News of coronavirus is dominating the headlines at the moment, but what does it really mean for your business and how you communicate with your employees? Here are some of the things you should be doing to help steer them and your business through the coming weeks or months.
- Be clear on your policies
Top of anyone’s list if they become unwell or have to self-isolate is ‘Will I get paid?’. You have to decide what you will do if any of your employees are affected by Coronavirus, even if they are well, before it happens. Consider also what will happen if they have to care for a dependant, or if a child’s school is shut, or they have to self-isolate but are still well.
What are your policies on working from home? This might be suitable for some people, but make sure everyone is clear on what this means. If you have a workforce that is split between office and front line or operational staff, how would this work for them?
Should people still travel for meetings? Or should they find an on-line alternative? What about conferences that are still going ahead – do you still want them to go?
Make sure everyone knows where to find all this information and how often you will update it. For example, you may say we will review it first thing in the morning and make sure it is still accurate and fit for purpose, then update it by 10 am. It doesn’t matter so much what you agree, what is important is that everyone knows where to find the most up to date information.
- Be clear on any back up plans and how they will affect your employees.
The government is currently saying that up to one fifth of the workforce may be absent at any one time. Work out now what you will do if that happens to your business – for example would you be asking people to cancel annual leave to cover for colleagues who are sick? Would you shut your business at a certain point? Would you continue to operate but only for certain products or services?
Once you have decided what that answer is, share it with everyone, not just your management team. Your employees are more likely to support you during this difficult time if they feel involved in the plans. Even better would be to ask them at the outset for their ideas to help see you through any crisis – they may have suggestions you have not even thought of.
- Be consistent
Make sure you and your management team are all giving the same answers to everyone and that they are only giving answers that you have already agreed. It would become very divisive if one part of the company is told they can work from home if another part is not allowed to.
- Be clear on the facts
You don’t need to be a medical expert, but you do need to keep up to date with the latest government advice and adapt your policies accordingly. You also need to be able to direct your employees to the latest advice. Current trusted sources for the UK are NHS 111 https://111.nhs.uk/covid-19, the government website https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public
- Be clear on what your employees tell your customers
Make sure your employees know what answers they give to customers when they call and that they all give the same answers. It’s no good if Joe is saying ‘Yes we have loads of stock, we can deliver whenever you want’ if two minutes later Fred says ‘Hmm, we have a bit of a problem getting parts in from overseas at the moment, I’d stock up if I were you.’ Brief them all properly, face to face is ideal and back it up with a written sheet of questions and answers that they can refer to afterwards. And the same applies with updating it as circumstances change.
- Have your chain of communication set up
If you found out overnight that you had to close your premises, how would you let everyone know? Crisis communication is a whole subject on its own, but by the time the crisis has hit it is too late to work out who to contact, and how. So do that now if nothing else. WhatApp is a useful way of staying in touch with a group of people for this sort of thing.
- Be decisive
Things are moving very quickly at the moment, so make sure your business is agile enough to react quickly and that you can make decisions. If the decision maker is not available, what authority do other leaders have?
- Be visible
It is important that leaders are visible; it is one of the key principles of good communication and a happy workforce. But it is even more important during times of uncertainty. People will be looking to you and your management team for answers about what they can or can’t do, what to say to customers etc so make sure you are walking round and seeing them and giving them the opportunity to ask questions.
- Be honest
You may not always know the answers. If someone asks you a question – ‘are we still going ahead with our sales conference next Wednesday?’ the answer is probably ‘I’m not sure at the moment’, but do say what you can – for example, that you will make a decision no later than the end of Monday if you are going to cancel it. And be sure to let your customers know the same thing!
- And finally… Be empathetic
OK, so you have a business to run, but if things get worse, your employees will certainly be very concerned about their families. If you are empathetic now it will pay dividends in the long run when the worst is over as there is lots of evidence that says that employees who are well looked after and therefore engaged in the business perform much better and their businesses are more profitable. This doesn’t mean you have to be a pushover – remember you have already set out clearly what they can and can’t do – but it shouldn’t cost you anything to be supportive. If you want any help communicating with your employees, please get in touch!