IT outages are bad news for everyone.
Employees can’t work, your IT team are swamped with calls, management worry about the impact on business.
Every minute of downtime costs your company big in lost productivity. $700 billion a year is the estimated cost of IT downtime to US businesses. Add reputational damage and loss of trust and you have the recipe for a major headache.
When you’re managing an IT service desk, you need to get the word out quickly. You want employees busy working at their desk – not busy calling your helpdesk. The goal is to inform them, reassure them and update them.
You’re sure to have experienced first hand where mistakes have put everything at risk. Notifications didn’t hit the mark. Employees were left in the dark. Everyone got frustrated.
You can’t afford bad communication with so much at stake.
Here’s your essential guide to recognizing – and fixing – common IT outage mistakes.
1. Over-reliance on email
The mistake: Assuming that email is the best way to send your IT outage messages. Email may be a good tool – but not for everything. After all, if email is the system that’s down, how can you notify staff? And given the volume of emails employees receive every day, how can you be sure your important messages are actually read?
The impact: Email notifications vanish unread into employee inboxes. By the time they’re read, the incident has passed – but productivity has been slammed and your helpdesk flooded. 91% of IT professionals believe poor incident comms increases downtime.
The fix: Use communication channels dedicated to priority messages and which bypass email. Take advantage of features designed for getting employee attention fast – recurrence (for reinforcement), segmented staff groups (for targeting and relevance) and customization (for signaling level of priority).
2. Inconsistent message formats
The mistake: Using different content and styles for your IT outage messages. Notifying employees in different ways every outage confuses them. It forces them to work harder to understand what the notification means to them – if they’re not so busy that they ignore it entirely.
The impact: Wasted IT time and reduced message effectiveness. Your IT team waste time creating messages unnecessarily – time they should be devoting to resolving the issue. Employees don’t recognize the messages and take longer to respond.
The fix: Familiarity and consistency of message improves recognition and comprehension. Create IT outage notification templates for every type of event. Pre-configured templates like the ones below use color coding, high-impact visuals and repetition so messages get maximum results. Employees instantly know what each message means and what they need to do.
3. Neglecting end user experience
The mistake: Not considering how employees want to be communicated with or what terminology is meaningful to them. Notifications loaded with unfamiliar IT jargon or written unclearly are more likely to confuse and irritate employees than inform them.
The impact: An increase in helpdesk calls and an undermining of your reputation for service excellence. Half of Fortune 500 companies surveyed reported a negative impact on their reputation due to unplanned outages. Your communications need to step up to avoid this.
The fix: There’s no substitute for asking employees what they want. Survey them on how they’d prefer to hear about IT outages – which channel, what type of information etc. Run these staff surveys periodically to capture the responses of new hires and to track sentiment over time.
The mistake: Providing too little information to employees or sending a ‘one and done’ notification. It’s a perfunctory effort. True, no-one wants a bigger pile of irrelevant emails clogging their inbox – but don’t take this too far and under-communicate important IT messages.
The impact: Employee speculation grows, helpdesk calls create communication bottlenecks, productivity plummets. 78% of downtime costs relate to reduced worker productivity.
The fix: Set up IT outage messages in advance to use at speed when an outage occurs. This reduces your team’s effort and improves time to inform staff – a win/win for everyone!
5. Focusing on issues, forgetting empathy
The mistake: Fixating on the cause of the issue without considering how the outage actually affects staff. Not just productively but also emotionally. Does it make them frustrated with losing all their hard work, or hamper their ability to properly service clients? As much as IT outages are a pain for the IT team, they are just as much for employees.
The impact: Employees feel that IT don’t understand them. That the outage is an inconvenience, rather than a real issue for employees. It fosters the misconception that IT are technology gatekeepers – not problem-solvers.
The fix: Maintain good relationships with other teams – walk a mile in their shoes. Offer reassurance in your messaging – acknowledge the issue, empathize with the impact it’s having on employees, and provide as much clarity as possible around resolution.
6. Not closing the loop
The mistake: Neglecting to notify employees of outage resolution. In the flurry of activity when an incident strikes, giving the all-clear later is often the last thing on your mind. But without it, staff remain in the dark about when it’s back to ‘business as usual’ – resulting in even more wasted time.
The impact: Staff continue chatting, drinking coffee or whatever else they’ve resorted to when the system went down. They’re unhappy because the outage seems to go on longer than it actually does; management are unhappy because idle staff aren’t productive staff.
The fix: Send the green light around to employees when affected systems are back up and running. Something as simple as the example below is all you need. Some IT Managers tell us that this message is the one staff most look out for – don’t leave them hanging!
Are your IT team guilty of these mistakes? That’s unfortunate, but help is at hand.
Follow these fixes above to ensure your downtime doesn’t turn into a real downer for everyone.
Download your copy of the 10 point plan for IT Communications and learn how to respond before, during, and after IT outage events: