Business Communication Tips to Take Back Control during COVID-19 Quarantine

by Kristina Skindelytė and Raminta Lilaitė

World Health Organization announcements about the COVID-19 pandemic are raising many uncertainties and questions about the way business will now be conducted around the world. In the face of this unusual situation, companies often do not know what to do and how to communicate with customers, partners, even their own employees.

It is obvious that the current quarantine situation cannot be compared to any previously announced pandemics or crises — this time, the world is shutting down completely. The situation is going to lead to hardly measurable consequences not only for individuals but also for businesses. While people actively seek information and assurance from the government and trusted leaders, it is important for companies to demonstrate effective leadership within their own sphere of influence — through the right communication with employees, customers, partners and suppliers.

Do not ignore the problem. In the event of any unusual situation, do not avoid talking about problems. A pandemic will inevitably affect one’s company and employees, thus talking about security and any foreseen plans during quarantine with clients, employees and partners should be a priority. Everybody needs to know clearly what the business’s plans are, whether the team will now work remotely or if the business will temporarily be out of business, how its leaders can be contacted and how its leaders are willing to help the others. This will allow the company to maintain seamless communication and provide clarity in shaping future communications. Gartner has prepared a useful questionnaire to help businesses understand their level of company preparedness during the pandemic crisis.

Plan internal communication. When a crisis begins, employees need to understand how it will affect their work and the company itself. In times of panic, the reluctance to take on responsibility may begin, thus it is important to appoint a person or a team to be responsible for sharing information with employees. Staff should receive all mandatory information regarding the critical points and risks of a crisis, how to ensure a safe and responsible environment and what the work will look like from this point. Any communication with remote workers should be especially empathetic — create open communication; understand that a person is working from home and may have other family members in the same room, and thus the environment may not be very professional.

Maintain contacts. Do not stop fostering relationships with clients, partners and investors. Businesses should use various communication channels, such as social networks, just to chat and show they are responding to the situation. Clients need to understand that in spite of temporary troubles, the company is still in business and is ready to help and answer any questions. The communication should take place regularly and be available at all times. It is important to stay open about the challenges ahead and how the business is prepared to deal with them. Crisis can be a great time to re-communicate the company’s core values.

Continue communication with the press; offer help and expertise. While the first instinct in a crisis is to get away from it all, long-built communication efforts should not be suddenly dropped. Business owners should not push the press away but continue talking about their company by fine-tuning their tone, as people need empathy and sensitivity at this moment. A good way to help is by actively offering comments and company expertise. For example, a virtual educator could offer tips on what to do with children at home, and a private clinic could share insights on healthcare.

Share achievements. Despite the stress, understand the crisis will not last forever. During this time, therefore, it is important businesses continue sharing company achievements and success stories — to inspire people and help them understand that this phase is temporary. Of course, achievements need to be communicated in a sensitive manner when many other companies are experiencing difficulties. This requires empathy and diplomacy at every step.

Prepare an external communication plan; think of existing and potential audiences. In the global context, all businesses face the same situation — only attitude and preparation will differ. Now is a great time to build a communication plan that will help address different audiences. For businesses that are not localized, this is a great opportunity to look for partners in wider and unexplored markets. It is worth considering communication abroad as well — perhaps a business’s solutions could address some specific consequences of a pandemic. For example, fintech companies can help create new solutions for remote billing, translation agencies could employ more freelancers who now can only work from home, and so on.

Find the right strategy for the business. Global crisis does not mean customers are no longer interested in a business. For example, trade giant Alibaba claims the number of online shoppers has increased by 2.5 times compared to February last year, according to reporting in Reuters. Consumer habits are about to change; businesses should keep that in mind when choosing further strategy. Business communication will also undoubtedly change — unique, value-creating content is going to be even more important than ever.

Work with the right professionals. Choose those communication professionals who have the best knowledge about the business’s niche. In the time of crisis, avoid spending money on general news — focus on specialized publications. Start with an internal newsletter for employees and customers, and then move on to a niche message for the business’s target audience. Think about how the business can help people in crisis. Microsoft and Google, for example, have provided free access to conference tools to facilitate remote work, while some airlines have agreed to waive fees for flight information exchange and cancellation.

Choose partnership. In a crisis, finding the right partners is more important than ever, especially for small businesses. Instead of choosing competition, look for partnerships – help each other, share resources and ideas, and this may get you out of hard times even faster. One great example of open collaboration is the cryptocurrency company Coinbase, which has openly shared its internal communication plan with the world, including daily tips for employees and answers to everyone’s concerns, from the latest news about the virus to general advice about pet care during quarantine.

Contribute to community. There probably are people around who need help, so take a chance to find ways to contribute safely. One way may be to provide food aid to those who have returned from abroad and are in compulsory two-week self-isolation, another to assist elderly people struggling to get the essentials. There are many safe opportunities to contribute to the community. Doing good deeds and communicating about them will encourage others to join in as much as they can.

Kristina Skindelytė and Raminta Lilaitė are founders of digital communications agency Blue Oceans PRBlue Oceans PR is a digital communications agency that works with the most influential journalists around the world, represents innovative companies and startups and, most crucially, has extensive experience in crisis management. Both communication experts are now sharing some essential tips on how to communicate in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic — not to take advantage of people’s fears, but to provide useful information, to keep everyone calm and in line with companies’ values.

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