Why keeping parents informed is so important right now
01 /Providing good communication with parents
With the government advising students who have not yet left university accommodation to stay there, students in accommodation are now effectively facing the prospect of not being able to return home for a substantial amount of time.
Most of these students are international students too, meaning general anxieties about social distancing due to the coronavirus will be compounded by the fact that they’re stuck in a foreign country, thousands of miles from home.
Naturally, these students are going to be concerned about the situation, but it’s really important to spend time thinking about the experience their parents will be going through. Parents are often a big influence on the choice of university their child will attend and the accommodation they will choose to live in, often being the main financial support for students.
Parents will feel very ‘cut off’ from their children at this point in time and will be wanting to know that their son or daughter is being looked after in the accommodation they’re staying in. They’ll be comparing the coronavirus situation in their home country to what’s happening in the UK, comparing the actions their authorities are taking with the response from the UK government. They’ll also potentially hear news stories that are overly sensationalised or incorrect, further adding to their concern and worry for their child.
So it’s absolutely vital that you have a communication plan in place to ensure parents are kept regularly informed, up to date and reassured that their children are being looked after, cared for and that you’re in control during this worrying time. Here’s what we recommend:
So it's absolutely vital that you have a communication plan in place to ensure parents are kept regularly informed,up to date and reassured that their children are being looked after, cared for and that you're in control during this worrying time. Here's what we recommend:
Regularly share the Residence Life events you’re putting on and support available to residents on Facebook and Twitter. These may not always be the places where your students are, but will be where parents will be checking for information. Make sure anything on Facebook is accessible to everyone and isn’t hidden behind any private groups.
Also, it’s a good idea to pin a summary tweet on the top of your Twitter profile, similar to what the University of Glasgow has done regarding the coronavirus outbreak. It’s a quick way for anyone, including parents to know who to contact if they have a question or concern.
Although not a social account, it’s worth ensuring that you have useful information for parents on the Accommodation section of the website. This ensures parents in China can access this information, as Facebook and Twitter are blocked there. It needs to be the same information that’s on social, ensuring consistency of messaging but also needs to be as easy as possible to find.
Rather than playing catch up all the time and risking communicating incorrect or out of date information, point parents to official government information where possible:
This is the Government’s main website for coronavirus information. It’s mainly designed for keeping UK residents up to date with the latest advice but provides a good overview of what action the UK is taking for overseas parents.
The Office For Students is the Higher Education’s regulatory body and has provided information here for students concerned about COVID-19. Although mainly for students, it’s a useful resource to direct parents to.
The NHS provides easy to understand health advice to help avoid spreading or catching the disease.
As the lockdown is going to continue for the foreseeable future, if you have parents’ email addresses, consider sending out a regular email newsletter to keep them informed. This can include summary information on the Residence Life events you've run, quotes from students who have taken part, Q&As dealing with common questions from parents or even profiles of staff members still on site
Keeping a regular communication channel like this for parents shows you take their concerns seriously, understand the worry they may be experiencing and can reduce the time you spend answering similar questions from anxious Mums and Dads.
Email is also the one form of communication that will get through to any parent, wherever they are in the world, ie. gets through China’s firewall.
Even though you may be sending a lot of positive information towards parents, be aware of the fact that they will have their own set of questions which they may need to talk through. Make it easy for parents to contact you should they need to. Whether that’s by email or phone, this information should be easy to find online and parents should know the name and position of who they are contacting.
One final thing - just be aware of time zone differences when offering times for phone calls.
Finally, it’s worth informing your students of all of the above and asking them to share this information with their parents. They are going to be in contact with them the most and may find natural opportunities during a conversation to pass this messaging on.
When this messaging comes from students as well as their accommodation provider, it shows a joined-up approach and clarity of information between all parties involved.