As coronavirus fear spreads around the world, conferences are canceling, universities are converting to online only, and people are being encouraged to work from home. People are anxious and taking control of life in any way they can, which may include buying a lifetime supply of toilet paper or enough hand sanitizer to fill a swimming pool.
Most everyone knows the choice to hoard supplies is not rational, but they still can't stop themselves from adding one more case of Kleenex to the cart "just in case." Why? Because human are wired to react this way in an unknown crisis.
Here are a couple of the brain concepts at play and tips for communicating with staff during troubling times.
Proactively communicate as often as possible.
Things always seem more important when we are thinking about them, due to the focusing effect. Everyone is thinking about coronavirus constantly, and as long as they are forced to keep those thoughts within their own minds productivity will be impaccted. When people have an opportunity to discuss their fears in a safe place (and some of those fears are mitigated) it can help them move on for a while and get work done.
The "what ifs" are running rampant right now, so proactively answer as many of those questions as you can to keep employees calm. Use these to create FAQs and the content for the proactive conversations suggested above:
- What if my family or I get sick and have to be quarantined? Will my job be safe?
- Where would I go to get tested if I think I have coronavirus?
- What if my kid's school is closed and I need to stay home with them?
Consider all the fears your employees may be having, and proactively talk about them to help calm fears. If you don't have policies in place yet, communicate now to say it is being worked on and send updates as you have them. It may feel like overcommunication, but with all the focus on this, it will feel like ages between updates.
Balance the messages about coronavirus.
Look for opportunities to help employees' brains be less likely to have fear and overreaction be their instinctual responses. There is a lot going on with new changes daily, but panic will not help the situation improve.
Actively start looking for positive stories -- or at least fact-based content that is neutral -- and share that with your team to balance out the messages they are hearing.
Give them something productive to focus on.
With reduced travel (more time and money) consider what your employees could be doing to move your company forward. People will jump at an opportunity to feel in control of something, and that distraction could be a huge value to your business. Put together a challenge or encourage time to be spent on creative projects by asking questions like:
- How could we best spend the $100,000 from the travel budget?
- What products/services could we offer to be of service during coronavirus?
- How could being remote for six months actually help our company thrive?
Communicating during coronavirus is important, and hopefully these tips will help your employees feel safe and supported, while also allowing your company to come out stronger on the other side.