Have You Simulated Issues and Crises for 2022? Do It Now

You thought the last few years were challenging for crisis communication? Sure, we had a global pandemic and massive political upheaval. Disinformation and truth distortions reached record levels. Don’t forget the unprecedented changes to our planet. But, you haven’t seen anything like what awaits us in 2022.

Don’t expect the same large-scale issues to dominate. Oh, don’t worry. They’ll be there and will represent a not inconsequential part of your problems. But, return to office comes with massive micro vulnerabilities. The good news is it’s easier to crisis workshop these risks.

Let’s start with getting your people back into an office. They’ve grown used to certain freedoms and flexibilities. That will make it hard to adjust to a setting with other in-person professional people. No more pajama pants and offices on the beach.

We’ve changed a lot. What worries me is how politically, socially and even personally we will handle friction as co-workers gather around the water cooler again. Those feuds will result in huge headaches. Some, unfortunately, will spill into public view.

Small Issues, Big Headaches

‘How does this work again?’ While we have adapted fairly well to remote settings, returning to a hybrid or wholly in-person environment comes with difficulties and disruptions. From operating office machines to just getting the access pass to work, it is going to take time to re-familiarize ourselves. Let’s not forget those who joined the workforce recently and never knew how those things worked in the first place. It seems simple, but the likely result is a not inconsequential number of literal and figurative fire alarms blaring.

Most troubling is how weary we all are from the pandemic-plagued years. It is highly likely that some smaller issues kept at bay while we were away from the office will re-emerge upon our return. From community groups’ concerns to a range of health and safety challenges. The hyper-focus on COVID-19 put some issues on the back burner. They’re still burning.

The best approach to address next year’s risks is to conduct sophisticated virtual and in-person simulations of these scenarios. PR pros need to think about, and literally walk through, what could go wrong, especially from a reputation standpoint. Many vulnerabilities will be new and difficult to envision without an immersive process.

It’s even more important now to resist the tendency to plan from the top. Involving your team in planning and executing crisis workshops will illuminate many issues. You will find they feel a lot more comfortable about returning knowing their concerns and some worst-case worries have been addressed and worked out ahead of time.

-Brett Bruen

Brett Bruen teaches crisis at Georgetown University and served as President Obama’s director of global engagement. He is president of the Global Situation Room.