Three months have elapsed since the WHO announced the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. The business world has changed drastically over this quarter: with many countries imposing complete or partial lock-downs, many brick-and-mortar businesses have shut their doors and sent employees to work from home. As the infection rates continue to fluctuate and the economic situation worsens, some businesses have reopened their doors and others are preparing for the step. In these novel circumstances, you (the CEO, manager, or entrepreneur) shoulder the heavy yet honorable responsibility of guarding your employees’ wellbeing and your clients’ interests. A new normal is evolving; but unfortunately it is too hazy and unpredictable, and you need to prepare for it amidst the fogs. It is a tough going that requires you to examine each side separately and then bring them together into one big picture.
The Employee Side
Your employees are wrestling with weighty responsibilities.
· Working mothers are juggling full-time work with the involuntary homeschooling of their kids as well as the increasing house-care demands.
· Single employees are running errands instead of their elderly parents and looking after these parents or a younger sibling, not to mention having their balanced and active lifestyle upended.
· Full-time-job fathers are torn between the unrelenting pressure the situation is placing on their wives and their need to stay focused on work and maintain the high quality and dedication their employer expects from them.
· Lower-income-bracket employees are perhaps more vulnerable to contracting the virus, given their diminished capacity to spend on safety measures and fewer chances to work from home and avoid crowds.
The WHO raised a flag concerning elevated levels of anxiety and stress in general and loneliness and depression in particular as a result of the uncertainty, lock-down, self-quarantine, and the disruption of social life as a whole.
The Client Side
Whether your company is a B2B or B2C service/product provider, standing on the other side is a human being, either representing a wide group or just themselves. They share the same turmoil with you and your employees.
What Everyone Needs from You Now!
Each one is fighting on many fronts and doing their best to cope with the fast-paced and wide-range changes. While the circumstances and the concerns differ, what each needs from you remains the same: clear, consistent, and compassionate communication; empathy; assurance; and support.
If you understand how this new normal is wearing everyone down, then you can allow for a lowering of the bar and redesigning your client relationship arena. Your employees are not lacking in skills or professionalism; they are normal human beings in abnormal times. Your clients are not cut in alabaster; they can understand, appreciate, and cooperate.
Let’s cover the employee side first.
Your messages are the medium to express your empathy and assure everyone. Communicate with your teams openly, regularly, and honestly. Address the personal, the general, and the corporate aspects.
· The personal: Check in on your employees. Ask about their health, mental and physical. Open up and show your vulnerable side. Listen actively and respond thoughtfully.
· The general: Discuss the latest COVID-19 statistics, interpretations, and patterns. Rely on official and trusted resources to combat the spread of misinformation.
· The corporate: Share with your employees how the business is doing, how this relates to them, how they can help, and how you are re-planning in response to this pandemic.
Empathize to Support
To empathize is to genuinely care about your employees, not the profit they generate. The empathy mindset enables you to feel your employees’ pains and see the need for a balanced schedule that prevents work from bleeding into personal life.
Explore the options and discover the compromises that you can afford. Quality is not negotiable; but time is. Look anywhere and you will find that taking more time makes sense—think of curfews, lock-downs, and reduced number of employees everywhere. Stand up for your employees before your clients and explain with compassion how the current situation will impact your operations.
If you have always wanted your employees to spend long hours at work, now is the time to encourage them to allocate more to personal life. Everyone needs more of that right now to accommodate to the additional responsibilities and learn to survive in this novel age.
Empathy will guide you to the proper means of support. You support your employees with staggered shifts and logistical rearrangement of the workplace; crisis and adaptability training; and moving towards a culture of solidarity.
The ways to support your employees are countless; however, one element that cannot be ignored is financial security: if you must make pay cuts, start with the affluent—with yourself. If you have to go beyond that, move your employees from full-time to part-time. Take all the measures that will keep you from furloughing your people in such a stressful time.
How can you reassure someone in a time of uncertainty? Again, through communication:
· Let them know you understand what they are going through and that you are on their side.
· Be honest about any infection cases that happen at work.
· Share positive recovery stories for COVID-19 patients.
Second, prove that you care about their health.
· Distribute awareness flyers and periodically disinfect the workplace.
· Demonstrate that you yourself comply with the precautionary practices.
· Prepare a list of the places that provide mental health support in case any of your team needs a referral.
From your HEART to Your Clients
This is the opportune moment to build exceptional customer loyalty. The Harvard Business Review “HEART framework” for communication with customers in a time of crisis will guide you on that path:
1. Humanize your company: Show understanding and empathy; communicate these values authentically and clearly.
2. Educate about change: Update your clients about any changes in how you will conduct your business (moving online, reducing work hours, closing some branches, and so on).
3. Assure stability: Let your customers know that you will continue to serve them and with the same quality.
4. Revolutionize offerings: Create new products or services that address the emerging needs and pains.
5. Tackle the future: Re-invent the future of your company and adjust your plans instead of waiting to be taken by surprise. Show your customers that you are staying abreast of the situation, learning your lessons, and incorporating them in your upcoming plans.
Sooner or later, this roaring pandemic will subside. Then everyone, client or employee, will have all the time to remember how you oared their boat steadily and safely amidst the rough sea.