By Andrea Lebron - March 16, 2020
Employers have an important role to play in mitigating the consequences of the coronavirus COVID-19 outbreak - not only by adjusting workplace policies and procedures to increase physical distance between employees (i.e. telecommuting and staggered shifts), but also by being a source of trusted information about the outbreak.
The coronavirus outbreak is a rapidly-evolving event; and, to best protect people from infecting themselves, loved ones, and colleagues, information about the outbreak has to be accurate, timely, and authentic.
The failure to provide accurate information and a financial necessity to continue working despite feeling ill has resulted in people ignoring official advice, potentially accelerating the rate of the outbreak. Consequently, employers - who are likely to be more trusted by employees and who have the power to address financial hardship - have an important role to play in communicating information and mitigating the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak.
As a trusted source of information, employers should share what is known about coronavirus and what they are doing or resources they can provide to make employees feel safe and supported.
Employer communications can help dispel rumors circulating on social media or through workplace gossip, and can be a valuable source of information about how to avoid contracting the disease, and what to do if symptoms manifest. Providing advice about how to access testing and other medical services will also help alleviate the burden on the healthcare system.
In many respects, employers have better insights into local situations, especially when working with local agencies, and can use their localized information to better protect workforces and the communities in which workforces live by providing accurate, timely, and authentic communications. The communications should also explain why certain actions are necessary. For example:
Pathogens of the virus (i.e. sneezes, coughs, etc.) can survive on certain types of surface for up to nine days, which is why frequent hand washing is so important.
The fatality rate for uncontained outbreaks of coronavirus in Italy is 7 percent. It could be even higher in the U.S. if measures are not enforced to contain the outbreak's spread.
There is no guarantee the spread of coronavirus will abate during warmer weather - this is likely to be a long-term event which may re-occur in future years.
Similarly, there is no guarantee people who have recovered from coronavirus are immune from catching it again.
It is not only important employers communicate with employees about coronavirus, the timing of communications is also important. Ideally, reminders about hygiene and social distancing (if a social distancing policy is in place) should be sent at the beginning and end of every shift, plus at times when employees might congregate - for example at lunch breaks.
Further communications should be sent whenever it is appropriate - for example if a rumor is circulating via social media or workplace gossip - and, even if it is not possible to dispel the rumor (because accurate information is not available), a communication can be sent reassuring employees the rumor is being investigated and further news will be shared once it is available.
By keeping on top of the “pulse” of the workforce - and providing a means through which concerns or rumors can be reported - employers can keep employees informed while minimizing business disruption. This can be the case whether employees are working at the business's premises or - more likely over the coming weeks - working from home.
One very important factor to consider when communicating with employees about coronavirus is how news and advice is shared. There is a growing volume of evidence suggesting “communication overload” contributes to critical communications being overlooked, and therefore increasing the number of corporate emails is not going to help get the message through.
However, implementing an alternate channel of communication dedicated to communicating news and advice about coronavirus not only demonstrates an employer's commitment to keeping the workforce safe, messages sent through the alternate channel of communication are more likely to get noticed. There's only one issue with this approach - which channel of communication to use when the likelihood exists many employees may soon be working remotely?
The answer is a multi-modal communications solution that can communicate news and advice about coronavirus via multiple channels (i.e. SMS, voice broadcast, RSS, etc.). Businesses that implement these types of employee communication systems are able to reduce the communications management overhead by configuring the solution to send notifications at predetermined intervals, plus employees have access to a business-branded portal to select the mode of communication they receive news and advice about coronavirus.
Find out how you can encourage employee engagement through two-way communication - which enables employees to provide feedback and receive answers to coronavirus-related questions. Some solutions can also be adopted to resolve shift management issues through poll-based alerting. Furthermore, once the coronavirus emergency is over, proven mass notification systems will remain a valuable solution for alerting employees to emergency situations and managing them effectively.
People are frightened by the coronavirus outbreak - not necessarily for themselves, as the majority of victims will recover from the virus, but for loved ones who may be at a higher risk of dying due to their age or a preexisting medical condition. Nobody wants to be responsible for the unavoidable death of a parent or partner that could have been avoided with greater care, so speak with our team of safety experts today for further advice about how to communicate with employees about coronavirus.
Andrea is Rave's Director of Digital Marketing, a master brainstormer and avid coffee drinker. Andrea joined Rave in August 2017, after 10 years of proposal and corporate marketing at an environmental engineering firm. You'll find her working with her amazing team in writing and producing blogs like this one, improving your journey to and through our website, and serving you up the best email content. When she's not in front of a keyboard, she's chasing after her three daughters or indulging in her husband's latest recipe. Andrea has a Bachelor's degree in Marketing/Management from Northeastern University and an MBA from Curry College.
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