During the past few weeks, many of us and those we’ve worked with have had an up-close look at how difficult it can be to make business decisions in the middle of an emergency, from making decisions about shutdowns to dealing with frozen pipes or loss of power.
One of the most important steps in proper response is good team communication throughout your business – from owners and leadership down to entry-level employees. Here’s what we’ve found to be most effective for team communication when the expected happens.
Have an Emergency Response Plan in Place
Prepare an emergency response plan guideline that you can easily share with everyone on the team. This should include steps to take to address a variety of disastrous events, including everything from how to lockdown a storefront in an emergency to emergency contact numbers for all business leaders for quick communication. You may also want to put in information like where to find an emergency kit, how to operate a store generator, how to shut off the water main, etc. The Small Business Administration has some excellent tips and guides for specific disasters we recommend taking a look at.
When your guide is complete, make sure it’s part of the employee handbook and available as a PDF or cloud download for your employees to easily access. Update the guide annually with new emergency numbers/plans as needed!
Find an Effective Business Communication App
Communication at a distance is another necessary component of working during an emergency. Fortunately, 2020 has been an effective crash course in this for many businesses, and we are collectively much more comfortable using tools like Zoom or Facetime. We also suggest picking a business communication app for chatting and sending company-wide messages easily, such as Slack or Google Meet. If you already use Office 365, Microsoft Teams is another effective option. Apps like these are excellent for quick updates, plan changes, enabling employees to swap shifts with each other as needed, and more.
What happens when your internet connection is down? Well, that’s another good reason to have a list of emergency phone numbers in your plan, so employees have an alternative to turn to.
Stay in Regular Contact
During an emergency, it’s a good idea to mandate regular check-in times for the time via online meetings or calls. At the height of emergency response, you may want everyone to check in every 30 minutes or every hour with a report on how they are progressing with key tasks. Otherwise, checking in a few times a day with updates can still be very helpful for everyone (including employee peace of mind). If you are shutting down operations entirely, a check-in or update once a day with current developments is still especially important for team management.
Remember, without these regular check-ins and updates in an emergency, it’s quite easy for team members to get confused, hear incorrect rumors, make the wrong assumptions about what to do, and generally create additional problems. Keeping that from happening should be a top priority during this time.
Create a New Crisis Management Team
This may be particularly useful for businesses that have multiple divisions or locations. The company can form management into a new crisis response team that’s specifically focused on dealing with the emergency at hand, agreeing on what tasks have priority, and passing information down to their departments. It’s an effective way to avoid confusion when juggling multiple teams, and helps leaders reorient to current demands.
Create a Central Social Page or Email List
Another option for businesses, especially those with looser team structures, is to herd everyone onto a single social media group or email list to receive all important updates. Facebook allows you to quickly make Groups for this purpose, as does LinkedIn and many similar platforms. Options like these make it extra-easy for employees to check a single source of information for any updates they should know and is a streamlined alternative to setting up a business chat app if you don’t have the time right now.
If Your Business is Shutting Down, Do it Quickly and Effectively
Don’t waste any time shutting down operations if necessary. A two-pronged approach can be effective here: Send a company-wide email/test/chat announcing the shutdown until further notice, which will help everyone understand the situation. Second, get into direct contact with employees that can be physically on-site to make sure everything is turned off, important documents or cash are secured/transported, and any immediate emergencies like loss of power are dealt with. There will be time to get into the details later, but with many disasters it’s important to shut everything down safely first.
Gather Your Online Team for Employee Communication
Get in touch with team members responsible for your online presence. If you use an experienced agency like Blue Atlas to help manage your website or social media, get in contact with us as well. The next goal is to update your online presence with new information. We have seen many excellent examples of website banners, social posts, and changes to online directories to update customers about COVID-19. Similar measures will help keep customers updated about a new emergency as well and let them know if it’s not safe to come in or if you are offering limited services/shutting down for now.
A Final Note
If your business has already suffered damage or your employees are struggling, there’s still a lot you can do. Check the SBA’s resources for links to local aid, limited-time loans for affected businesses, applications for recovery funding, and more.