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Blueprint for crisis comms with Office 365

Crisis comms blueprint for Office 365 graphic, showing channels for immediate comms, engagement comms, and authoritative comms.

Blueprint for crisis comms with Office 365

If you have Office 365, then your organisation has multiple choices for internal communications. Crisis comms require a range of communication styles, and no single tool covers all styles well.

As crisis communications move quickly, it can be tempting to try to use one tool such as Microsoft Teams for everything. Although that starts off simple, it is likely to soon stumble as a lack of structure can also cause people lose track.

This blueprint is a start point for planning a more effective multi-channel approach.

Blueprint for crisis comms.

Microsoft Teams – immediate comms

Teams is the place where you can get messages out quickly. It works well on mobile and can readily reach firstline workers.

If you haven’t already, set up an ‘All company’ team using the ‘Org-wide’ option as this will automatically enrol everyone. Now that a Team can have 10,000 members, this should cover most organisations (if not, nearly all of the following also applies to Yammer which can handle many more users).

  • Announcement channel use this for breaking news, keeping messages short and linking to details on your intranet. If you @mention ‘All-company’ then people will also get an alert.
  • Q&A channel – use this to keep in listening mode. The aim is to take in questions and respond, even if it is just an acknowledgement and a promise to follow up, or to guide people to existing resources in times of information overload. Sometimes you might just point people to the latest comms on your intranet, or your new guidance pages.
  • Tabs – consider what intranet pages, Word documents, PowerPoint files, or web pages could be pinned to a channel in Teams as a tab.

SharePoint – authoritative comms

A SharePoint intranet should be the place where people go for information that they can trust and that is well-structured. Also worth remembering, is that SharePoint is much easier to search than Teams. Just about every intranet team has set up dedicated pages for the coronavirus crisis

Remember many people will not be on corporate devices when working from home, so be extra-careful when using images and page templates to make sure they work on phones and tablets too.

  • News – longer stories are best suited to SharePoint pages where you can add sub-headings, images, and even video clips. Updates on how your organisation is responding, messages from leaders, and the details behind breaking news can all be maintained on your intranet and announced on Teams.
  • FAQ – actual questions posted on the Teams Q&A channel and in live events can be compiled into a more scannable set of answers on a FAQ page. The aim is to categorise them to make them easy to jump to, but still publish quickly as employee concerns evolve. Answers should be self-contained, so people don’t have to read several to get an understanding. Ideally, the comms team should be turning FAQs into guidelines, so the questions stop being frequent (some argue FAQs are an inherently bad idea).
  • Guidelines  company guidance and policy will keep changing as the crisis continues. Having one place for all of this makes it easy to always have the latest version accessible (unlike distribution by email). All other sources such as posts on Teams should keep linking to documents on SharePoint, using versioning so that links don’t break when documents get updated. This area could also link to other non-crisis guidelines that may be relevant (such as lone worker procedures), acting as a supplementary navigation.
  • Video – live event recordings can be published here (vis Stream) for those that miss them.

Live events – engagement comms

When people are working in isolation, there are times when a live presence can be invaluable for helping them stay connected. Office 365 supports live events, a way to broadcast video and presentations to a large internal audience.

  • Live Q&A – use Teams again to take questions and answer them during the event. Moderators can line up questions to be shared. You might also use the All-Company Q&A channel to take questions before the event or after, as people digest the information.
  • Stream  live events can also be recorded and published into Stream, ready to be surfaced on your intranet, or shared across Teams and Yammer.


Yes, technically Office 365 includes Outlook. Treat it as a channel of last resort, or as a bridge to the other channels if people are still getting used to Office 365.

Acknowledgements and references

Thanks to my colleagues Wedge BlackAndrew Marr and Suzie Robinson for ideas on this. Michal Pisarek also did a step-by-step guide to using Teams that I recommend.

Sam Marshall

I'm the director of ClearBox Consulting, advising on intranet and digital workplace strategy, SharePoint and online collaboration. I've specialised in intranets and knowledge Management for over 19 years, working with organisations such as Unilever, Astra Zeneca, Akzo Nobel, Sony, Rio Tinto and Diageo. I was responsible for Unilever’s Global Portal Implementation, overseeing the roll-out of over 700 online communities to 90,000 people and consolidating several thousand intranets into a single system.

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