How Manufacturers Should Communicate Coronavirus Plans

March 12, 2020 StudioDAdmin

The World Health Organization just declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, and domestic manufacturers are scrambling to formulate and communicate their response to this situation.  

We encourage our clients to approach this situation in a two-step fashion – build a response plan, then work with your public relations team to disseminate it.

Proactive businesses can play an important role in information dissemination and for modeling appropriate actions for other companies.

The key to the current situation is awareness, preparedness, empathy and transparency.  If you haven’t already formed a coronavirus task force (including members of HR, legal, operations, sales, marketing, etc.), we urge you to do so.  This group should draft policies to minimize risk of infection, to address it if it occurs, and to ensure business continuity.

Since great communication for a poorly conceived or executed plan is of no value, we’ve tapped information from the CDC and others to provide these basic building blocks for a coronavirus response plan:

  1. Proactively monitor staff health and be prepared to take action.  Send symptomatic staff home immediately.  Encourage sick staff to stay at home.  Permit staff to remain at home to care for sick family members (ensure their health before they return to work).  
  2. Encourage proper hygiene through promoting hand washing procedures, using appropriate hand sanitizers, coughing into tissues/elbow, avoiding contact with sick people, avoiding touching own face, etc.
    Enhance disinfecting programs for common areas, especially high traffic locations.  Work with your cleaning crews to ensure compliance.
  3. Minimize interpersonal contact/implement social distancing.  Determine if large staff meetings are necessary or if business can be conducted in smaller groups.  Consider staggering shifts or providing flextime to reduce the number of employees in close contact with each-other, and examine policies for inviting visitors to your workplace.
    Consider allowing staff to work from home if situations allow.  Identify any tools needed (programs, technology, etc.) to facilitate remote work.  Implement security, record keeping and communication policies.
  4. Eliminate non-essential business travel.  Where possible utilize video conferencing instead.
  5. Consult outside experts as needed, including government, industry associations, healthcare, HR, and legal. 
  6. Develop/initiate a business continuity plan, that…
    • Ensures continuity of essential functions, including cross-training of staff. 
    • Identifies essential work functions and the staff capable of handling the tasks.  
    • Surveys staff regarding availability if schools or public transportation close.
    • Ensures your key supply chain members are planning appropriately.
    • Reviews your crisis communication plan with key stakeholders.  Monitor the situation and review key communication needs and responsibilities.
  7. Review HR policies, including…
    • Sick leave/absenteeism/PTO time
    • Health insurance coverage
    • Staff compensation
    • ADA compliance/privacy issues/OSHA reporting
    • PPE (personal protective equipment) use and training, if needed
    • Employee support programs
  8. Repeatedly communicate procedures.

Once the plan is written, it needs to be communicated.  With our clients, we recommend reviewing the response plan together with their crisis communication plan.  We can then help identify any areas that may need enhancements, and develop message maps and scripting to explain:

  1. How the company actively monitors and reacts to the evolving situation
  2. How the plan addresses the situation, with an emphasis on health and safety
  3. Plans made to help ensure business continuity
  4. How the plan adjusts policies for a period of time, and how this impacts staff, suppliers, customers, prospects and the general community

Certainly, if the virus hits your business, there will likely be media inquiries, and at that point, elements of your crisis communication plan come into play, including the identification of key people and chain of command (for decisions and communication).  

It’s our hope that the situation does not escalate, but it’s prudent to prepare.  Is your company ready?