Six Lessons Learned During the First Six Months of COVID-19

By Chris Hernandez
Director of City Communications | City of Kansas City, MO

Our communications team went into overdrive in mid-March when Kansas City’s mayor issued the first state of emergency with public restrictions to try to stop the spread of COVID-19. Six months later feels like a good time to take a few moments to reflect on what we’ve learned.

Here are a few of my thoughts, and I would love to hear what your communications teams have learned and how you have adjusted.

1 – Update technology before a crisis

We launched a new website less than a year before COVID-19 hit, and it enabled us to instantly create a robust sub-site dedicated to coronavirus information. Our communications efforts would have been drastically affected if we still had our old, clunky and outdated website. 

2 – Don’t sweat the Zoom bombing

As we switched to online meetings, everyone was freaking out about how to avoid a “Zoom bombing.” Then I reminded our staff and elected officials that it’s just the online equivalent of someone walking up to the mic during a public hearing and dropping an F-bomb - which happens. That calmed some of the panic.

3 – Use your data team to help your employees

You may do market research and have a data team to interpret those results to help you drive sales. As a municipality, we survey our residents and use the data to drive decisions about city services. When COVID forced us to suddenly start telecommuting, we started surveying our employees about teleworking. The results gave us great data about management, technology needs, work-life balance and the best ways to communicate with our teleworking staff.

4 – Send more messages from the top to all staff

We started sending out “A Message from the City Manager” almost weekly, rather than having information filter down through individual departments. Employees had a thirst for information, and they thanked us for the messages. Employees rewarded us with a 90 percent score for “Satisfaction with Communications” in the May employee survey.

5 – Power up the inclines

Obviously I thought about this while I was out running and starting up a steep hill. Dealing with a state of emergency means facing lots of steep hills, when you are already tired. It’s good training to lean forward, power up the incline and to draw from a deep, untapped well of energy. It’s tough, but it leads to an even better feeling of accomplishment and increases your confidence for handling the next crisis.

6 – Let the creativity flow

Since everything has been turned upside down, use this as an opportunity to change processes that need improvement. Maybe it’s a little thing that you’ve been meaning to fix. Or maybe a whacky idea that would have been seen as too big of a change suddenly may seem “doable.” I mean, everything’s out of whack already, right? 

Good luck to everyone with the next six months – I wonder what we’ll learn next!