- Posted by Megan Paquin
- On March 4, 2020
- communications, coronavirus, COVID-19, crisis communications
When it comes to large-scale, uncertain crisis scenarios such as the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, organizations can have a difficult time predicting the business impact. No crisis manager wants to be known as the “boy who cried wolf,” and many organizations defer to monitoring protocols as the situation evolves. However, maintaining a proactive internal communications posture, even when impact is uncertain, ensures your organization is fully prepared – and, demonstrates the care, competence and confidence your clients and customers seek.
Often overlooked in crisis communications plans, internal communication with employees is critical. Especially as organizations monitor the spread of the virus, ensuring open and transparent communications is a vital a part of your crisis checklist.
- Provide Support: Remember your business isn’t the only one that could be affected. Employees can be affected by external forces such as availability of public transportation, school closures and family member illness. Remind employees of any support that you can offer such as telecommuting or flexible work hours that can help them remain productive. This proactive communication demonstrates to employees that it is safe for them to report if and when they could have been exposed to the virus. If a spouse’s office closes due to exposure, your organization may consider isolation of the employee or a closure to prevent further spread of the virus.
- Plan for Office Closures and Travel Suspension: Before you make the decision to close your office or suspend travel, explain to employees how such calls are made, who makes them and how employees will find out whether those decisions have been made. This eases the burden on your human resources team from answering a multitude of individual questions and helps ensure employees remain productive instead of speculating as to whether next month’s business travel is a go. Employees should also be communicated with in advance about expectations for telecommuting should the office be forced to close. What will their hours be? How will they access data from the office?
- Communicate with Clients: Effective organizations communicate with one clear voice across all audiences. That means to effectively communicate with clients, organizations need to communicate consistently with employees. Tell your employees now what you plan to share with clients should there be a business interruption. When will clients be notified of a closure? Who will notify them? If a client asks what the organization’s coronavirus plan is, how does the employee respond to or escalate that request? Don’t assume your employees know the answer. Keep this information top of mind by repeating often and providing regular updates.
- Maintain Healthy Practices: Remember that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Consider sharing a daily reminder to employees about handwashing protocols, health and wellness resources your organization offers and where they can go to find additional information to keep themselves and their families safe.
Organizations should ensure that proactive, employee communications strategies are part of their monitoring of the coronavirus. Focusing on employees first helps to establish an effective communications cascade to clients and customers, and fosters goodwill with employees that can help organizations sooner detect any possible impact to their business.
Megan Paquin is vice president at Poston Communications, based in Orlando.