Make no mistake the coronavirus is impacting our work and the individuals within the organization.  This can be anything from cancelling conferences and delayed shipments to an overall emotional panic about the situation.  In fact, Yahoo has a running list of cancelled events including some from Facebook and Beauty Counter.

I am not a medical or legal professional by any stretch but see a need to effectively communicate during this time.  Employees of all levels want to better understand your organization’s take on the current situation, the plan for the future, and how these plans will be communicated across the organization. 

We all get our news from various sources and like it or not, deal with these situations differently.  While some people panic, others don’t worry at all and some just want to know how to be better prepared (at work and at home). 

So, let’s look at things you might want to consider when communicating to your staff.  As you read through this list, please ensure you’re also seeking legal advice as to what additionally needs to be communicated (and how) to your staff.

Educate Your Employees on the Coronavirus

There is so much information (and misinformation) out there about the coronavirus. While you might know what it is, not everyone does.  Getting at least a base line knowledge to all of your employees can be helpful as to not create unnecessary alarm.  Share with your staff:

  • The signs and symptoms
  • How the disease transmits
  • What the virus is
  • How to prevent the spread of the virus (wash hands, lessen handshakes)

Address What the Company is Doing to Lessen the Spread of the Virus

Taking the time to communicate what you’re doing to help prevent the spread within your limits is also helpful.  There is not much you can do outside the walls of the organization but there are things that can be done to sanitize and ease employees’ concerns.  The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has also provided guidance for employers during this time.

This can involve sharing:

  • How often public areas are cleaned (restrooms, doorknobs, conference rooms, etc.)
  • Where public hand sanitizers are located
  • How employees can order personal sanitizers for desks and other personal spaces
  • Specific locations where people should not travel and how to cancel arrangements if they were previously made
  • How to determine if travel is necessary
  • What do to if you’ve travelled to one of the affected areas
  • What to do if you suspect a colleague may be infected

Sharing Current and Updated Policies

Now is also a great time to share policies with employees as these are not things are often brought up.  Areas to consider are:

  • If/when you can work from home and when this will be re-evaluated as new information is shared about the virus
  • Use of sick days and FMLA
  • Closest in network hospital

Identify Workflow and Redistribution of Work

Much like if someone was out longer than a few days, you want to have a contingency plan in place.  Unfortunately, something like this is different from a planned leave which makes it even more important for people to be on the same page.   Without it, you’re making assumptions on who does what and if things are even getting done.  Make it a point to communicate with your team about:

  • Current responsibilities
  • Back-up person/people for those responsibilities
  • How to communicate with stakeholders should a situation arise (i.e late shipments)
  • What to do if the organization is unexpectedly closed for a period of time

Have a Communication Strategy

Not only is it important to share this information, but we need to do it in a way that employees will receive the message.  Sending one general email probably won’t do the trick as its necessary to have a strategy that reaches employees of all levels, communication styles, and generations. As you’re planning your next steps, consider:

  • How will these messages be communicated to staff? (emails, phone calls, texts, staff meetings, town halls, etc.)
  • How often will they be communicated?
  • What written format will they be communicated in (infographics, paragraph, bullet points)?
  • Who is sending the communication? Who on staff makes the most sense?
  • Will there be a FAQ page with consistent and ongoing updates based on employee questions?

All of these concepts are the beginning to a much larger conversation within the organization and beyond.  Staying in touch with the latest updates, reaching out to internal/external stakeholders and other leaders in peer companies can be helpful.  Communication and transparency are essential in the workplace, especially during times when things are unknown. 

Alissa Carpenter