There’s a lot going on in the world right now. For many, COVID-19 has abruptly disrupted the familiar pattern of personal and professional lives, leaving many organizational leaders at a loss for how to manage the situation.
However, there’s no need to panic. A properly orchestrated response plan can do wonders for diminishing anxiety and demonstrating professionalism and preparedness. Here are some things to keep in mind when responding to a crisis.
Plan, plan, plan
When was the last time you reviewed your business continuity plan? A business continuity plan details how an organization will recover interrupted critical business functions after an unexpected occurrence.
While crises can trigger unease among employees, clients, and other stakeholders, businesses with contingency plans can make decisions orderly and rationally, based on predetermined guidelines. Moreover, having a plan in place can help minimize the risk of miscalculation.
Planning also comes into play when considering the security of your data and technology. Make sure programs are in place (and operating properly) to secure confidential client, employee, and organizational data.
Cite reliable information
It’s important to act based on reliable information. The internet can be full of fearmongering and misinformation from a variety of unverified and politically motivated sources. Citing what may be inaccurate information during a crisis (or anytime) can increase discomfort and unnecessary panic.
Federal and state governments and public health organizations are good places to start. The Illinois Supreme Court recommends following the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Centers for Disease Control for verified information on COVID-19. The Illinois Department of Public Health is tracking Persons Under Investigation for COVID-19 daily in Illinois.
As in any situation, it’s important to act quickly and decisively. This will demonstrate that your organization is actively up for managing the challenge (see the business continuity plan from above). As Gina Rubel, head of Furia Rubel Communications, Inc., wrote, “Remember that your employees are worried about themselves and their families. They should not have to worry that their firm is not prepared to handle the situation.”
We’re fortunate to live in a world where technology rules. Many organizations already allow employees to telecommute. Work can be done from laptops at home workstations. Meetings can be held through video conferencing services.
Make sure your employees are aware of your organization’s flexible work policies. If you don’t have policies, now’s the time to put non-punitive guidelines in place. Encourage your employees to work from home if they’re sick or uncomfortable working from the office. Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member.
If your employees don’t have the resources needed to telecommute, help them make accommodations to secure what they need. Can unused office laptops be rented? Can employees in high-impact zones work from another office or a co-working site? Flexibility is key to stopping a tense situation from getting even worse.
Stressful situations are ripe for discrimination. Acknowledge and legitimize employee concerns while educating them on the facts. For COVID-19, that may be the symptoms of the virus and how it’s transmitted. Reinforce anti-discrimination policies. Embrace employees from all backgrounds and encourage support for those in more vulnerable populations.
Take reasonable steps to keep the workplace free from health hazards. Activities like increasing the office’s routine cleaning schedule and making anti-bacterial wipes available communicate that leadership prioritizes employee health.
Respect employees’ time to care from themselves and loved ones. Limit high-stress meetings and long work hours when possible, so employees can prioritize self-care, like exercise and sleep.
More than anything, communication is key. Through clear and frequent communication, update employees, clients, and other stakeholders on your organization’s plans to address and mitigate the crisis.
The Preamble to the Model Rules of Professional Conduct states, “ In all professional functions a lawyer should be competent, prompt and diligent.” A well-researched and competent continuity plan, a prompt and flexible response, and diligent follow up on sensitive matters is key to demonstrating professionalism and preparedness in a crisis.
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