All this talk about Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is intimidating for business leaders. Even the name “COVID-19” seems designed to incite a foreboding response. It is important for your organization to take steps to prepare for this outbreak. This much is obvious. But what can you do to prepare for COVID-19?
Become a forward-thinking company
I got an email last week from Ryan Green, Senior Vice President of Southwest Airlines about how Southwest is creating safe environments for customers amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Green referenced an article on their cleaning procedures and reminded customers of their commitment to maintain flexible cancelation polices. Needless to say, I was impressed.
Many other companies trying to stay on top of the outbreak have also emailed me. Two of my banks sent emails this week about their contingency plans, my alma matter sent an email about their precautions, and I am sure more messages will continue to come in.
Here’s your first tip: your company should be the next organization to send me an email! The best PR response is always timely. Businesses that remain on top of public communications will be seen as attentive and trustworthy.
Train your staff
Every employee who has even a second of customer interaction time should be trained in customer service. Yes, even the maintenance crew. It’s a general rule of good business. Likewise, each employee who may be affected by COVID-19—and that is all of your staff—should be trained in your organization’s response. Think of this in terms of external and internal responsiveness.
There are several questions to answer that immediately affect your team. What will your company do if someone in your office is diagnosed with COVID-19? What procedures do you have in place to boost cleanliness in your working environments? What are your policies on international travel? What work can be done remotely and what work can only be done on premises?
Martin Reeves, Nikolaus Lang, and Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak with the Boston Consulting Group formulate a seven-dimensional response in their article, Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis. I highly recommend their article to help your team develop a comprehensive approach to COVID-19. The seven response dimensions are:
- Employee needs
- Remote work
- Supply-chain stabilization
- Business tracking and forecasting
- Being part of the broader solution
Your company should also develop a strategy to ease your customers’ fears about the COVID-19 outbreak. To do this, you may create a small team made up of multiple departments. You should have legal counsel, communications, public relations, sales, and more all come together to form a comprehensive external response plan. This team can also help your company create a short list of agreed-on talking points for COVID-19. That can limit confusion for your customers and staff alike.
Note, however, that it is completely appropriate to not create strategies that are set in stone. Reeves, Lang, and Carlsson-Szlezak write that, “A living digital document can enhance speed by avoiding the rigamarole of issuing and approving multiple documents, and also reduces risk, since it can easily be updated or withdrawn as necessary.” Google Drive and Microsoft Office Online can be your best friends in this effort!
If you are a smaller organization, and don’t have many departments, you should still form a team to address external responsiveness. You may assign a strong communicator on your team to head up communications, or even assign an observant employee the task of finding a lawyer.
Prepare for radical generosity
COVID-19 is public relations crisis with rich opportunities to show your customers and staff that you genuinely care. Cisco, for example, expanded their free Webex services to help those in affected regions conduct business remotely. What service or product offering can you expand to help those affected by COVID-19? And what could you do take make it easier for affected employees to continue earning income while off premises?
Preparing for COVID-19 will take a lot of brainpower. Thankfully, many folks are already contributing their expertise to help you be proactive. Here are several resources:
- Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/guidance-business-response.html)
- About Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/about/index.html)
- What you need to know about coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/downloads/2019-ncov-factsheet.pdf)
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, World Health Organization (https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019)
- Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): What parents should know: How to protect yourself and your children, UNICEF (https://www.unicef.org/stories/novel-coronavirus-outbreak-what-parents-should-know)
- Coronavirus global health emergency: Coverage from UN News, United Nations (https://news.un.org/en/events/un-news-coverage-coronavirus-outbreak)
- Coronavirus (COVID-19), NHS (https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/)
- Martin Reeves, Nikolaus Lang, and Philipp Carlsson-Szlezak, Lead Your Business Through the Coronavirus Crisis, Harvard Business Review (https://hbr.org/2020/02/lead-your-business-through-the-coronavirus-crisis)
- Robbie Abed, Worried About the Coronavirus? Here’s How to Prepare Your Business for the Unexpected: A backup plan is a great business strategy, Inc. (https://www.inc.com/robbie-abed/worried-about-coronavirus-heres-how-to-prepare-your-business-for-unexpected.html)
- Cameron Albert-Deitch, Use These 4 Strategies to Build a Smart Coronavirus Preparation Checklist: You might have to tweak your usual decision-making processes for maximum efficiency. Make sure your company is prepared, Inc. (https://www.inc.com/cameron-albert-deitch/coronavirus-business-preparation-checklist.html)
I wish you the best as you prepare for COVID-19 in your organization. What questions do you have? I’d love to chat.