Op-Ed: Communicating effectively in the age of COVID-19
Businesses have been caught off-guard by the arrival of the novel coronavirus, most of them completely unprepared for its effects. Virtually overnight, the virus has thrown both our economy and our daily lives into disarray.
Government restrictions enacted to halt the rapid spread of the virus have paralyzed large swaths of the economy, leaving thousands of people without jobs and costing businesses incalculable sums of money.
People are scared, angry and confused. Leadership is needed and the private sector needs to rise up to the challenge. So, what steps can businesses take to transform this crisis into an opportunity?
Communicate clearly all steps your business has taken to protect customers and employees. Have you invested in new security measures? Are you providing new training? What is your protocol for interacting with customers?
If you identify a COVID-19 positive case among any of your employees, promptly announce the information, whilst protecting the individual’s identity and other personal details. If this is the case, notify your consumers and other employees quickly, as this helps further slow the spread of the virus and satisfies their right to know if they have been exposed.
Communicate what actions have been taken to address the situation and avoid its repetition.
Be a leader
Don’t wait for government mandates to display your company’s commitment to safety during the emergency. Maintain strict safety and hygiene protocols and review compliance to them regularly.
The science is clear about the magnitude of the health threat presented by the novel coronavirus, even if some data might seem confusing and contradictory.
The latest estimates place mortality rates at 0.5% to 1%, a number that while seemingly low is at least five times higher than influenza’s 0.1% rate (one, two). Moreover, the coronavirus is much more contagious, especially in enclosed spaces.
Require employees and consumers to wear their masks at all times. Scientific research suggests that up to 90% of all coronavirus transmission could be halted by their universal use (three, four, five).
Emphasize physical distancing and enforce regular handwashing by employees. Perform deep cleanings in your facilities as often as possible.
Strike a balance in your communications between business needs and COVID-19 related health concerns. Battered by lockdowns, business leaders have publicly pleaded that the government roll back restrictions for their respective sectors, allowing customers to return and revenues along with them.
While the need for uninterrupted economic activity is certainly a critical assertion to make, always acknowledge the severity of the health crisis. Be careful not to create the impression that there needs to be a choice among economic activity and human lives.
Be part of the solution
Use all internal and external communications to support the urgently needed changes in behavior required to keep the community transmission of COVID-19 at bay. For instance, you can feature consumers and employees with face coverings in advertising whenever possible.
Convey in your communications a clear message to employees and consumers, establishing simple guidelines to follow, supported by graphics that are easily understood.
Looking to the future
Despite the efforts of many responsible businesses, community transmission of COVID-19 continues unabated, prompting local governments to restrict economic activity once more.
No one can predict when or how the current COVID-19 pandemic might end. A previously unimaginable scenario that could have only been anticipated by CIA analysts and Hollywood movie producers has become a reality.
The private sector has to adapt to the current situation in order to successfully move forward.
By modifying their communication strategies and business models, businesses can lead the way in COVID-19 transmission prevention.
1. How Deadly is COVID-19? Researchers Are Getting Closer to an Answer? The Wall Street Journal (July 21, 2020)
2. How Deadly is the Coronavirus? Researchers Are Close to an Answer. Nature, Volume 582
3. Three simple acts can stop Covid-19 outbreaks, study finds. CNN.com, (July 22, 2020)
4. JAMA editorial reviews latest science, while case study shows masks prevented COVID spread. Press release, CDC.gov, (July 14, 2020)
5. Widespread use of face masks can control COVID-19 outbreak, study suggests. Medical News Today (June 15, 2020)