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5 Ways to Improve Employee Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis

This article originally appeared in AllBusiness.

During these extraordinary times, as the world’s foremost health experts work to quell the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s critical that leaders step up, make the right decisions swiftly, and be ready to pivot on a moment’s notice.

Taking care of company team members should be a top priority. Leaders need to take the helm and steer the ship during these unpredictable tides—and ensure their actions are in the best interests of their employees.

COVID-19 is affecting nearly everyone’s life in the United States and nations around the world, and for now there’s no clear line of sight as to when some semblance of normality will return. Decisive action needs to be taken now, not later, to ease the stress this pandemic is causing and preserve the company culture you’ve worked so hard to build. Here’s how you do it:

1. Put together an enterprise communications team

Bring together leaders from across your company to identify and prioritize issues. The team should include a manager from each major department and region (if applicable), as well as human resources, legal, operations/facilities, finance/accounting, sales and customer service, and marketing/communications.

In larger companies, the senior communications leader should usually head up this effort; in smaller companies, the CEO should lead. The task force should establish strategic imperatives, communication protocols, and a meeting rhythm.

Leaders can’t make effective operational changes without the buy-in of team members. Now is not the time to roll out a bunch of new rules and policies without consulting anyone. Bring your ideas to the table first so the task force knows what you are thinking. Then get their feedback and collaboratively determine how to proceed, ensuring any new initiatives are communicated effectively.

2. Educate your people

Your team members are searching for ways to cope with the growing anxiety around the coronavirus. You, as the leader, need to be the voice of reason and hope.

Provide employees with the latest healthcare advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on how they can protect themselves and loved ones. Share updates from federal, local, and state governments on school closings and rules that affect how businesses can operate. Explain what your company is doing to help them, as well as clients and the community.

Communicating nearly every day—at least three times a week—is essential. Send email updates to your employees and make sure information is shared during regularly scheduled meetings. Be open and frequent with communications, even if you have no news to share.

3. Loosen company policies

Don’t let a company manual stand in the way of making the necessary changes to help your team. Most day-care facilities and schools are closed, and it’s disrupting the daily lives of employees who have families. Leaders must be empathetic to the changes affecting their team members, which may mean allowing more flexible work schedules.

Yes, that means allowing employees to work from home, but it also may mean working at odd hours. Instead of focusing on specific times, use key performance indicators (KPIs) to track the work and ensure everything is being handled.

4. Safeguard team members

There are many different ways you can take care of the health of your employees. Follow CDC and any federal or local policies and procedures, and limit employee travel. Scale back in-person meetings, both in the office and off-site. Allow team members to work remotely. Have your cleaning crew do more regular deep cleans of your office. Stock up on hand sanitizers and Clorox Wipes. All of these steps will show your team members that you are looking out for their health.

5. Lead by example

I know this should be obvious, but as the leader you need to be front and center on this. You need to engage with team members and show your passion, motivation, and commitment to do everything in your power to help the company. When the team sees your dedication—by participating in strategy sessions, talking/videoconferencing with team members, and publicly recognizing employee achievements—they’ll be much more likely to be energized and get on board.

Act now

Nothing—I repeat—nothing will affect your business more than the mental and physical health of your people. As a leader, you can’t let this complex and rapidly changing crisis affect your team. You have to act—and do it now so your team is stronger when the pandemic is over.