We are living through surreal times. Schools are closed. Concerts postponed and conferences canceled. Sports seasons are suspended. Non-essential travel is discouraged. Restaurants and bars are closed for everything but carry-out and delivery.
If you haven't already, your people need to hear from you. There is so much that is unknown: how long will this last? when will the economy recover? is all this really necessary? Because this is a public health crisis, in the absence of knowing for sure, we should err on the side of caution.
In her remarks on Thursday, Ohio Department of Health Director, Dr. Amy Acton, estimated that in Ohio COVID-19 will peak in late April to mid-May.* That date is by no means guaranteed and, relatively speaking, it's a long time from now. But at least it's a guidepost. If we get back to normal sooner: Yay!
Meantime, plan for the worst and hope for the best.
Your people need to hear from you. They need to know you care and that you have a plan. Your plan may not be much, but it should be something like, "This is how we're going to do things around here to get through these terrible times." You should be transparent about how COVID-19 impacts your business. After all, this is their livelihood, too.
It's not business as usual. Even if your company isn't directly impacted by closures or restrictions, it's likely your customers are, as well as your suppliers & vendors. Importantly, in other parts of their lives, your employees may be facing hardship. Maybe they've got kids home from school. An elderly parent. A spouse with "underlying health conditions." Maybe they are losing income. Be flexible, compassionate, and patient.
Here are some tips to help you as a leader:
BE A-POLITICAL. This is a public health crisis. Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum, your political outlook is irrelevant. Do the right thing for your people because it's the right thing.
GET YOUR NEWS FROM THE SOURCE. Governor DeWine holds daily news conferences, usually around 2pm or 3pm, where he makes announcements and offers updates. They are broadcast on TV, and livestreamed on Facebook and The Ohio Channel. Avoid getting your news only through headlines or filtered through others. (Oh, and probably stay off Facebook for awhile. Ugh!)
KNOW THE FACTS. From a public health perspective, the Ohio Department of Health's COVID-19 portal and the Center for Disease Control's Covid-19 page offer science-based explanations for why these drastic measures must be implemented.
KNOW WHAT YOU CAN/CANNOT DO AS AN EMPLOYER. OSHA has published Guidance for Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19. The NFIB hosted a webinar on Friday on How Small Business, Workers and Workplaces Should Respond to COVID-19. Here is a list compiled by One Columbus of Economic Resources for Columbus Region Companies.
SEEK ADVICE. We don't know what we don't know. And when we've never experienced something, it's hard to know what to do and say. You can sign up for SmartBrief's daily Special Report on Coronavirus newsletter with useful perspectives on how leaders can best lead through this unprecedented situation.
Your people want to do inspiring work, and they want to be valued and respected while doing that work. In the best of times, I challenge employers to demonstrate those qualities to their workers every day. In the worst of times, it is imperative.
My best for continued good health!
*UPDATE: In her remarks today (3/17/2020), Dr. Acton estimates the peak of infections in early June.