Coronavirus: Should my company communicate with its employees?
There is no longer a day where the media does not report on the progress of Coronavirus in China first, and now in Europe. At the same time, the health authorities, armed with their knowledge of the details of the situation, are working to reassure and maintain calm. This dissonance inevitably leads to numerous discussions and questions in which information blends blithely with suppositions.
As an organization made of men and women, a company must support its staff and do everything possible to remove doubts and reservations that could jeopardize its activities.
To do so, it is essential to communicate to its employees. For all that, it is imperative to make sure that you do not contribute unnecessarily to the development of psychosis. It’s all a matter of balance.
It is in the interest of every organisation to start managing now the impact of possible concerns on the work of its employees.
In concrete terms, how can this be done?
1. Communicate the state of the situation
Various sources of official information are available: the website of the WHO (https://www.who.int) or of the FPS Public Health (https://www.health.belgium.be). They have the merit of sorting out what we know and what we may imagine. The essential thing is to create a climate of trust and to illustrate the company’s concern for the well-being of its employees.
In this case, it is a question of recalling the state of the situation in Belgium and the health recommendations of the authorities. At this point, it is essential to stick to the facts and not to overcommunicate at the risk of fuelling panic.
2. Anticipate and prepare for the potential crisis
If the authorities remain vigilant, there is no reason to rule out an epidemic in our country. It is, therefore, a matter of preparing for the worst-case scenario and the impacts it would inevitably have on the activities of your organization.
Do you have an ad hoc crisis unit? What are the measures to be taken for your employees in the event of an outbreak in Belgium? Do you have a business continuity plan? At what level of absenteeism would your business activity be affected in the long term? What are the emergency measures to be taken to provide temporary replacements?
These are just a few examples of the organizational questions you need to ask yourself today to be ready, if necessary. It is better to do this in advance than under the pressure of a real crisis.
Defining how communication will be organized around its arrangements in times of crisis, is just as essential. And it is precisely in this preparatory phase that this point must be raised and adequately prepared with messages that are in line with the degree of urgency when the time comes.
3. Revealing your plan and the actions it envisages
“We prepared well for the crisis. Nothing went as planned”.
The reason it is essential to spend time preparing for a potential crisis is not to resolve it in a jiffy when it occurs, but so that you can concentrate on everything you could not foresee beforehand. While continuing to demonstrate to your employees that you have the situation under control, they will expect you to proactively communicate guidelines to them. If you communicate quickly, clearly and precisely and – most important – consistently at all levels of the company, your messages will be deemed credible and therefore better followed.
Since the preparation has been done beforehand, you will also be able to have the necessary time to listen to your employees and explain to them the reasons why your plan is likely to allow the normal operation of the company.
It is precisely this moment that is the starting point for a way out of the crisis.