How to ensure business continuity, careful communication, and deep care for your team, customers, and community during the Coronavirus outbreak.
A date that will likely go down in history will be March 11, 2020. Within the span of only a few hours:
- The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a global pandemic
- The stock market sank below the 20% drop marker, which officially crossed the threshold into a “bear market”
- President Trump addressed the nation about the Coronavirus
- A European travel ban was put in place
- The NCAA tournament announced that it would play with no fans (and has since been canceled altogether)
- The NBA suspended its season
- “America’s Dad” Tom Hanks announced that he and his wife had both tested positive for the virus
There’s little doubt that we’ll see documentaries and books about this pandemic and likely the events of March 11th, in particular. All of these events have led to an even greater nation-wide concern about the spread of the Coronavirus. In its wake, sporting events, conferences, concerts, trainings, and any other events requiring public gatherings or travel have been canceled or postponed indefinitely.
As an appropriate response, business and nonprofit leaders are seeking to implement “Pandemic Plans” for their organizations. Here are some recommendations for implementing a Pandemic Plan that doesn’t simply “check off the box” that you have one, but is truly useful in ensuring business continuity, and care for your team, customers, and the community:
1. Ensure key staff members can work remotely
There is little that will have a more positive impact on the health of your team, the health of the community, and slowing down the spread of this virus than social distancing and self-quarantining. Identify the staff members that are most critical to your operations and provide them with the ability to work remotely. Ensure they each have a laptop that they can take home, as well as a proper home office setup, including a docking station, ideally at least one additional monitor, and an external keyboard and mouse. Printers or scanners may also be necessary, depending on their job role. Additionally, work with your IT team to confirm that they can access applications and data essential to their workflow, either through remote access VPN or through cloud-hosted applications and services. Lastly, consider implementing, providing further training on, or utilizing virtual communication platforms such as conference calling, video conferencing, screen sharing, and the like.
2. Be creative for what work can be done remotely
Many jobs cannot be performed in a “work from home” scenario, such as those in manufacturing, hospitality, construction, transportation, and the like. However, this is an opportunity to think outside the box. Can certain equipment utilized only by a single staff member be brought offsite? Can salesmen who typically meet with prospects in person shift to video calls? Can particular elements of an onsite project be taken home to be worked on and then fully assembled onsite later? There’s no question that some tasks will not be able to be performed remotely, but as they say, “necessity is the mother of invention”.
3. Keep internal teams apprised of the organization’s response and plan
While the world is full of uncertainty, this is the most important time to stay in close communication with your team. Let them know that your plan is being actively developed and managed, and that they will be the first to know of any developments as you go. The ideal is for one key leader within the organization to take point on this communication to ensure a consistent voice and a careful communication approach.
4. Set appropriate expectations with clients and prospects
While your customers don’t necessarily want a hundred emails from each organization they receive goods or services from, most people want the confidence to know that their core partners are being proactive in their approach and will be a steady hand amidst the inevitable social and economic instability of a pandemic. At a minimum, communicate with customers that a) you have a Pandemic Plan in place, b) how your Pandemic Plan will help them, directly or indirectly, through this situation or during a time when your organization is needed, and c) if there are any ways in which this pandemic is impacting your business that may alter how they engage with you.
5. Set appropriate expectations with potential new customers
Many organizations and individuals will suffer immediately through this ordeal, but many organizations will naturally gain opportunities from less stable companies failing their customers’ needs that increase from this situation (toilet paper companies are doing just fine!), and companies providing new services in response to a changing market. As such, sales and marketing efforts will continue and it’s important to set proper expectations with new prospects, including how your Pandemic Plan may shift the sales process (e.g. salespeople only meeting over the phone or video chat, client onboardings happening remotely instead of onsite, extended wait times for proposals, onboarding, etc.).
6. Identify your clients or customers that will be most negatively impacted and have a plan for them.
While some businesses and individuals will barely be impacted by COVID-19, others will be devastated by it, such as the hourly workers in closed sports stadiums and other venues. Review your customers who will be most adversely impacted by the Coronavirus and consider a) what special communication may be needed with those organizations and b) what ways you may be able to help them most substantially and support them during this difficult time.
Despite the inevitable challenges that are upon us, this pandemic is an opportunity to show deep care for our teams and customers, as well as to strengthen our bonds with one another and our broader community. With wise and careful communication, leadership, and planning, we can come out of this as stronger organizations and individuals.
Ryan Robinson is chief service officer at Mainstay Technologies, an IT and Cybersecurity firm that serves businesses and nonprofits throughout northern New England. He is an expert in IT strategic planning and is a sought-after speaker on technology and information security.