Unprecedented Response to COVID-19: What Can Your Organization Do?


The pace and extent of governmental and societal responses to COVID-19 in the past week or so is nothing less than astonishing.  To say these steps are disruptive would be a massive understatement.  However, these are the unprecedented steps public health experts are recommending to stop the spread of this disease.  Still more extreme steps may well be forthcoming.

What can organizations do to help themselves, their employees and their customers during these very troubled and challenging times?  I offer a few ideas:

1. Avoid doing anything rash; take the time to fully think through the actions and decisions you’re taking as well as their implications and consequences.

2. If you’re a business, non-profit or municipality that can function as a whole or even in part by having your employees work from home and/or can deliver your services exclusively/heavily via technology, do so – now. And, plan on doing it for a while.  If you’re not, or you’re not sure, take steps now (with outside help, if necessary) to assess whether technology investments or training can allow you to quickly perform any aspect of your operations this way.  For those organizations that simply cannot engineer even a partial work from home or technology-based scenario, can you provide additional training and install more hand sanitizer, soap and signage?  Can you adjust hours or schedules to achieve social distancing?  Or is it better to simply shut down?

Regarding decisions to think through, if you’re a municipality, are there populations you need to keep serving even if you shut your doors? If you’re a manufacturing business, does it make sense to shut down or keep operating with changed processes or enhanced safety protocols?  If you’re a university, does it make more sense to keep your students on campus with enhanced cleaning protocols or have them leave?

3. Educate yourselves. Late last week, the House of Representatives and the White House came together on one piece of legislation to ease the impact their draconian controls are having on small businesses and individuals.  Once it passes the Senate and is signed into law by the President, learn about how to take full advantage of these new government programs and pay attention and be prepared to take advantage as other programs are inevitably rolled out.

4. Communicate with and support your employees. Keep reminding them (using channels that reach them and even their families) about the hygiene practices and social distancing steps they need to take.  It’s easy for people to forget even common-sense advice with the avalanche of news coming at them hourly.

5. Keep pointing employees back to the CDC guidelines about the disease and its symptoms so they rely on facts vs. fear.

6. Proactively use employee communications to connect with them about how the organization is being impacted by the virus and response. If your organization can afford to keep paying hourly workers even if they can’t work, do so.  The loyalty and gratitude it will buy will be immeasurable. However, if changes to compensation, staffing, locations or hours become likely or inevitable, communicate as transparently as possible as early and often as possible.

7. Establish or enhance communications channels that allow employees to ask questions and communicate, collaborate with and see each other. Answer the employee questions you can.  Explain why you can’t answer others.

8. Keep communicating with your employees as often as needed. This should be no less than weekly in this dynamic situation.

Realize that these ever-changing developments scare and stress people tremendously – in ways other pandemics and even 9-11 didn’t.  Be mindful and understanding that a lot of working parents are now scrambling to figure out child care options with schools closing for extended periods.

The culture you have built is important.  You can have all the “rah rah” memos and employee of the month recognitions, but how you respond to employees as humans during adversity is what you will most be judged on.

9. Deploy your HR teams and EAP programs to reach out to and be responsive to stressed employees.

10. Consider waiving company rules and regulations about hours, sales targets and other expectations that it might now be harder or even impossible to achieve.

11. Don’t forget customer communications. Even as your own organization is grappling with COVID-19, your customers are too.  Don’t assume the conclusions they’re reaching about yours.  They might assume you’re shutting down when you’re not.  Or vice versa.  Let them know if it’s business as usual or you’re needing to make changes.  They will appreciate the candor and transparency.

Is your organization doing all or most of these? What else can your organization do to weather these unprecedented times?