Crisis Comm: Organizing Swiftly in the Midst of the Coronavirus COVID-19 Pandemic
By Lauren FitzHugh | 03/17/2020
We continue to follow the effect of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on small businesses across the nation. We know many of our customers and small business owners are anxiously awaiting news related to support, relief, and financial assistance. We’ve compiled a list of common questions about business insurance and how policies will or will not likely respond to events arising from the pandemic.
Staying informed and making decisions during uncertain times is difficult and dicey. Like you, we were under pressure to make decisions without having all of the facts. We pulled together with what we knew and made what we felt were the best possible choices to keep our team safe while maintaining our operation to support our customers.
If you are suffering from analysis paralysis or feeling overwhelmed with data, use the simple seven point framework we’re using at Layr to make decisions, align our team, and communicate with our customers and stakeholders.
As global life screeches to halt because of the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, communication with your team, customers, and stakeholders is likely moving faster than ever. At Layr, we’ve learned quite a bit about making decisions in times of crisis, acting accordingly, and what it means to galvanize your team and message in moments.
You might be feeling like one of my favorite emojis: ??♀️ Making decisions quickly about your business in the here and now can be frustrating and chaotic. Questions and tasks are likely welling up faster than you can answer and respond. Read on for the framework we used at Layr to navigate the uncertainty around this pandemic, how we’ll continue to lean on it as we learn more, and how you can borrow it to maneuver the coming days and weeks for your business.
Taking a moment to pause may seem counterintuitive. Who has time to pause when it feels as if the whole world has been swept with hysteria? Pausing is crucial. Take a deep breath, and let your mind clear. When we make decisions hastily, we often make mistakes, which leads to confusion. Take a moment to pause before you do anything.
2. Get Informed
Gather your Core Team and get informed. We are an on-demand culture which means headlines are non-stop. Suss out reputable and trusted sources for information. Declare those as your resources for decision making. At Layr, we’re leaning on four resources for information: the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control, the U.S. Small Business Administration, and a curated Twitter list including official handles of our nationwide carrier partners. Additionally, we are each adding our own learnings from myriad resources to our official #coronavirus Slack channel. This allows our entire internal team to access the resources we are using to make decisions as well as learn from one another.
Decide on a structure first. Document decisions in a shared resource like a Google doc.
- Who is our internal and external spokesperson?
- How will they communicate?
- How often?
- How will updates be managed?
- Who will manage and approve the messaging?
- Who will manage and approve the technical aspects?
Creating a clear and documented plan for communicating and decision-making ensures your entire team knows where to look for updates, who to connect with for answers to questions, and where and how to find resources for their teams and customers.
4. Communicate Internally
Your team is your front line. Keeping them involved and informed is key for success in crisis communication. After you’ve determined when and how you will make decisions and share updates, inform your entire team. Leverage your company’s hierarchy and tools to manage this process and ensure your organization is aligned.
When we decided to move Layr operations remote indefinitely, our CEO posted a message in our Slack community #general channel. He clearly communicated the decision, when there would be an update, and asked every member of the team to add a green checkmark to the message indicating they had seen and read it.
Further, we moved all communication related to changes resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic to a separate, specific slack channel, #coronavirus.
5. Collaborate + Divide + Conquer
Even as a small business, you don’t have to shoulder the burden alone. Use your partner, co-founder, or technology to help you tackle the to-do list.
Once we published our official company update, we pooled our resources to conquer phase two of our to-do list. Our Head of Engineering put his skills to use by quickly collecting the official Twitter handles of our carrier partners, our Insurance Team connected with those carrier partners for clarity about how certain insurance policies may or may not respond outside of our already-published FAQs, I set to work re-recording our phone greetings adding a new option for updates related to the pandemic, and our Head of Product set to work on the technical side of things to make sure our during- and after-hours phone system offered appropriate options.
Use everyone’s skillset. Early on in my career, I worked at a non-profit where we often reminded one another of our internal motto: Teamwork makes the dream work. More than a decade later, it still sticks with me, and I used it many times in our early coronavirus conversations. Everyone on your team has a role to play and can make a contribution. Designate someone as the “Assignment Chief”. This team member can work directly with the Core Team to assign other team members tasks that don’t have an owner.
If your team is small and mighty, like ours, leverage technology. If you’re staring down a challenge, like, “How do I manage all of the support inbound with only one of me?”, take a moment to research appropriate, automated responses using technology systems you already have in place. Here’s a #protip: spend 30 minutes researching. If you can’t find a response, leverage your network, and move on to the next task.
6. Communicate Externally
You made decisions. Your team is informed. Your message is ready. It’s time to communicate with your external stakeholders: customers and the community. Protecting your customers is protecting your business. Put yourself in their shoes, and let that perspective guide your external communication.
We created a shared Google doc and quickly leaned on our Insurance Team to supply some Frequently Asked Questions and answers about business insurance and how it might respond given the nature of the pandemic. Next, our Core Team reviewed the doc and collectively provided feedback, questions, copy edits, and links to reputable and trusted sources. Our Marketing Team took a pass to ensure that our message was accurate, on-brand, and true to our culture and company pledge.
Finally, before publishing the statement on our official company blog about how the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic relates to business insurance, the products and services we provide, I did what I call an “empathy pass” on the doc. We’re a scrappy startup comprised of a passionate team building #BetterBusinessInsurance. We are humans. We feel the impact of this pandemic just like our customers.
This is the most crucial step in authentic crisis communication. Your message will fall flat if you don’t empathize with your community. It’s scary and vulnerable. Do it anyway. It’s essential and will help you win every time.
7. Monitor + Repeat
Finally, take another moment to pause. Monitor the situation and updates from your previously designated official resources. With the coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, things are changing rapidly. Stay informed, realign, and repeat the process.
Crisis communication can feel like chasing your tail. It’s draining. Create a framework for your company that works and allows for flexibility to maneuver changing situations. Work the plan over and over again until it’s back to business as usual. When things settle into a new normal, evaluate the framework and see if it works for your “business as usual” decisions, too.
My career has been colorful and included plenty of opportunities to fine-tune my crisis communication framework. I lifted much of what I shared above from the structure offered in Kim Scott’s Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity and layered in points for decisioning and delegating using the Eisenhower Matrix. Whichever system speaks to you and your business is the right one. Once you land on the right one, monitor + repeat.
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