Misinformation and lack of communication will be the key causes of business crisis during the COVID-19 outbreak, according to crisis management expert Ronn Torossian and wellbeing advisor Craig Bulow, who both stress the importance of employers keeping in regular touch with workers and ensuring information is filtered down, no matter how minor the update.

Ronn has more than 20 years’ experience working with national and international companies who have been through disruptive and unexpected events that threatened to harm their organisation and stakeholders.

He said: “It goes without saying that the human impact and health concerns of the outbreak are the biggest priority. But as the uncertainty surrounding this pandemic continues, the way companies approach this crisis is top of mind for many CEOs.

“We’ve witnessed the rippling effects of the media over the past few weeks. For many people, their greatest source of anxiety has been the process of watching the news unfold— with information, and misinformation, fueling panic and distress.

Fear and uncertainty breed mass hysteria. Right now, people need a voice of reason. First and foremost, communication is key. Now is not the time to stay silent with employees, customers, stakeholders, etc. Regular communication alleviatesconcerns and provides reassurance.”
Consideration of what service/ information could be provided could vary from free deliveries to just sending weekly emails or texts to check in, he said, adding that employers should use this time to commit to a crisis communications strategy that “informs, educates, reassures customers, and earns trust”.

Craig Bulow is the founder of Corporate Away Days, an organisation which develops corporate wellbeing policies and provides workshops, seminars and talks on improving mental health and overall wellbeing. He said that while fit-out businesses need to adapt to survive, the stance they take now could result in their business emerging stronger than before.

“It’s important to consider not only how this will affect your business but how it will affect your employees from a mental health perspective,” he said. “Employers really can make a difference to the employee experience when working in isolation or remotely and to succeed you need your team, so you must be putting their mental health and wellbeing right at the top of your list.”

With stress about job security being prevalent, one proven way to alleviate this is to have clear, honest and regular conversations with your team, he said. “Call them and have a chat. Put a time in your diary to speak to them – don’t just leave it to chance,” Craig advised. “Let them know what the business is doing, tell them the truth – don’t sugar coat it. Help people understand what the company is doing and what plans it has”.

Where possible, opportunities to bring groups together virtually, whereby they can take part in open discussion and provide support for each other should be encouraged. “This human connection is an incredibly important part of work. It boosts engagement and morale and needs to be maintained,” said Craig. “Organising regular group conference calls using Zoom or Skype is a great step, ideally video calls where you can all see each other.

“Make connecting with colleagues and getting to know them socially, as well as professionally, part of the new culture within the business, and actively encourage it while working remotely. This way you can keep the connection your team enjoys at work and even build upon it.”
If there’s an opportunity to offer virtual counselling, with an internal wellbeing / trained HR Officer or an external professional, this could be offered on a group conference call basis, he added.

“The calls could be used to talk through various tools that can be used to reduce stress and anxiety; covering mindfulness techniques,
sleep, rest, nutrition and diet and how to keep calm and focused,” Craig said.

Employees will benefit from knowing who to call, when to call, and how to reach the right people if they have a query so an organised approach to managing call times, blocking out hour slots to receive or make calls to individuals will help avoid a deluge of unnecessary phone calls, he said, adding that it is imperative to keep thanking them for their efforts and even giving them something to look forward to in the future.

“Whilst there doesn’t seem much to look forward to right now, as time passes we will be able to see the end of the pandemic. Giving your team something to look forward to, something exciting, would be a perfect way to keep them motivated, inspired and create a conversation / discussion on that group chat that has been set up.”