The construction industry is facing the greatest threat to its survival since the 2008 financial crisis. Unlike 2008, 2020 has brought about an opportunity to establish more cost-effective and efficient means of audience engagement. Annabel John, Director of Communications and Engagement at Copper Consultancy examines the solutions available to construction businesses to build trust in the age of COVID-19.
For construction sites to reopen they will need to demonstrate to local stakeholders that government health and safety guidelines are being strictly adhered to and works are essential. While, in many instances, there is a need to meet contractual and regulatory requirements on stakeholder engagement. With COVID-19 halting face-to-face engagement, the construction industry needs to be creative with stakeholder engagement if it is to meet project milestones.
In the midst of a global pandemic, communications to external stakeholders and the public are more reliant on disseminating messages using technology. Face-to-face consultations and community events are not possible and will be unlikely to return any time soon. The rise of technological tools, such as Zoom and a host of webinar platforms, means there’s a plethora of options for creating opportunities to directly engage with project teams, ask questions or highlight an issue. This means that meetings, events and community forums can all continue despite the ongoing pandemic, ensuring that community links are maintained and public queries can be responded to in real-time.
Going one step further, technology now affords developers an opportunity to undertake fully customised virtual exhibitions. This creates a feeling of ‘in-person’ engagement with live chat functions to talk to a member of the project team, facilities to submit questions and options for video content to be utilised. This is important for maintaining a visible presence in the communities in which work programmes are being undertaken.
In a time when external audiences are bombarded with messages from multiple sources, ensuring that content remains relevant and high quality is key to maintaining positive ties with local stakeholders. Creating strategic, relevant and engaging content is the cornerstone of a successful digital engagement plan. Cut through the noise of the pandemic and offer value to audiences, whether that’s case studies, press releases or e-newsletters, remaining creative and consistent will instil confidence in audiences and demonstrate a proactivity and preparedness that could otherwise be lost in the evolving daily news cycle. It will also ensure that stakeholders understand why some construction work must continue to take place, even if other industries are working from home or have paused operations.
This will become ever more important as the nation begins readying for the restart of industry. It will no longer be enough to remain silent on certain issues. Communications teams will need to put themselves on the front foot with a proactive communications plan that has received input from across the business – from HR to procurement- covering topics as broad as site health and safety to reassure the public, through to business continuity to instil confidence in supply chain partners. Staying silent will only result in questions being asked – be proactive and engage with audiences.
As many of us continue to work from home over the coming weeks and months, maintaining effective and reassuring internal communications will become increasingly important. The utilisation of an employee newsletter is a good start and keeps everyone up to date with the latest information from around the organisation, but going beyond these tools could enhance productivity and boost morale.
WhatsApp for instance, is becoming an ever more important tool for businesses across the country. Its end-to-end encryption creates a safe space for business communication while removing the formality of a Microsoft Teams call. It’s an ideal way of quickly conveying messages to teams who are working remotely.
Turning to digital tools will not be a flash in the pan event. This is an opportunity to create a voice among employees to ensure that when creating communications plans moving forward, teams from across the board have an opportunity to feed into them. With so many of us interacting with colleagues more regularly than we may have done so in the past, we have an opportunity to encourage dialogue and a spirit of cooperation when the COVID-19 barriers are lifted. Now is no time to fall silent, silence is nobody’s friend. To weather the COVID-19 storm and flourish in the sunnier days ahead, we must all commit to developing adaptable communications plans that support internal and external audiences to understand what is happening and why. In the long-term, such planning could lead to more fulfilling and efficient audience engagement.