Coronavirus: Keep Calm and Communicate

You may be wondering how to properly prepare your company for the impact of the developing outbreak. Consider the following communications strategies to give your constituents one less thing to worry about.

For weeks, the spread of coronavirus has dominated global attention. As misinformation pours in from all sides, anxiety around the virus continues to intensify. This fear is not limited to the state of public health—there is real concern for the well-being of the global economy as well.

You may be wondering how to properly prepare your company for the impact of the developing outbreak. First and foremost, every organization should be taking proactive steps to protect employees. As you map out the logistics of personal health, remote-work opportunities and travel restrictions, it’s equally as important to determine how you are going to deliver that information. There’s already enough stress and confusion to go around. Consider the following communications strategies to give your constituents one less thing to worry about.

Review Your Crisis Plan

As an equipped business leader, you have likely prepared for situations like this one by developing a crisis communications plan. It’s a good place to start, but it’s important to review and ensure it’s up to date. Given the gravity of this crisis, consider modifying the plan to properly acknowledge the current circumstances. Some important questions to consider include:

  • Who will be the point person/s for your communications team?
  • Have you considered all possible outcomes of the crisis?
  • Do you have specific scenarios outlined for how you will handle a small, medium or large reduction in workforce during the crisis?
  • Do you have messaging safeguards prepared in the event that the situation worsens?

Establish a Cadence

Communicate early and often, directly from leadership and throughout the management structure. Address your employees first, followed by partners, customers, your supply chain and then the community. From in-person to online, utilizing all messaging platforms is essential to making sure your colleagues stay in the loop.

Keep People Connected

Social distancing and travel restrictions — along with inevitable event cancellations — can understandably affect enthusiasm among employees and clients. Don’t let these inevitable changes keep people from connecting.

Learn to reach out through your virtual channels. And adjust the usual protocols to inject empathy into work-based conversations. Online meetings should include time set aside to touch base on how everyone is doing instead of jumping right into business. Be mindful to set aside time so that people can relate to one another, even in remote work situations. Think of contests and out-of-the-box incentives to disrupt the potential for employees to feel isolated from one another.

Be Specific

Dispelling rumors and speculation is a quick fix to unwarranted anxiety, so keep employees informed about the facts. Share details about what the company is doing to prepare, how they are weighing decisions and where they can go to ask questions or find more information.

Know Your Audience

Some of your internal company messaging will likely be irrelevant to your external associates, and vice versa. Be mindful of who you’re addressing and what issues are important to them as you draft copy.

Watch Your Language

While minimizing panic is ideal, it’s important to clarify that the situation is being taken very seriously. Find the right tone by using intentional verbiage to ensure your staff that:

  • The issue is being monitored closely.
  • They will be updated frequently.
  • The circumstances are temporary.
  • Their individual safety and wellbeing are top priorities.
  • You care about them and their families.
  • You appreciate their adaptability and patience in the midst of changing circumstances.

If you don’t know the answer to a question, be sure to track it down. But also don’t be afraid to let people know you will get back to them when you have an answer. Even if you can’t deliver immediately, they will appreciate your honesty. Things are changing by the minute, so your authenticity will be appreciated in the long run. Repetition and consistency are key.

“Every business will make its own decisions, but how you lead now will be remembered by your employees for years to come.”

Words also matter when it comes to announcing changes to accommodate remote work options. While it is easier for those with desk jobs to transition to remote work, manufacturing workers don’t have the luxury of determining their work environments. Be sure to recognize this limitation and give extra thanks (gift cards, special lunches or snacks, for example) to those who are tied to machine work.

Carefully consider how to approach conversations when it comes to using PTO during this time. Some organizations are changing time-off policies so those with less time banked aren’t penalized, or forced to work without pay, for staying home to care for a relative or watch over children when school is closed. Every business will make its own decisions, but how you lead now will be remembered by your employees for years to come.

Provide Access to Valuable Information

Streamline important information to your staff to ensure that they have the answers they need at their fingertips. Providing online toolkits and FAQs on your company website and intranet is a great way to keep employees in the loop.

If you haven’t already created a specific internal email address for questions about the coronavirus outbreak and how your organization is managing the crisis, do so now. This is a good way to keep a pulse on employees’ most frequently asked questions, build out helpful answers and be directly responsive to employees as you are able to share more information.

Put on Your Strategy Hat (and don’t drown in tactics)

Having a clear vision to navigate through this moment in time is the best way to thrive in the long run, even in the midst of a difficult period. Like any crisis, the coronavirus has already created hurdles for businesses everywhere. Handling these obstacles with a strategy is essential—so you can see the organization through from the beginning, to the unknown time ahead, and through the challenge successfully.

Much like the process of getting through any big change, this involves celebrating even the small successes you make along the way. Take time with your team to focus on progress made, so you can continue moving forward. Having a tactical mindset during the coronavirus outbreak will keep you treading water and not moving forward with your business goals. If you put on your strategy hat, you may surprise yourself and your team with new ways to work more efficiently or innovate with more depth—despite the hurdles created by the outbreak.

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