On March 11, the World Health Organization characterized COVID-19 as a pandemic. On March 13, the President declared the outbreak in the U.S. a national emergency. In a matter of weeks since the first reported cases in Wuhan, local and federal governments have instituted aggressive strategies designed to stem to spread of the virus.
For many of us, that means hunkering down at home for an extended period. For most, that can mean working remotely and balancing personal productivity with helping kids stay on track with schoolwork and ensuring older loved ones are well cared for. Daunting, for sure.
While I’m confident that by applying the considerable resources of our healthcare and pharmaceutical industries this too shall pass — when, how and at what cost is just not clear. That uncertainty can spur a visceral need in otherwise rational people to race around buying bread, milk and toilet paper. And that same uncertainty underlies crises of various flavors, including the current risk to public health. The question becomes: how do you manage through times of uncertainty?
Having counselled companies through many a crisis, I can offer a few practical tips that may help:
Err on the side of overcommunicating. Many companies have a crisis communications plan in place; a pandemic may not be one scenario mapped out. But the same principles apply. For one, the world abhors a vacuum. It’s important for companies to proactively explain what they’re doing in this interim period. Customers, prospects, partners, investors, analysts, media and employees – all have specific information needs to address. Since different internal teams are on point for each key audience, it’s critical to have a clear, consistent message and governance process in place. How a firm responds now can impact its reputation long-term.
The goal is to maintain as much continuity as possible during the crisis period. As the situation continues to evolve, timely rounds of outreach will help keep stakeholders informed and engaged.
Help employees adjust to remote work. For some companies (like ComBlu), telework is common. But even for those with workplace flexibility, school closings and multi-generational living can throw some employees off their game. Your staff may need time to adjust to the remote workstyle. To ease the transition consider this:
Try to stick to your regular routine. If you normally listen to podcasts on your commute, trade your car or train for a treadmill or bike and tune in. Keep your standing meetings. Stop for lunch; it’s common to lose track of time at home. Make and work your list. Maintain the norm as much as possible.
Make good use of the collaboration tools you’ve got. Screen share, video conferencing, email, instant messaging – myriad options help keep you connected to far flung colleagues.
But, don’t underestimate the power of a phone call. Having a conversation is great way to help overcome a sense of isolation and maintain relationships.
Create a home workspace as your go-to. For example, even though I’ve worked at home for years, I’m not used to sharing my office with my husband. So, I’ve scoped out the kitchen island as my new workspace. It’s the perfect height for a stand-up desk, I’ve got plenty of room to pace when I’m on calls, and I’m closer to the coffee (winning!).
Be a Good Neighbor. With all due respect to State Farm, let’s live this one. The current situation presents serious challenges to businesses, employees, citizens, the community at large. Even if you believe you are immune (p.s.- you’re not), there are people in your community who are very much at risk. And to potentially expose others to something virulent is beyond selfish.
On the flip side, I’ve seen many people reaching out to help those in need – suggesting creative ways to support neighborhood businesses, volunteering to run out for much needed groceries or meds, sharing supplies at no cost, and offering tutoring support to beleaguered parents. Be THAT guy — and we’ll get through this together. Stay well.
Engaging your customers is at the heart of successful marketing programs. For more than 20 years, Cheryl has been building and executing content and thought leadership strategies designed to do just that. She is excited to be applying that well-honed skill to a help companies like Microsoft, Cisco, 3M, Intel, Capital One and Barclaycard tap into their stakeholder communities and build sophisticated content strategies.
Her experience base spans a range of industries – from technology and financial services to retail, travel, consumer products and healthcare. Cheryl has served as an integral member of her clients’ marketing teams, providing counsel on marketing and brand strategy, thought leadership, media relations, product introductions, and event management.
Prior to joining ComBlu, Cheryl spent 10 years leading corporate marketing for large, complex organizations.