By Lisa Lark, Director and Brent Snavely, Senior Director

As COVID-19 (the coronavirus disease) makes its way through the United States, companies across almost every industry find themselves facing challenging decisions. While some have been able to quickly implement crisis response plans, others are struggling to decide how best to respond and many have moved slowly, thinking the risk might be overblown.

At Lambert, we’ve assembled an internal team across our practice groups to watch the crisis and provide counsel to our clients.

Here is our advice: Every company and organization should be closely monitoring the situation in their communities, ideally through their local health departments. Whether you are in the automotive, education, health care, restaurant, retail or just about any other industry, you should be thinking about how this crisis will impact your employees, customers and other stakeholders, and how your response would be reported by the media if it became public.

The Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization are both providing helpful updates and resources on their websites, but those resources only provide a starting point. At Lambert, we have been developing coronavirus response plans and communications resources. Our knowledgeable in-house team recommends the following best practices:

Drill down on hygiene: With coronavirus, the best thing that can be done right now to mitigate spread, according to experts, is for everyone to practice good hygiene. It may sound silly, but posters and messaging around proper handwashing, coughing and sneezing etiquette, and social distancing can make a world of difference.

Keep employees informed of what you’re doing and why: Your employees are receiving a lot of information about the coronavirus. Be proactive in communicating what you’re doing to keep them safe and healthy. A company intranet is a good tool to post FAQs, updated procedures, and/or video messages from leadership to ensure employees have the most up-to-date information. Digital communication is another way to keep messaging current. However, be wary of overwhelming your teams with too many emails. If email is your only tool, consider a daily update email rather than a series of messages.

Offer employees the option of working remotely: We’re seeing many companies shift to remote work for the coming weeks. This will help limit community spread while still keeping key business functions moving. If you haven’t moved in this direction yet, now is the time to prepare. Take a look at available VPN logins, review your data security, and make sure your employees have access to the remote meeting tools they’ll need.

Get a team together: Make sure that key functions are aligned with what needs to be done in cases of a suspected or possible case. Most companies we’re seeing are including their human resources, communications, environmental health and safety, and security functions in their crisis response team, and many are also including operations and supply chain functions as well.

Lead from the top: We recommend that general, overall employee messages should come from your CEO or direct designee and should be serious and factual in tone and content to ensure that employees take the policies and recommendations seriously. More detailed, follow-up information can come from your HR director or department.

Monitor comings and goings: If you haven’t already instituted a travel ban, it’s important to listen to public health experts. At this point, all non-essential business travel at many companies has been eliminated or significantly limited. Ask employees to communicate all recent international travel to HR, particularly trips to at-risk countries. Once employees self-report, consider self-quarantine options for those who may have exposure risks.

Be prepared for an outbreak: What will you tell your employees and customers if one or more of your employees is diagnosed with coronavirus? What will you tell your customers? It is important that you are ahead of any potential issues that may come up in the future.

Finally, be prepared for media coverage: What will you say to the media if an employee working at your company tests positive and reporters call you to ask how your company is handling the situation?

The best thing that you can do for your company, your employees, and your customers at this time is plan and prepare. Consider all the things that could happen if you have a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19 within your company. Taking thoughtful and appropriate actions before you have a problem will put your company in the best possible position to communicate with your employees and manage all potential situations while keeping your customers or stakeholders calm, and your business running.

Our team of experts at Lambert is ready to help you think through these scenarios and provide communications support if you are unsure how to proceed.

Contact our team here.