Featured March 19, 2020 Communicating in a public health crisis Back to Blog Stories of Service: How NGA is communicating during the COVID-19 pandemic Date May 21, 2020 | Updated on March 4, 2021 Authors Lia Collen Tags Stories of Service In photo above: Vice Adm. Sharp delivering a town hall address April 30. (Photo by Tony Boone, National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency) When more than 85% of its global workforce started working from home because of COVID-19, the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency needed to determine how best to communicate with its employees in a virtual environment. The agency’s public affairs team has worked closely with senior leadership to communicate effectively and maintain engagement with employees throughout the crisis. We asked the team how the agency accomplished this. Q: How is NGA communicating with its workforce? A: Communicating during COVID-19 is a challenge across the board, and it’s no different at NGA. We have a multitiered approach to communicating with the NGA workforce, using classified and unclassified platforms to reach employees currently working outside NGA facilities. One way we’re doing this is by supporting our director, Vice Adm. Robert Sharp. He is the voice of the agency, and our employees look to him for guidance. We support his communications with the workforce in several ways, including sending daily emails to provide key updates and messages of support, hosting weekly interactive virtual town halls, during which employees can submit questions live and delivering a weekly announcement over the loudspeakers at NGA’s Springfield, Virginia, and St. Louis, Missouri, facilities. Vice Adm. Sharp shares insights into his experiences of the past week, acknowledges employee accomplishments, sets objectives for the upcoming week and concludes by playing a song submitted by a member of the NGA workforce. Most employees are working remotely, so audio of the announcement is made available on the agency intranet websites, along with frequently asked questions and policy websites. Supervisors are another crucial communications resource. We developed tailored communication toolkits and messaging to guide supervisors in discussions with their employees. Also, the NGA human resources team has a variety of resources for employees including weekly virtual meetings on everything from process updates to mental health and meditation. Finally, the Incident Response Team is responsible for communicating all personnel and facilities information to the workforce, and we worked with them to craft daily messages highlighting new or presumed positive COVID-19 cases, sanitization and workspace updates, and emergency information. Q: How do you work with senior leadership on messaging? A: Senior leadership understands the value of workforce communications, and they make decisions with communications goals and challenges in mind. It’s our responsibility as the communications team to help our leadership determine the most effective methods for accomplishing their desired impact. We have received a great deal of positive feedback specifically surrounding director-level communications. The weekly virtual town halls average around 7,000 unique viewers globally, and Director Sharp and other NGA leaders have continued to engage with employees on a personal level – sharing stories of how COVID-19 is affecting their lives and lending a sympathetic ear to each other’s challenges. Q: Has NGA developed new best practices for communicating with its employees? A: One challenge associated with a crisis environment is to provide prioritized, accurate and timely information to employees, while remaining flexible to meet the ever-changing demands of the crisis. Two best practices we gleaned from this experience are the value of director-level communications and clearly defined communications platforms for sharing information. Having a strong, defined voice from the agency leader and dedicated communication channels between the director and the workforce go a long way in reassuring employees and furthering a sense of belonging, even while working remotely. For more in our Stories of Service blog series, read Stories of Service: Trio of VA doctors fights COVID-19 with virtual health tools. Lia Collen helps build the Partnership’s brand by supporting and implementing a comprehensive digital marketing strategy.