And as humans, we are wired to think it won’t happen to us because we ignore risks that require personal actions (and often sacrifice) to mitigate the impact of pandemics like coronavirus.
That is why leaders, visionaries, and those who are unafraid of the brutal truth need to take action on behalf of those who serve in their organizations or those who serve the customers that are the life of our economy. If you are in that position or you are a trusted advisor to such a leader, I’m writing directly to you now.
Community Engagement in the Era of Social Distancing and Isolation
We face the looming pandemic of Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the early forecast that—at the very least—organizations may be forced into “social distancing” of their workforce. There may be limits on customer contact and interruption in your vendor relationships. Thus from my experience, community resilience planning and deliberate engagement are required immediately.
Government will likely recommend social distancing, the act of prolonged social isolation and physical separation. This isolation, in the absence of a vaccine or any pharmacological intervention, may be the only tactic to prevent or limit the spread of the disease.
Consider what a prolonged period of isolation and lack of interaction will mean for you, your organization, and most importantly, your people.
Consider what mitigates some of the negative effects on employee retention, creates reassurance, and reinforces brand loyalty and investor confidence.
The World Health Organization has put out guidance calling for businesses to create plans to address the looming crisis. As expected, the advice addresses good health practices and hygiene. However, there is an absence of essential advice for the psychosocial well-being of those who are forced into social isolation.
This aspect alone should immediately inform your employer branding strategy. A mandate with even greater magnitude is one that may be occurring to you as the leader of a company, organization, or agency. How should you take action at this time, with your brand identity in mind, initiating a social engagement, and community activation plan?
At a time when social distancing may become the norm, how do you maintain and engage your community of employees, suppliers, vendors, customers, clients, investors, donors, subscribers, or other stakeholders?
For two decades, my work has been at the intersection of community and resilience, having co-created the largest earthquake drill (64 million participants in 2019), innovating community resilience in cities across the country, and activating communities to support neighbors, causes, and brands that are focused on captivating and activating community.
Based on my work with dozens of companies and organizations across the US (and the social science research that underlies it), the following are the components required to make sure you and your company or organization are not caught off guard. Keep in mind, this is not only about the near term loss of revenue. Your industry may become fragile as a prolonged pandemic permeates our economy.
Good corporate brand behavior can mitigate negative economic consequences. Engagement is a hallmark of resilience, and whoever does it right, in the long term, will prevail in your sector. Resilience is about surviving the shocks and stresses that impact you and your regular cadence as a business.
Consumers, the media, and industry analysts are watching you and will remember whether you were ready or not. They will know whether you acted in the “gold standard,” aligned with your organizational values, and contributed to the well-being of the employees, customers, and the community.
Pandemic Priority #1: Business Continuity
To prepare for the arrival of this pandemic, your organization should first have a business continuity plan. Unlike gathering people together during tornados or after earthquakes, the prescribed social solution to pandemic is the intentional separation of people. That could lead to disconnection in your communities. And when we think of solitary confinement, we think of torture. Hence, you must deliberately work to preserve and build community throughout what could be a prolonged social and economic interruption.
You must create the aspects and feeling of community while people are apart.
In order to do that, consider the two key principles of Crisis Community Response:
- Communication is key to your success, so make sure you are intentional about how, when, and what you’re saying.
- Leverage the time the crisis provides to build community externally as well as internally.
Here’s what you need in this circumstance that you likely overlooked. There are three community impact phases: Preparation Phase, Isolation and Social Distance Phase, and Rebuilding Phase.
Right now, you should be doing these essential tasks. Time is short, and those who are ready will earn the payoff.
Develop and institute the processes and procedures to ensure your organization is ready to run optimally on a remote or distributed basis, perhaps for the first time with some of your constituents: employees, vendors, suppliers, customers, clients, and key stakeholders.
1. Plan for the stress on your technology and systems. Work with your CTO or IT professionals.
2. Train employees on remote working. Host a practice day, perhaps on a rolling schedule so some employees are in their regular workspaces while some work from home.
3. Consider how employees can use vacation and sick days, according to your organization rules and laws associated with that.
4. Consider setting up a PTO fund where by employees can donate leave time to those without as much wherewithal to weather the crisis.
5. Develop a sliding, stay-at-home payscale and communicate it. Consult your HR professional to ensure you’re meeting state and local regulations.
6. Set up direct deposit for all employees so they can be paid without having to come in or go to a bank.
Vendors and External Suppliers
7. Email your plans to vendors and suppliers.
8. Call each of the largest ones to explain key points to ensure continuity once operations return to normal, especially if during the crisis you need to reduce or suspend operations.
9. Appoint a spokesperson or key contact to update them on specific intervals.
Customers and Clients
10. Contact your list of key customers, accounts, and clients and alert them to your plans. Give them detailed information on how you plan to stay connected during the crisis as it unfolds.
11. Appoint a spokesperson or key contact to update them on specific intervals.
Community Support Initiatives
Now is the time to express your employer brand and amplify your community brand. Take a leadership position to demonstrate your core values to the people who matter most.
12. Train those who might need financial literacy skills so they can set up automated payments, online subscriptions, and food or medicine delivery so they can limit the required time to go out (to banks, post offices, etc.)
