Marie-Karlynn Laflamme, from UQAC: communication, the nerve of war

Workers everywhere are on the front lines despite the end of countless social, cultural and economic activities. The National Cooperative of Independent Information offers you a series of portraits of those who must keep the fort, despite the crisis that is upsetting everyone. Everyday heroes from several business sectors, who remain in office despite a Quebec that is on hiatus.
T he director of communications and public relations at the Université du Québec à Chicoutimi, Marie-Karlynn Laflamme, has not left her post since the crisis began in mid-March. Although the education community is also on break, the publicist works from 7:30 am to 10 pm, just to respond to all requests, both from the media and the university population. And, according to her, communication remains the nerve of the war.

Question (Q): What have your days been like since the start of the crisis?

Answer (R): Since last Thursday [last week], a crisis management committee has been set up to monitor the situation and give directions regarding the continuation of our activities. Communication is the nerve of war in crisis management and the place that belongs to the communications directorate is central.

So, every morning, a team of 10 people, made up of vice-presidents, the communications department and other colleagues from academic and administrative sectors relevant to the current crisis, now meets by videoconference. A status report is made and mandates are given for the day.

On the communications side, a press review is done as well as a watch on all of our communication tools. In this case, we are mainly talking about an email box created for the occasion when the entire university community sends its questions relating to the situation as well as our social networks.

A summary of the highlights of the news and the main questions sent to the box is made and discussed with the members of the crisis management committee.

Answers are formulated or found to give as much information as possible to all members of the community.

Since the start of the health crisis, there has been an average of 150 emails per day, mostly from our students, but also from our teachers.

At the end of the day, the committee meets again to report on the situation in each of the sectors.

Messages are then released from this meeting, formatted and sent to members of the university community in the evening.

Following this message, a watch is started to feed the meeting the next morning.

The better the communications, the more responsive we are, the better we can reduce anxiety, even if our decisions don’t always make people happy …

Days generally start around 7:30 a.m. and end around 10 p.m. E-mail and media responses are available 7 days a week.

In communication, it is all the same exhilarating this kind of period and these are extraordinary learning opportunities. But you have to be well supported in your personal life. In the current context, the greatest challenge is undoubtedly to reconcile the needs of my three children and the 6,500 students.

Q: Are you able to cope with the telecommuting situation or do you still have to travel to university?

A: My team and I are now operational in telework. We have stopped the meetings in the presence and we are using videoconferencing.

Relations with the media have also changed since TV and radio are increasingly using alternative modes to being in the studio or interviewing a cameraman.

Q: How is the communication between the different higher education establishments?

A: Universities are autonomous with regard to the management of their institution.

However, all the heads of establishments communicate with each other every day and discuss the measures put in place almost everywhere.

Pooling during these meetings is important so that everyone can draw inspiration from the best practices put forward. They also make it possible to raise common issues and bring them with one voice to the bodies concerned. Regarding the network of universities in Quebec, we receive an exhaustive press review every day as well as a summary of the press conferences that concern us. We never hesitate to call colleagues from elsewhere to exchange views and seek advice. We are privileged to be able to count on a whole network of contacts.

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