I think it’s clear that the coronavirus pandemic is what most people would consider a crisis – for the country, for families and for our employers.
When we’re talking about the latter, we implement a series of formal measures to help us to manage the situation.
There are lots of different elements to this including a crisis management team and a support team – but in simple terms we dedicate resources to managing the situation.
This type of arrangement is well practiced, here and in most large organisations. However, I think coronavirus is different for three main reasons.
This is new
With the exception of Foot and Mouth disease, we’ve not really had to deal with widescale pandemics in this country. Swine flu and HN51 probably just about lurk in our memories, but in reality, they didn’t fundamentally change our lives. Coronavirus already is.
We don’t really know what self-isolation feels like. We’ve not had to practice any kind of social distancing.
We’re not used to closing-down offices nor ceasing services. We don’t want to think about cancelling weddings or even stopping going for a Friday night pint or Sunday lunch at a local restaurant.
I don’t feel ill
I think this is one of the most difficult things for us all to get our heads around. Ordinarily our messages are focused on ensuring people feel well. If people do feel well or at least well enough to work then we want them to show the British ‘stiff upper lip’ and keep things working.
I think we all get that, and people want to do all they can to help. People don’t like the idea of not working if they feel well enough. A cough wouldn’t normally stop people.
But coronavirus is different. We’re trying to prevent people getting ill and we’re trying to do that with a condition which is clearly very contagious.
That means that people do need to practice social distance and self isolation, even if they’re fighting fit. It’s great that people feel well, but we need to stop those people passing it on to people who might not be and who might – and lets be blunt about this – die. At the very least they’ll be an additional burden on a health service that is already nearing breaking point.
“I may be some time”
The other fundamentally different thing about this situation is that we’re not talking about a day or two or even a week or two before normal service resumes.
Some experts are predicting a year or eighteen months of disruption, and you could even foresee things never returning to how they were.
What that means is that our planning and any alternative arrangements we put in place need to go far beyond what we’d normally consider. We must plan for long-term staff sickness and that means doing things fundamentally differently.
Why communications matters
And that last sentence sums up why communications is so important at times like this. We know that in uncertain times, people have an increasing thirst for knowledge. People are nervous about the situation and want to know that it means for them.
It’s impossible for anyone to answer all the questions, but people look for answers wherever they can find them. Rumour and myth spread like wildfire.
So, it’s important that communications to your workforce (or your customers) is frequent, is honest and easy to understand.
At the same time, it’s important to give people the opportunity to ask questions or express frustrations – they will only be voicing what others are thinking.
In my team, we’re looking to make sure we get accurate information out to people quickly. We’re reviewing and enhancing how we do this. The new coronavirus wiki page is one such example.
We are also looking to make the most effective use of our communications channels. This means sharing information on our website and intranet and then spreading this quickly using our formal social media channels and informal routes like Whatsapp groups.
We need to make sure our communications are where our people are.
I’m going to keep banging this drum, but please pay attention to mental health and wellbeing. This is applies not only to your people but also to yourself.
It is easy to ignore our own feelings of anxiety or stress in times of crisis. Adrenalin gets us through for so long. But it’s easy for us to become run down or for our stresses to overcome us.
If this is the case, take a break or a step back and speak to colleagues about this. It’s likely they’ll be feeling very similar. If so, think about ways you and your team can help each other to lighten the load and ease the burden.