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by Amy Jenkins | March 10, 2020

I’ve read a lot of great articles about how to prepare a crisis communications plan to respond to Covid-19 but one thing seems to be missing – the plan for preparing frontline and deskless employees.

It’s easy to tell your corporate team to work from home to keep your business running, but how will your company respond when six out of the ten people scheduled for the lunch shift called in sick or when one member of the third shift of a production line falls ill with Covid-19 and all other members of the shift must now go on a mandatory quarantine for 14 days?

Not only do scenarios like these have major impacts on your ability to run your business, but they also have a big impact on the hourly employees who only get paid if they work. Do you have a plan in place to support all your employees during these times?

Here are five tips for ensuring your frontline and deskless workforce is supported in your crisis comms plan.

1. Don’t wait until your organization is impacted to communicate. It’s important for your organization to address Covid-19 with employees and show that your organization has a plan. Reassure employees by providing a high level overview to all but be sure to keep communication to frontline and deskless employees relevant to them. Communicate that if or when locations are impacted by the illness, communication and instructions will be delivered immediately and that the safety and health of employees is the number one priority of the leadership team. In this initial communication, you should also provide answers to FAQs and an email address or hotline that employees can email or call if they have questions and concerns. NOTE: Don’t create a new hotline, but try to repurpose an existing line that employees already access and prepare the call center team with talking points.

2. Review your benefits programs to determine how both hourly and salaried employees are paid during involuntary leave. A recent article in Harvard Business Review shared some great tips. Whether it’s kicking in short-term disability benefits or incorporating some emergency plans for impacted employees, your employees will appreciate that you are taking care of them during this time.

3. Make sure frontline/deskless employees have access to information both from the organization and the experts (i.e. CDC, Local Health Department, WHO). Communicate your plans as an organization to respond to a Covid-19 outbreak through all communication channels (email, mobile, intranet, digital signage, etc.) and put links to the expert sites in these same locations. Your communications team should not try to become the source of truth – leave that to the organizations that have all the facts and can make the correct recommendations. NOTE: Make sure your internal and external comms are aligned, and ensure any message that goes out on an external channel is communicated internally first (or at least simultaneously). 

4. Target communication to impacted teams as much as possible. While you as a communicator need to know the impact to your entire organization, a manager at a retail store in Dallas doesn’t need to receive an urgent alert that the stores in Seattle are closing. It can create unnecessary panic, and the more communication that is sent that isn’t relevant, the greater the risk  that alerts become noise and critical messages could be missed. 

5. Create a communications loop for questions and reporting illnesses and closures. Ensuring that there is a place for employees to go with their questions is key. Some employees may be more concerned than others and want more information. Giving these employees a means of getting answers can prevent unnecessary panic. It’s also key to have a way for mid-level managers to reach executive leaders in order to make quick decisions about location closures and communications. This includes having operational closure checklists prepared for managers to quickly and confidently execute, which will not only ensure the health of your employees but also save your business unnecessary costs such as food spoiling in the walk-in cooler or lights being left on and equipment running unnecessarily. 

We learn something new each time we work through a crisis situation, which is why it’s incredibly important to evaluate the effectiveness of your plan after you’ve weathered the storm. And that evaluation needs to include gathering feedback from the frontline and deskless employees to ensure the organization’s response kept this critical employee segment well informed, supported, and ultimately safe.


For more tips on creating a crisis comms strategy, check out Amy’s blog Five Tips to Get Ahead of Crisis.

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