Communicating during the coronavirus: Advice from a Microsoft leader
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Communicating during the coronavirus: Advice from a Microsoft leader

June 25, 2020 | Updated on July 1, 2021
Abby Palazzo

Photo above: Frank Shaw during the June 4 virtual event on communicating effectively during the coronavirus.

The coronavirus forced communications professionals to quickly adapt their activities in ways they couldn’t have predicted. And it changed the way communicators look at events as they became exclusively virtual, according to Frank Shaw, corporate vice president of communications at Microsoft.

Shaw offered his insight on crisis communications at a June 4 event hosted by the Federal Communicators Network, Microsoft and the Partnership—discussing 19 lessons for communicating effectively during the ongoing epidemic. His main themes could help communicators as they work in this challenging environment. 

Check in with your employees first

Above all, you need to be tactful during this period as many of your employees juggle professional responsibilities with child care, illness and the relentless cycle of news, Shaw said. With employees trying to balance all their responsibilities while working remotely, you should manage your team with sensitivity and understanding.

Shaw also emphasized the importance of being kind to employees and thanking them at the start and end of any interaction, whether they’re collaborating on a critical task or simply taking time out of the day for a meeting. Acknowledging telework can be difficult can also go a long way. 

Overcommunicate while keeping your messaging simple

Communications professionals should use straightforward and repeated messaging to eliminate confusion and keep employees in the loop. You cannot overcommunicate right now—repetition is critical to getting your message across to those who need to hear it.

To ensure clarity, Shaw suggests waiting before replying to coworkers’ emails, rather than giving in to the instinct to respond immediately. “Be explicit in building in some thinking time … where you’re out of the fray for a little bit and you have some space to think about what’s needed,” he said.

Tell the truth 

The maxim that underlies all of Shaw’s advice is to tell the truth, even when it’s hard. Be honest in your communications with your employees and your external audiences, and if you don’t know the answer to a question, admit it. “One of our jobs is to make sure that we are, at the end of the day, truth-tellers to people in power,” Shaw said.

Read more about communicating during the coronavirus pandemic: 

Watch the Federal Communicators Network event with Frank Shaw below.

Abby Palazzo is a former intern on the Partnership’s Communications team.