With COVID-19 spreading extremely fast and disrupting “the normal” in the world of business, managers have been forced to urgently develop new communication management plans for their staff members. Employees all over the world are freaking out and are hungry for the right information at the right time. It is your job as a business leader to communicate early and often with your staff members throughout this crisis. But then there is a challenge: Most business leaders today have never led through a crisis of this magnitude before, so they don’t exactly understand the extent of the reliance employees have on them.
In the COVID-19 epicenter, China, it is now more than 8 weeks since the government imposed quarantines and city lockdowns in a bid to counter the coronavirus. That has been hard on the economy, with most people losing their jobs and many small businesses closing down. However, though slowly, China is getting back to work. There is hope that the country will manage to control the pandemic in the next few months, which means that business will resume and for people who were intending to expand to China before the COVID-19 outbreak, they will be able to set up a company in China very soon. But until that happens, how do you communicate with your Chinese team during this pandemic? Here are 5 tips for you:
1. Form a COVID-19 task force
Compose an inter-departmental team to look into your company’s preparedness in terms of fighting coronavirus. The team can be headed by any of your employees, but it is best if it is chaired by someone from the human resources and deputized by someone experienced in communications or health matters. Other members can be from the legal department, operations, or sales. The task force should make key decisions on which message of hope, safety, or moral support should be communicated to the rest of the team, and when.
Note: Once the COVID-19 task force is in place, all communications in regard to the company’s situation, either internal or external communications, must be communicated via the task force.
2. Share important news as quickly as possible
Many business leaders have made the mistake of assuming that the coronavirus is out there but not within their organization. You should not make this mistake. Ensure that the COVID-19 task force has the needed equipment to scan employees at the entrance and, in case someone tests positive, communicate the news to the rest of the team as fast as possible. This will ensure that you don’t put other employees at risk. Communicate candidly using a concise language on the steps to be taken without scaring people.
3. Have protocols in place to counter misinformation
Keep in mind that disinformation during the COVID-19 pandemic has been spreading so fast as a result of politicians and journalists with no experience in public health sharing advice they aren’t sure about. Your organization should consult medical practitioners who are experienced in epidemiology before sharing any safety tips with the team.
4. Create guidelines on remote working standards
If your company is experimenting on remote working for the first time, set up a team that will help you to communicate policies and instructions to remote workers. The team should set the expectation for working hours and productivity expectations. Some companies are okay with employees who disregard set working hours but still get the work done in good time. If you are okay with that, communicate it to the employees. If you are not, define your approach clearly. While at it, make sure that you invest in modern communication tools.
5. Demonstrate purpose
Promote safety steps at the workplace and in the communities where your employees live in. Use posters, memos, FAQs, emails, and intranet postings to communicate these steps and to receive feedback not just from your team but also from your clients. Refer to WHO and CDC recommendations when sending out COVID-19 prevention tips.
Demonstrating purpose also means explaining the impact of COVID-19 on your China-based company. Your team should know how your supply chains have been affected, the company’s financial position, and what they can do to help save the situation. Help your employees to plan accordingly.
Think of every communication from the perspective of your China-based team and try to empathize with them at all times. Ensure that you reveal as much as you can about sensitive information, and ensure that you are not scaring anyone while at it.