Many firms are struggling to keep up with critical communications to their clients and employees about the impacts of various responses to COVID-19. Within one week, firms have closed their offices and transitioned to a virtual work environment, the federal government passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA), tax deadlines have shifted, the Small Business Administration (SBA) announced a Disaster Relief loan program, and state governments have made daily announcements with changes that greatly impact individuals and businesses.
During moments of fast-paced change, particularly those with more long-term or severe impacts, we all must find a way to communicate quickly and frequently. When there is a lack of communication, people can get nervous, wondering if they are making decisions in the best interest of their companies and their families. They also want clear direction on steps they can be taking to navigate the next few days, weeks or months. How do you know if you are communicating enough? In general, here are recommendations to consider.
Communicate Through Multiple Channels
People are navigating every known channel to get the latest news on COVID-19 responses from the government and your firm. More obvious channels would be to post updates on your website and social media. You can send email blasts to various mailing lists. What might be less obvious is the way you communicate in your day-to-day business. Consider changing your outgoing message on your main phone line to include updates on your office status and alternative contact information to reach your employees. Have individuals redirect phones to alternative lines if they can, and if they can’t, have them change their outgoing voicemail message to reflect their work status and alternative ways to contact them. Remind clients of technology resources you have available for getting important documents exchanged. Update email signature lines with brief messages about status and alternative contact information. For employees, consider daily updates through email or instant messaging platforms. Leaders may consider creating video messages. There are many creative ways to communicate in a virtual work environment.
Reminder: Be sure to provide updates through your social media channels.
Reassure, Inform and Recommend
Communication serves both an emotional and a practical purpose. Most importantly, people want reassurance in stressful times, they want to “know what they should know”, and they are seeking recommendations on what to do next. Employees want reassurance that leadership is being proactive in thinking about their futures. Clients want reassurance that you are still working on their behalf and that they can rely on you to meet shifting deadlines. With so much happening so quickly, all audiences want to make sure they have the latest information and that they haven’t missed something important. As you think about the future of your firm, your clients are also thinking about the future of their business. Your role as a business advisor becomes even more critical. We share some ideas around how you can advise clients in uncertain times in our article Advising Clients When the Only Certainty is Uncertainty.
As you review your actions and communications over the past several weeks, we recommend using this checklist to assess any gaps in your messaging. As a reminder, you cannot over-communicate in a time like this.
- Have we communicated announcements, updates and/or answers to FAQs about the following topics in the past 7 days:
- Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA)
- Tax Deadline Extensions
- SBA Providing Disaster Assistance Loans
- Adjustments to FMLA and Paid Sick Leave in Response to COVID-19
- Your Firm’s Response to COVID-19 (stay-in-place; closures; virtual transitions; options for contacting the firm or sharing work documents)
- Have our communications been shared through each of the following channels (if available to your firm):
- Email blasts
- Website posts
- Social media posts
- Internal emails
- Do we have a dedicated location on our website homepage or a link on our website homepage to a dedicated page containing the latest updates on COVID-19 responses from the government and from our firm?
- Have we updated the firm’s outgoing message on our main phone line to reflect the current status of our firm and alternative contact information?
- Have our firm employees:
- Transferred their direct lines to an alternative number (if possible) and updated their outgoing voicemail message with an office status update and alternative contact info?
- Updated their email signatures with alternative contact information and links to technology like client portals and document sharing?
- Contacted clients personally to provide updated contact info and firm status updates?
- Have employees who are in the office been properly trained on communicating office status changes with incoming callers?
If you find that you are missing any of these critical communications steps in your firm, there are several resources to help you fill in the gaps, including the FFCRA+ Toolkit, released on March 24. We encourage you to review your communications as soon as possible and reach out if you have any questions or concerns about how to catch up or next steps.