While 86 percent of companies have an emergency communications plan in place, a plan is only as good as the technology that supports it.
Unfortunately, many of the systems companies use today to communicate with employees during emergencies are outdated or clunky. And they lack the capabilities needed to meet the needs of the modern workforce.
Changing workforce dynamics and a shift in employee communication preferences mean companies need to examine their current emergency communication system—whether that be email, phone, a mass notification system, or something else entirely—to determine if it can truly meet their needs today and into the future.
What Technology Are You Using?
Today, 88 percent of companies use email and 59 percent use manual call trees to communicate with employees during emergencies. And while these methods can be effective, they also have plenty of drawbacks.
Email may be quick to send, but it isn’t always quick to read and many employees simply ignore them. Some research finds that fewer than half of employees open internal communication emails. Another study puts the open rate at 66 percent for all internal communications emails. Either way, emails are clearly missing a large portion of their audience. No matter the platform or server you’re using, the same deliverability and reliability issues exist.
Meanwhile, manual call trees are prone to misinformation and long delays. In rapidly developing situations, the situation has often already changed before the call tree even reaches its final branch.
And while nearly half (49 percent) of organizations use some form of emergency management software to reach their employees during a crisis, not all systems are comparable. When evaluating your emergency mass notification technology, it is critical to look at how employees are notified of an emergency, how information is delivered and received, and how effective the channels of communication are at reaching every employee in harm’s way. Many systems that worked fine even a few years ago just weren’t built for a mobile-first world and lack the functionality—such as two-way messaging, live map tracking and geofencing, and multi-channel delivery—needed to keep a dispersed workforce safe, informed, and connected.
5 Signs You Need to Upgrade Your Mass Notification System
So how can you tell if it’s time to re-evaluate your organization’s existing emergency mass communication system? Here are five red flags it’s time for an upgrade:
1. Everyone in your intended audience isn’t receiving your messages
No matter how great your employee communication may be, it has little value if no one receives it. Emails are often missed or unread, mostly because we simply get too many of them to open them all. And how often do people answer phone calls from numbers they don’t recognize or promptly pick up voicemails anymore?
No employee should ever say, “I didn’t get the message.” A dedicated emergency mass notification system ensures every employee receives the information they need. An effective system should allow you to send messages to your audience via voice call, text message, email, mobile app push notification, social media, and any custom channel. Being able to customize your channel preference per employee, department, location, or job function can make all of the difference.
2. Employees are receiving untimely information
Emergency communications are time-sensitive. If employees receive the information late—whether it’s because they didn’t receive the initial message or it was buried in other communications—it can be catastrophic.
The only way to ensure your audience is receiving the messages at the right time is to leverage a robust emergency mass notification system that allows you to identify individual message delivery and opens. Does your system enable read receipts and provide message delivery statistics—such as delivery performance by channel—to ensure your intended audience has received the message? If not, it’s likely time to reconsider your options.
3. You have no way of communicating with offline employees
A major problem with many mass notification systems on the market today is that they don’t enable reliable communication with employees who are traveling, working remotely, or not connected 24/7. In fact, 83 percent of companies say they have not yet implemented a technology solution to communicate digitally with offline employees. This failure of duty of care at work is negligent and can put offline employees in real danger.
Given the nature of today’s global, dispersed, and highly mobile workforce, your emergency communication system needs to enable more than just phone and email communications. Remote or lone workers, for example, may not have access to a computer or be in a location without internet or cell service. And when a disaster hits, phone and internet service is often interrupted, leaving employees in the dark.
A modern emergency notification system should ensure messages can be sent across multiple channels individually or simultaneously—per employee. Such multi-modal capabilities are a good investment into the safety and peace of mind of every employee.
4. You have no way to segment your population
Every employee doesn’t need to receive every message. You can set up distribution lists in your email service, but what if an employee leaves, comes on board, or moves departments? Are you consistent in keeping up with all of these changes? Can you easily segment by who is on the clock, in the event you have shift workers? Even if your current system has segmentation capabilities, it has to be easy and fast to do so in order to be useful in an emergency situation.
A good mass communication system should make segmenting your audience simple and quick. One of the biggest problems with internal communications is that employees ignore them. The more irrelevant messaging you send out, the less likely any will be read. It’s important to use your communication opportunities wisely and this means not wasting anyone’s time with messages that don’t apply.
Only the right people should get the messaging that’s right for them. And if your emergency mass notification system doesn’t integrate directly with your HRIS, your segmentation capabilities are taking a hit. By communicating directly with your HR system of record, a robust mass notification system can access accurate employee contact data in real time, segmenting employees into accessible groups based on location, department, or any other attribute.
In the case of an emergency, every second counts. The less time you spend creating your distribution list, the faster your alerts get to their intended audience. You should be able to quickly select the list you need and send the message on whichever channel(s) necessary.
5. You want to improve and measure your communication effectiveness
With an outdated mass notification system, there is little companies can do to determine whether their messages are resonating. They simply put the messages out there and hope that employees receive, open, and act upon them.
If your mass notification system doesn’t give you the analytics you need to determine if your communications are effective, it’s time to re-evaluate your technology options. Just like any IT investment, you need be able to measure the ROI of your mass notification system. Your system should provide metrics that allow you to justify your investment and improve emergency plans. It should also help find gaps in message coverage and identify areas for overall improvement. If it doesn’t, move on.
And if your system doesn’t enable two-way messaging, how effective can your communication really be? Many emergency communication systems focus exclusively on broadcasting top-down messages to employees. But when disaster strikes, it’s critical to establish two-way dialogue—especially with those employees closest to the emergency. By using an emergency mass notification system that enables your audience to interact—through features such as read receipts, surveys, incoming messages, and “need help” requests—you’re improving employee safety while also expanding the eyes and ears of your organization.
So do you need to upgrade your mass notification system?
No matter what emergency mass notification system you use, it’s worth the time and effort to review its capabilities to determine if it is meeting the needs of every employee. Gone are the days when employees drove to work, stayed at the same desk for eight hours, then drove home. We just don’t work that way anymore. We travel from facility to facility, client to client, office to office. Many people work at the coffee shop, in the car, at the airport, and from the hotel. Nearly two-thirds of American workers have traveled to another state for work within just the past year.
It’s important to take a good, hard look at the technology that currently powers your emergency communication plan and determine if it’s really the right system for your organization. Yes, changing your emergency communication system may seem daunting. But sticking with an ineffective system just isn’t smart when it comes to protecting your employees—or your business.