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We’ve been fielding a lot of communications this week regarding decisions businesses and organizations are making in order to protect employees, customers and the general public from the COVID-19 outbreak.
It’s fair to say that we haven’t seen an incident, or at least a reaction to an external factor like this in our lifetime. Many remember SARS (when face masks made their fashion debut) and various outbreaks of H1N1 and other forms of that virus, but we have never, in modern history, felt so personally, and professionally impacted by measures taken to control an outbreak and to stop the spread, as well as fear of becoming ill with a virus.
As we advise clients and organizations, we remind them that it is important to choose words carefully and to respond rather than react to the news, organizational demands, or to what others in your industry may or may not be doing in response. Context is critical in how you communicate to staff and to those you do business with. Balancing precaution with financial implications is difficult, but important. Hard decisions will need to made.
Changing and communicating policies in how you do business:
Many area businesses are reducing contact with external sources by restricting travel to areas with known outbreaks, disallowing meetings on and off-premises with those outside the organization. Depending on the population they serve, some are restricting access to outside visitors or contacts entirely and enforcing strict hygiene protocols.
No matter what decision you make, it is important to communicate it immediately, internally and externally, and to keep language clear and neutral, avoid hyperbole and project calm and confidence in the decision/s made.
Here are the tactics to keep in mind when crafting communications regarding COVID-19:
- Share changes in policy with vendors and customers via email and through direct communications
- Assess the tone of all communications for clarity, accuracy and authority
- Acknowledge that these changes may be an inconvenience to some or may impact goals
- Express thanks for cooperation and collaboration
- Remind staff and external contacts that these changes are temporary and are a part of the overall goal of minimizing a longer term impact
- Implement new, upgraded or additional technology needed to hold meetings virtually
- Ensure that your network is able to handle additional virtual meetings and remote logins
Additionally, here's a good resource for planning your company's internal response.
Should I cancel my upcoming meeting or event?
It’s almost spring here in the ICR Corridor. And that means event season is upon us. With multiple large events on the horizon, organizations are wrestling with decisions that may impact their budgets. There’s temptation on both sides: cross your fingers and hope it blows over, or cancel/postpone now and try not to lose momentum and revenue.
We’re still on an upward trajectory of this outbreak right now, so it is very difficult to assess whether it is either safe for an event, or if people will attend. At the time of this column, events within the next few weeks (beyond small gatherings) are being cancelled at fairly high rates. If you are hosting a large event within the next four weeks, when the virus may or may not peak, you may need to be flexible in your attendance expectations and offer options for virtual attendance, partial or full refunds, or break the meeting or event up into separate events in order to honor non-refundable fees.
And of course, if you do have an event or large meeting during this time, be clear about hygiene practice expectations through pre-communications, signage and announcements, consider smaller break out sessions, prohibit attendance by anyone showing symptoms, and consider a hand sanitizer fountain (this doesn’t exist, but maybe it should).
The important thing to remember is that we are all a part of containing this virus, and that actions and communication taken now will aid in reducing the overall health and economic impact of COVID-19. Modeling deliberate decision making and support will help everyone make the adjustments needed to weather this time.
Now go wash your hands for 20 seconds and stop touching your face.