Tips to stay calm and set your Coronavirus continuity plan

The world is resetting amidst the impact of the Coronavirus – tackling remote working, economic instability and a great deal of unknowns. These business tips will help you manage this crisis with calm and consideration.

The Coronavirus is like a shark attack. One moment we were swimming through calm blue waters, the next we’re being pursued by a predator at torpedo like speed. There’s been little time to prepare our groceries, let alone our business continuity plan. Yet now is no time to panic. Take a breath, make a cuppa and read these Coronavirus business tips for a clear and calm approach.

The unknown is scary. Yet most of us are better prepared for the impact of the Coronavirus on our business than we’d imagine, with plans and processes either already there or underway.

“Staff look to management for clear leadership and guidance in crisis situations, therefore it’s down to leaders and management to ensure their teams have the infrastructure, skillset, knowledge and training to feel like they are well prepared to execute the required actions in difficult situations,” says Pamela Ghosal, head of marketing and communications EMEA at OKI Europe.

Fortunately, most have a crisis management plan, which although won’t cater to specific viral pandemics or economic disturbances, will offer a framework on how to guide staff and customers through the tumult.

“I’d be incredibly surprised if any of the FTSE 350 didn’t have a crisis plan in place and more and more businesses have realised the need to have something should a crisis occur,” says Lisa McGauley, head of PR and content at Fox Agency.

What if you don't have a Coronavirus continuity plan?

Not having a continuity or crisis plan for the Coronavirus shouldn’t leave you in a cold sweat. It’s true, many business offerings seem untenable in this market and it’s unclear how long that will last. But let’s take control in the areas that we can.

1. Don’t panic

First of all, take a deep breath. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed in the heat of the moment, but that will distract you from dealing with the incident logically and efficiently.

If there isn’t already a plan, your CEO and senior leaders will be making one right now. It’s crucial you’re aligned to that. Panicked reactions that take you on a different trajectory won’t help.

You may need to wait for direction, if so, accept that some things will take time.

2. Pool the information you have at your disposal

“The source of panic is usually from the unknown,” says Abby Mangold, founder and MD of crisis management agency, The Mangold Consultancy. So start by mapping what you can know about this situation.

Spend time calmly examining the business impact the Coronavirus may have on you, your teams and your customers. Note these down. What are the priorities and where do you need most guidance and support?

Emphasise the facts you’ve established, but don’t ignore the gaps in what you know. “You need to acknowledge the situation and keep updating as often as you can,” says Abby. “You often know very little at the beginning. Conversely, later on in a crisis you end up having way too much information, which you’ve got to sift through,” she adds. Understanding wherever it is you’re starting from means you’ll be able to assign the right people to gather the information you need.

3. Don’t fester in negativity

In a bid to find structure, answers and reassurance about the Coronavirus we can very easily be sucked into a online vortex of anxiety-inducing news stories. It’s important to stay up-to-date, but too much consumption of negative stories will inevitably pull you down.

Set limits on how much you read, ensuring it’s from a reliable resource. Instead invest your time in constructive planning, taking space for your own mental health too.

Check in with your team and ensure they’re okay. Many will be carers for vulnerable family members, are you aware of who these people are and the support they may need? Don’t forget, a shared (but sensitive) joke or positive message can go along way - the same applies with your customers.

4. Stay connected to your team

This crisis will exercise your cross-department communication skills as you will need to think fast and move in the same direction. Start by checking you have the basic tools at your disposal. “You must have intranet, internal emails, newsletters and a really structured internal communication system to get your message out,” warns Lisa. If you manage a team you should also think about any costs your staff may incur through phone or electricity bills and how the business plans to support them.

It will be easier for communication to slip during this period of remote working, so it will help to instil some process. Who are the gatekeepers of the critical information – how and who are they sharing that with?

If you don’t already have a crisis response team you may want to think about setting one up. This would include key stakeholders who reflect different areas of the business, are accessible, responsive and are at the centre of key conversations.

5. Be sensitive and consistent with your customer

When you are ready to send out messages to your customers remember that the last thing they want from you right now is pushy ads for things they don’t need. Step back from selling what you know isn’t relevant in this market and think instead about how you can connect with the customer. What are their fears and challenges and how might you help? Longer term this insight could help you reframe you company’s offerings but in the short-term at least, it allows you to connect with a sensitive, relatable message.

Second, your message must be consistent – not just in terms of information but in tone. Mismatching and poorly constructed messages will shout loudly about your team’s panic under fire.

It can be helpful to create a set of messaging that will be the foundation to all communication during the crisis. Abby suggests that this translates into a tone and language that suits the person you’re talking to. “Use the language that you usually speak to them in, don’t use very corporate, very dry, grey language if it’s not what they’re used to hearing,” she says.

When it comes to internal updates it’s important that you don’t communicate so much that there’s no time to resolve the actual crisis. You can buy time by setting boundaries, says Abby. “It’s about setting up regular times and sticking to it. You need to say ‘our next call is in two hours - that’s when I’m going to update on the information’.”

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