In just a matter of few weeks, the coronavirus has become an all-consuming global pandemic wreaking havoc in the business world and in our personal and professional lives.
Businesses are now facing an unprecedented double bind – they not only need to look out for their employees’ and clients’ well-being but also ensure business continuity.
The majority of the world’s population and large organizations have adopted remote working quicker than anyone could have expected. Wherever you’re working, what’s most critical is how and what is communicated by the business leaders to their teams.
Develop a Unified Communication Model
In an emergency or fast-evolving situation, you need a centralised communication model and all information needs to be disseminated from this source rather than dispersed spokespersons. In this time of uncertainty, it’s important for people to receive timely and regular updates from a single, trusted and central source.
Involve Key Stakeholders
You need to communicate early and often with all your key stakeholders throughout this crisis. Studies have evidenced that leaders play a critical role in alleviating anxiety, whether they are communicating in-person or online.
Your foremost communication responsibility lies with your employees who are your most important stakeholders. Simplify the communication for them, put their mind at ease as much as you can, and inspire hope for the future.
For customers, focus on what is important to them given the current situation. For example, many restaurants, coffee outlets, home stores and retail stores are sending out information on the extra measures they are taking to ensure safety and hygiene including cleaning procedures and contactless deliveries.
Share the steps you are taking to contain the contamination at your end. If you can afford to, provide relief.
JetBlue was one of the first airlines to waive change and cancel fees for coronavirus-related concerns. The epidemic has perpetuated intense volatility in the financial markets in the last few weeks and we seem to be heading towards a recession so it’s important to reassure stakeholders as well.
Finally, your actions around the coronavirus will impact communities surrounding you. You can share ways in which you’re supporting your local, national or global community and thereby establish trust and long lasting relationships.
Communicate Timely and Often
It is important to share information in a timely fashion rather than waiting to be aware of all the answers. No one really expects you to know everything so share whatever is known and make the information visible through email, the company intranet, company website or social media. A lot of companies are communicating internally on a daily and even hourly basis.
Do your best to de-mystify fear and reduce panic. Focus on showing concern rather than creating selling opportunities. During uncertain and vulnerable times, it’s more important for leaders to act empathetically than cautiously. Be attentive about any miscommunication and be quick to rectify without worrying too much about the repercussions.
At this point in time, people will appreciate genuineness more than anything else. The COVID-19 crisis has been emotionally draining for many people, impacting their day-to-day life in unimaginable ways and it’s crucial to reflect consideration and understanding in all your communication.
Even if you’re uncertain and still trying to understand the impact of the situation and all that is involved, honesty and candour will help maintain credibility. Be as transparent as you can. Share what you are aware of, be honest about what you are unaware of and include your sources of information.
Stating the facts as they are and signposting stakeholders to timely, accurate information from NHS, WHO, the government and other relevant sources is helpful. Provide stakeholders with autonomy so they feel empowered to deal with any quickly changing situation.
Long-winded explanations and jargon-filled messages will only be confusing or misunderstood. Summarise company policies, especially those relating to attendance, and clearly articulate work-from-home policies. If your organization supports remote working practices, share procedures and expectations and ensure employees have the resources.
Promote preventive actions employees can take (hygiene and avoidance) in line with recommendations from the government, provide clear instructions about what to do if employees suspect they have been exposed to coronavirus, and clearly highlight how you can and will support in such scenarios.
If you can be anything at the moment, be in touch, be kind, be considerate and keep communicating!
About the Author
Hira Ali is an author, writer, speaker and executive coach focused on women’s and ethnic leadership development, closing the gender gap and breaking glass ceilings. She is the Founder of Advancing Your Potential and International Women Empowerment Events and Co-Founder of Career Excel and The Grey Area.
Contact her on Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram or Facebook or email. You can buy her book here: Her Way To The Top: A Guide to Smashing the Glass Ceiling.