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Lessons from the H1N1 virus

As of Monday, there were 30 countries reporting more than 4,600 cases of the H1N1 virus – swine flu. While the pandemic seems to be waning, there could be more waves if those who have it infect others.

The World Health Organization cited vigilance and diligence as reasons that world governments were prepared for the first wave of the virus. Their preparations for a possible avian flu pandemic meant they had a system in place to communicate with each other, share data and apprise their publics of the situation.

Is your agency as prepared? Did the first wave of the H1N1 virus motivate your agency to put plans in place if you weren’t?Beyond the human resources and internal communication policies that you should have in place to deal with a possible pandemic that could keep your workers at home, how do you keep your agency running smoothly and seamlessly during a crisis?

According to Robert C. Chandler, PhD, an expert on organizational behavior and communication during human health crises, these types of situations are usually fast-paced, and stressful. Urgent situations demand that critical (sometimes life and death) decisions often have to be made with limited or changing information. That’s what makes clear communications even more important – and difficult – during a health crisis.

But clear communication can be difficult if your audience – employees, partners, or other agencies – is using non-visual communication methods, such as email and phone. Miscues can be a problem — lack of understanding or not realizing that someone does not understand you are all possibilities.

Remembering the value of face-to-face communications is key to success in a crisis, according to Chandler. “By incorporating the face-to-face element into their communication strategies from the outset, planners will find that in the event of a crisis, teams will be able to act more quickly, more accurately, and deliver more effective results.”

One option is video teleconferencing (VTC), which enables people at different locations to communicate as if they were in the same room. VTC not only allows for crisis teams to plan and prepare effectively and efficiently, it can also create a way to keep an agency running smoothly by offering a more realistic and interactive telework environment for employees.

VTC reduces many barriers to telework, as colleagues, managers and support teams can continue to interact with one another face-to-face., maintaining the level of collaboration they had in the office, while increasing their productivity.

Workers can share content/information visually and immediately, and even with base or office changes, can still work as a team. With the swine flu and other pandemic crises, telework enhanced by VTC is rapidly becoming a necessity to maintain business as usual for the government.

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