The coronavirus pandemic has been an unforgiving health crisis: not just on social life, but on the way businesses run their daily operations. For large companies, it’s a matter of adapting fast and changing the way people work—social distancing and contagion concerns have caused a movement in remote working, even for those that rescinded their remote working policies a few years before the coronavirus outbreak.
The spotlight is now is cast on local businesses and SMEs where remote working isn’t possible (think manufacturing, agriculture, food & beverages). During the height of the outbreak in Wuhan, the world saw massive shutdowns of the Chinese supply chains due to factory lockdowns in the region.
Today, governments are scrambling to offer economic stimulus to help save local businesses and essential companies: airline companies are one of them and there’s speculation they might even go bust. Last year, there were already hordes of airline bankruptcies, liquidations and failures.
During such trying times, employees will look towards their leadership to seek redress, reassurance, and reaffirmations. What’s the next step? How is their future like? What will the company do from now on? How will the company support—or not—them during this crisis?
Definitely, it is easier to send people who work primarily in the office home to continue working as a distributed team (even though most remote work policies aren’t good enough, and companies are visibly struggling to adapt)—what about those that rarely, or don’t even have to be in the office?
It’s undeniable that consumer spending has fallen, especially for countries where nationwide lockdowns are in effect. We saw this in the history books: in 2005, when the avian-flu pandemic occurred, the estimated loss of consumer spending in food services, arts and accommodations was about 80%. Generally, most industries will shed jobs, with part-time and gig workers being the first to go.
With more jobs being displaced, it’s imperative that companies maintain a transparent stand without losing a shred of humanity. These are trying times, and the last thing an employee wants to know is that he will have to live with his savings for the next three months in the most unempathetic way possible.
Scrambling for information or putting puzzle pieces on their own makes an unproductive and unhappy employee. It’s understandable that the company itself would struggle, but the least any company can do is to tell employees about any changes, whether in effect or that it will be potentially implemented.
Employees know that a company changes during a crisis. Most importantly, they want to know how it affects them:
Employment Status & Repercussions
If a company is going to lay its part-time staff off, make it quick and communicate the repercussions immediately. The last thing any company wants to do is to keep employees in a ‘limbo’ (e.g. no-paid leave for gig workers, but they are technically still “employed”), or to leave employees guessing how their employment status will affect their compensation package.
Policy Changes and Employment Rights
How will the crisis change the way people work? An example would be sick leave policy: do employees work during their home-quarantine, even if they are employees that recovered from the coronavirus? If a company is sending the employees home to work as a distributed team, are there any resources provided or at the employees on their own? How can employees make claims for their insurance policy, and does it still cover the same in a crisis?
Future Work Plans and Adjustments
Remote working isn’t something that anyone can simply jump into and become as productive as before—is there a guide for it so that employees can learn and adapt along the way? If the employees aren’t in a remote work arrangement, what is the alternative and how can employees remain productive despite working differently?
Company Plans and Future Steps
What is the company going to do in the coming months? Employees want security and at the very least, the company can convey their intention to maintain or drop job security. Being upfront and transparent is much better than hiding behind “we will try out best to navigate out of this crisis”.
It’s one thing to convey information, it’s another to make it sound like doomsday. Messaging is more than just the tone: just like how the way we act tells others a bit about our personality, the speed and comprehensiveness of a company’s coronavirus response is
Be Realistic and Transparent
Let’s face it: the coronavirus outbreak is a dangerous and scary health crisis that can potentially spiral even more out of control. For example, researchers generally agree that we are likely to have antibodies after recovering from the coronavirus. What if the current strain mutates?
Don’t be overly optimistic or pessimistic. Instead, be realistic: the current situation is like this, and the company needs to save itself. To do so, everyone has to commit to ‘something’, and eventually, the company will rise again when the outbreak is over. It’s an “as is” tone and employees appreciate that more than false positivity: we already see it in the way employees deal with sugarcoated feedback.
Focus on Accessibility
Without easily accessible information, employees will start to lose trust in the company (i.e. the company is not capable enough or hiding something). Consider creating a wiki page or documentation stored in an external server. Rather than let employees go to the people-in-charge with fundamental questions, companies should intervene first with a single, true, source of information.
In trying times, it can be difficult to deploy empathy. Let’s take the managers as an example: they’re already fighting fires as they try to meet KPIs in a crisis. However, empathy begets empathy, and a manager that’s understanding during such critical moments will be very much appreciated by any employee.
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