic arrangements will be in force in your area due to public transportation ban between 3pm and 6pm’.||Response teams must be able to rapidly contact the correct people with a single action. To achieve this a mass notification system must tag recipients with information that clearly categorises recipients. Responders just select the appropriate recipient tags to ensure that the right people will be informed.|
|Urgent business process change
Informing stakeholders about critical business process changes that affect significantly operations alongside key information.
|‘Due to government regulations regarding COVID19 please ensure that branch customer presence in the premises will be limited to 1 person for every 10 sq. meters’.
‘From Monday, and for the next 15 days, you are requested to work at BRANCH X’.
‘Branch X, floor 3 should be available tomorrow for decontamination. You are kindly requested to work from home’.
|Groups of recipients can be created on-the-fly using geographic criteria, and a notification instantly sent. For example, being able to target employees of a specific floor is much more accurate than targeting employees of the whole building. Also, drawing a shape on a map makes it easy to target a wider geographic area.|
Communicating emergency procedures for emergency events such as fires, earthquakes, medical incidents, civil unrest. Guiding employees and customers to safe exits and assembly points.
|‘Attention Please! For security reasons police instructed the immediate evacuation of the building. Personnel occupying the threatened area are requested to take with them their personal belongings’.||Two of the must-have features of a mass notification system is device escalation and two-way communication. These features are particularly important for emergency situations. Device escalation ensures that the message will reach the recipient on any of their available devices (SMS, landline, mobile, email). Two-way communications will enable the recipient to respond to the message.
A dashboard should provide the progress of the notification escalation and recipient response, preferably in real time.
The implementation of a secure, cloud-based, mass notification solution was achieved within seven days. It is remarkable considering the size of the organization. Within this period the following tasks were completed:
- cloud infrastructure setup
- integration with existing systems to synchronise contact details for 12 000 individuals
- developing scripts to ensure regular updates so that the latest contact details are always available
- user training
- user acceptance tests
The implementation of a UC-driven mass notification system must be communicated to all employees and stakeholders with an introduction message. For example:
‘In a critical event of emergency, our organization will use this system to communicate important information. Please confirm within 1 hour that you have received this message.’
The ability of an organization to respond quickly to an event is a fundamental component of business continuity management. In a crisis, a mass notification system plays a vital role in the overall resiliency of an organization.
Just like Piraeus Bank, your mass notification system can and must be used as the hub for critical communications.