How to Talk About War: Crisis Communications in Tech

The shock of war is frightening. Most people believe that it tears you apart, forcing you to hide deep within your fear, freezing you to the spot. 

As Ukrainians, we know that’s not what happens. This horrible and unfair war has served to unite the country, making us more aware that we are responsible for each other. Responsibility and the passion for justice motivate us every day as we work towards victory in different dimensions: on the frontline, territorial defenses, volunteer efforts, communications, and support for the economy of Ukraine. The latter is often overlooked and perceived as something secondary and not worth mentioning. 

I’ve been working in the IT sector for many years as a Head of Communication and Content, and I see the struggle in being perceived as a professional; not just a victim of war. All of this alongside convincing clients that professionalism is crucial for us in war, just as it is in peace. 

The Situation Now

Ukrainian media company DOU conducted thorough research on the situation in the Ukrainian IT sector. The report says that the outsourcing and outstaffing market was not impacted dramatically by the downturn, even though the middle and small-sized ventures were affected the most. 

Many international clients have been very supportive, from continuing/creating new projects, through to contributing towards various initiatives that benefit Ukraine. One particularly moving example of client support was given to me by Geniusee

Our developer has been trapped in Mariupol for over two months and all this time, the client refused to hire a replacement. He’s been waiting for him to return. Ukrainians will never forget this kind of support.

Meanwhile, there are downsides to the situation for our IT sector. The demand for the relocation of IT staff is growing; clients have become increasingly reluctant to have an entire team remaining in Ukraine. It becomes more common for the clients to replace staff who cannot flee, which is quasi-impossible. Ukrainian men can’t leave the country, and many people simply don’t want to. As a result, Ukrainian companies need to develop new solutions for emerging problems to retain their personnel, support families during war, pay taxes, and to stay in business. 

During critical times, one of the breaking points of business relations are the communications from both sides. Let’s break down how to build effective conversations, whether you’re a client or a vendor:

How to Talk About War with Ukrainian IT Vendors

“I don’t want to take a risk” is a common argument we hear from the clients. It’s quite clear that businesses don’t want to put themselves at risk, even if the moral side of this decision can be challenging. But before rushing to a conclusion, make sure whether the threat exists in the form you imagine:

  1. Ask your potential vendor about restored capacity. Some IT personnel indeed joined the Armed Forces or Territorial Defense, or have been severely impacted by the horrible circumstances of war. However, most companies have already patched their development capacities to their pre-war state by relocating staff, hiring new people, and reorganizing processes. The motivation to do so is vast as it’s about business and supporting families, as well as the whole economic future of Ukraine. 
  2. Get a complete picture of the management and hiring process. Most Ukrainian IT service providers keep actively hiring new people, offering jobs, and growing their potential. If you’re not sure about management capabilities during this time, ask for clarification. The process may already have been adjusted in a manner that qualms your risks and worries. 
  3. Ask about Ukrainian policies regarding IT professionals. Many sectors of the economy are in decline because of the Russian war in Ukraine. Ukraine needs digital business to prosper, as it is the least affected market that supports the country during dark times, so helps keep the economy afloat. The government understands this and provides specific conditions for IT specialists regarding mobilization or participation in war efforts. 
  4. The Ukrainian IT industry is fully adapted to the critical situation. Relocating the staff from war zones is not new for Ukraine. Most companies have been successfully implementing this since 2014, strengthening their efforts even more since a full-scale invasion. 

The war didn’t start in 2022, it started in 2014. But since the Russian occupational forces were localized in the east of Ukraine, the companies had time to think about their business continuity strategies and prepare for various scenarios. Then, ironically, the pandemic, with its lockdowns, working remote, and shift to digitalization, has also contributed to greater flexibility in processes. – Django Stars

  1. Learn about the Ukrainian tech scene. Despite revolutions, Russian invasion and full-scale war, Ukraine has established itself as one of the most creative and innovative societies. Learn about Ukrainian tech products and IT expertise: 

Ukraine is on its way to becoming the world’s major tech powerhouse. The Ukrainian IT industry consists of over 4,000 local IT service companies and more than 110 leading global companies have subsidiaries in the country. – UkraineInvest

How to Talk About War with International Clients 

  1. Consider the regions in which you operate. Identify differences in attitudes and understanding towards war through conversations with your clients and news reports in particular countries. 
  2. Create an internal Q&A with the most common questions from the clients and write down thorough answers. Essential topics are: safety of Ukrainian tech teams, cybersecurity, mobilization of IT professionals, and general risks for clients. How to do it best:
  • Take the questions you have already been asked and think about how best to answer them.
  • Make a list of questions – even those that seem unlikely – and answer them. It would help if you got to the bottom of any potential negativity or doubt.
  • Pay attention to wording. As in colloquial language, the text has intonations that may be more important than answers,
  1. Include your team in your communication efforts. Assemble your team, share the Q&A, and ask them to support your efforts. Communicate with your crew in times of war to maintain a trusting relationship and keep them informed of your plans.
  2. Don’t isolate yourself from the tech scene. As part of the thriving tech community in Ukraine, you can help strengthen the image of a community that can overcome any challenges. Share tech initiatives, new products, and your own successes. 
  3. Diversify your storytelling in public channels. Communicating a crisis requires different narratives from the same events, since audiences tire quickly of repetitive or formulaic communication. For example, Ukrainian officials convey heroism, bravery, and even fun during the war, in addition to reporting facts about the situation.If you want to keep the connection with the actual situation as much as possible, do it in a smart way: use some conceptual or visual references. For example, colors on the logo and visuals, slogans, and even memes.
  1. Don’t be afraid to call it by its name. Standing by your beliefs is the bravest thing you can do when choosing your team and clients. The moral side of the partnership is not a myth, especially during hard times. To be capable of trusting business partners is as essential for you, as for your client.
Anastasia Marushevska, Communications consultant in tech, advisor at MFA of Ukraine, coordinator at PR Army.
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