13. Develop and launch internal social groups through your intranet or closed social media channels to allow for direct updates.
14. Create social “buddy networks” in person that can continue when employees are separated.
15. Build and deepen individual identity while fostering interpersonal, remote interaction. Plan on group teleconferences, video conferences, and even precision group texts that have a social aspect as much as a business purpose.
16. Go one step further and set up social pods of no more than eight individuals to connect and support each other during the crisis. Appoint pod leads who will be provided with specific information to share with the others and tools to keep connections going. Your social pods ensure you are doing your best to limit the downsides of social isolation.
17. Call a “Come-Together Gathering,” which we formally call a Community Unification Conclave. It may seem counter-intuitive, but have a face-to-face meeting now, because face-to-face meetings may not be possible in the near future. Be human together. Let people ask honest questions. Express their feelings. Give suggestions. And eat food together for one last time (for now).
18. Select a local non-profit that your people can serve to maintain a sense of shared purpose. Focus on your organization’s skills, specifically what can be done remotely, and determine how to apply them to support the non-profit during this time. You read that right: you’re paying your people to volunteer.
19. Engage your people now, asking what they believe they could do for a community service project. Communicate your goals, that is: you want some employees to do this remotely. Be clear about the procedures and limitations for this activity. Provide examples, such as an employee might review a non-profit’s books or help draft a new program for a local non-profit in need of such assistance.
20. Have them provide updates so your company can communicate how individual employees are working on different tasks to support the community. Plan to get the word out to other employees, clients, and the community at large.
Isolation and Social Distance Phase
This puts your plans into action from the Preparation Phase. Identify the appropriate time period to activate this, based on your unique circumstances.
21. Pay your people to stay home. Perhaps half time, if full pay isn’t feasible. In your preparation phase, you developed your stay-at-home payscale and communicated it, hence your employees will be prepared to embrace it.
22. If employees are being paid, direct them to check in with social activities each day to maintain the connection with the company and their colleagues. If not, invite them to participate as a way to remain connected.
23. Remember your team members are people with people. They have family, friends, and connections they will be concerned with. Provide vetted, reliable tools, resources, and information they can share with their own networks.
24. Send care packages. Plan to send edible care packages to employees and key customers, either on a rotation or all at once. Select food that reminds them of the community they’re a part of while also providing that unexpected boost of endorphins from being thought of.
25. Highlight team members as people, what they like to do for hobbies, their interests, etc., to show the human side of the organization and remind everyone that there are people at the other end of emails, letters, etc.
26. Send out a survey with “question of the day” to reveal commonalities among your people. For example, poll the group about their favorite ice cream flavor or the movie they last saw. Share the answer the following day, highlighting the trends that reveal similarity and that there is a community within this group that they’re connected to.
27. Have executives make personal calls to employees on a rotating schedule, focusing on those who might most need a “community boost” to feel less isolated.
28. Stay in touch with local community leaders to see how you can be a resource during the crisis. Talk to a local emergency manager, city manager, or elected official.
Once the authorities give the “all clear,” invite your stakeholders back to the new normal. Come back stronger than before.
29. Honor the work your team did to keep the organization afloat during the isolation phase. Reward them and welcome them back with respect, thoughtfulness, and authenticity. Make sure the most senior leaders of your organization are on the front lines with this message of “you belong.”
30. Host a celebration for employees at each worksite. These events amplify that it’s safe to reconnect with colleagues. Keep in mind that perhaps for a long time, they’ve believed that separation is safer. Reinforce the message that it’s time to re-meet people you have known remotely.
31. Host a reconnection celebration with vendors and suppliers to express your appreciation and commitment to collaboration. Ideally, you do this face-to-face, but if geography is an obstacle, send a food gift and a handwritten note from senior management or their key contacts.
32. Host a reconnection celebration with customers to say you’re back and they matter to you. Reinforce your core brand messages and share your go-forward plans.
33. Celebrate with your local, extended communities. Host an open house, sponsor a block party or festival, coordinate a tree-planting, throw a barbecue, or create another event to demonstrate that people in your community matter to you. This is an opportunity to re-emerge stronger than you were at the start of the separation.
34. Continue to be engaged with your various stakeholders and communities so you are ready for the next issue you will inevitably face. Don’t let the good feelings of community that you’ve built wither with complacency, only to be needed again and having to be reestablished in a time of crisis.
Don’t wait. Develop and implement your plan now. How will you tailor this framework for success to meet your particular needs? I’d love to hear from you about your unique circumstances and individual concerns.
Please reach out to me if you need assistance in positioning your organization to successfully (and swiftly) prepare and execute on your Community Crisis Response Plan. For example, Stratiscope has developed a series of community engagement games that foster positive social interaction that you may use in your unity and activation initiatives.
Here are the outcomes we can achieve:
- Prevent the community crisis from exacerbating the damage to your brand
- Become a trusted leader and resource for employees, vendors, clients, and other community members
- Amplify long-term benefits for your organization by leveraging expert insights.
If nothing else, take the right actions now to prevent the preventable and protect the people and communities that matter most to you.