Reopening for business: How communication is a critical tool during a pandemic by VFS’ Peter Brun

By Peter Brun, Chief Communication Officer, VFS Global

For most businesses around the world, the human toll of the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the forefront of their minds, and communications are being focused accordingly to help ensure safety. Companies, as well as their employees, are learning to adapt to the ‘new normal’ of working remotely, the economic fallout from the crisis, the business impact to their customers—the list goes on.

A glimmer of hope has come as the UAE seeks to ease restrictions brought in to stem the spread of the coronavirus, and thousands of businesses have started to reopen. Initially, it was announced 30% of private sector employees would return in Dubai. This month, both Dubai’s public and private sector workforce in full capacity was welcomed back to the office again.

As businesses across the country prepare to reopen their doors, one of the most important questions they’re asking themselves is how to communicate their plans to employees, partners and customers effectively.

While the lifting of governmental restrictions is a positive first step, this alone is not enough to bring the business back. Customers must feel confident that we have created a protected environment to which they can return safely.

With communication as a critical business tool, VFS Global is getting ready to navigate the post-pandemic world when we learn how to ‘live with the virus’.

With so much uncertainty, it’s difficult to predict how things will change. The most important role we can play as an organisation is to be a reliable resource for stakeholders at all times. We are working hand in hand (or elbow to elbow) with client governments and local embassies/consulates to ensure that our external and internal communications are timely, consistent, decisive, and based on facts and not assumptions,  that can install ongoing trust in our organisation as circumstances change. During crisis situations, we create scenarios and prepare accordingly. Our communications approach during this pandemic has been based on three essential criteria – Empathy, Engage and Educate.

Communication has also played a critical role in keeping our end-users updated through digital touchpoints such as our website and newsletters. We have also created COVID-19 customer advisories on multiple platforms that detail our plans and protocols and outline the most pertinent information. Social media has played a vital role in reaching out to our customers, with all the latest advisories updated on a real-time basis, along with a regular resolution of customer queries.

To ensure a safe, productive work environment for employees, while still protecting communities to the maximum extent possible from the spread of Coronavirus, VFS Global has established standardised protective measures to be followed across all our centres, including specific physical distancing and sanitation mandates.

The pandemic has created massive and complex challenges for a safe return to workplaces. Through regular internal communications, we made sure all the employees know how to address customer concerns.

More importantly, we were able to pre-empt and provide answers to questions our employees had – from changes in working conditions, travel restrictions, job security and health to safety, welfare and business continuity. We continue to engage with employees to assess the impact of the coronavirus and determine how we can continue to provide high-quality visa services while minimising risk.

As we emerge from the current pandemic, the world of work will make some fundamental shifts – shifts that will help us adapt and respond to the challenges of pandemics. It’s clear from this pandemic that a business like ours needs to be actively monitored, be prepared to adapt and change, react but not overreact, especially when the ‘twitter trolls’ put pressure on the organisation purely for their advantages and correct false information immediately. At the same time, apply gained knowledge to your communication strategy along the way. It will require thoughtfulness, discipline and planning and above all, effective, honest communication. Given this, when this crisis has passed, we’ll work with our stakeholders to consider what was learned and what changes need to be made to prepare for the future.