The outbreak of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) at the start of 2020 has been a harsh reminder of the importance of being prepared for unexpected crises, and how interconnected our world is today.
As companies across the globe respond to this epidemic and implement practical measures to avoid business disruptions, communications professionals have an essential role to play both in supporting business continuity and ensuring organizations can survive both the current crisis as well as other potential crises.
The novel coronavirus is a rapidly changing situation. While the full extent of the tragic loss of life and global threat is not fully understood yet, some indicators give us reason to hope the crisis will soon recede.
During this early stage of the crisis, the safety of employees, customers and the community must be the priority. But every organization has to manage and prepare for the operational and financial risks that could be associated with any sustained disruption to supply chains and their markets caused by an epidemic.
Being informed and aware of possible scenarios, the broader implications of an epidemic and devising new communications strategies is a practical step to prepare during uncertain times.
Some organizations can draw on the hard-earned lessons from similar crises caused by deadly illnesses such as Sars in 2003 and the H1N1 influenza pandemic in 2009, or natural disasters such as Typhoon Mangkhut.
What these past crises have taught all of us is that preparation is essential, and we can never be complacent.
As we react to the current coronavirus crisis and implement our crisis management plans, it is essential to simultaneously review all our crisis management and business continuity planning by focussing on communications in the following areas:
Re-evaluate crisis management plans
When a crisis occurs, there is a danger of operating solely in reactive crisis mode and becoming too focussed on immediate issues. Now is the time to plan and consider new scenarios.
Is the existing crisis preparedness and management strategy working for both external and internal communications? What needs to change and which new scenarios should be considered in light of the current crisis?
It’s important to be vigilant and reassess previous crisis scenarios as plans may now be outdated or need to consider the impact of the current crisis. How will you plan an extended or changing crisis or for recovery after the crisis has receded?
Review stakeholder communications
Now is a good time to refresh any existing stakeholder mapping to get a clearer picture so you can identify priorities and tailor messages to each group of audiences. It is important to update plans and communicate effectively with stakeholders, by listening and responding to their issues and concerns.
Are you able to address customers’ concerns about current and future operations? Will you be able to fulfil regulatory requirements, especially any new regulations? Meanwhile, as the situation evolves and changes it is still important keep business partners fully informed about pre-arranged meetings, events and commitments.
Maintain employee communications
During a crisis, regular communications with all employees helps maintain morale and ensure business continuity. It’s natural for people to feel concerned and isolated, especially when working from home, so it is more important than ever to communicate with team members well and often.
Smartphones and apps come into their own for instant communications during a crisis, but also give us all access to a sometimes overwhelming number of rumours and fake news. Make sure you amplify correct information and advice from government and public health bodies to counteract fake news and reassure and empower employees.
Become more agile
Just as necessity is the mother of invention, being agile and flexible during a crisis could be the key to survival.
Because agile models emphasize local knowledge and a lack of bureaucracy, they can empower more people in an organization to resolve problems and find solutions rather than relying on top-down decisions. Good communication planning can support and amplify an agile approach to business.
By working together, we can overcome any challenge. And by being proactive, communications professionals can enable organizations to respond effectively, ensure business continuity and continue to support employees, serve clients, customers and stakeholders so we can all look forward to recovery.