PR starts at home. Your internal team needs to feel in the loop, so that they can stay focused on their roles and reach out to vendors and customers. Your entire team will be concerned for their health and the future of the economy during the pandemic, in need of both support and clarity, as they try to understand what is happening and how it will affect them.
Executives will be busy monitoring the situation and adapting, but it is important that the CEO or president of your company find time to speak directly with employees to reinforce that leadership prioritizes their wellbeing. This will help you establish the clarity and calm necessary for efficient work in a difficult period. It will also help you control the message coming out of your company at a time when the public is scrutinizing how well businesses treat their employees to make sure good labor practices are followed, but also that it will be safe to enter your facilities and interact with your team.
Meet with employees personally if not physically
It is usually best to discuss bad news in person with employees. However, with the physical distancing recommended by health experts, it may be necessary to hold meetings about the pandemic virtually. We typically advise that companies use several different means of communicating with employees – all saying the same message. People are stressed and hearing the same message multiple times will help it sink in better.
We also advise transparency as much as possible. It builds trust and can head off rumors that are not true. We typically recommend that leaders share their understanding of the gravity of the pandemic directly and honestly with employees to provide reassurance when possible, but also clarity regarding how COVID-19 will affect business and operations. It is important to be transparent, even when that means saying, “We aren’t sure how this will play out” or “This is going to hurt our bottom line,” in order to build up trust with employees and avoid distracting rumors and speculation.
An initial COVID-19 meeting – even by video – is also an important moment, almost a ritual, to temporally mark a new chapter in our lives and communicate to the whole team that the pandemic is a significant event that will bring changes to our lives and work routines.
Keep critical messages short and repeat them
As the situation develops, it will be necessary to share new legal and workplace safety information (for example changes to paid sick leave mandated by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act). You may be called to develop new policies to protect your team’s health and keep operations running smoothly. For these to be effective, they will need to be articulated clearly in simple language and widely available across different mediums. Keeping communications short and sweet will increase the chance they register in spite of the distractions and stress we all feel adjusting to the threat of COVID-19.
Listen to your team’s concerns and insights
It would also be wise for executives to listen to their employees’ pandemic-related concerns and provide them with opportunities to shape company health policies. Each employee will have a different perspective and notice different aspects of the pandemic that could be important to the company, from concerns about specific issues to opportunities for new business. And, as mentioned above, the public is evaluating companies based on how well they treat their employees. Encouraging your team to express their concerns will help you address them and ensure the message coming out of your company stays positive.