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Coronavirus Communication and Crisis Management

On March 11, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus a pandemic. Then on March 13, the President declared a national emergency, and Minnesota Governor Walz declared a state emergency on the same day. We are in a prolonged crisis.  Is your coronavirus communication plan ready? 

How are you managing your crisis plan?

What is helpful information, and what increases fear? These are common questions and concerns posed by our clients and leaders of organizations as we learn more about the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus, COVID-19.  

We are in a very fluid situation. With new information released every day, you employees require daily communication. There was early speculation by some that the media hype exceeded the reality. However, if we watch patterns of community spread across the globe, it is clear there is a reason for concern. The ripple effect will impact all aspects of our economy and every business sector. 

The coronavirus’s progression is unclear, and market volatility is compounding the fear. The uncertainty of the outcomes and timeline creates fear and chaos for families, businesses, communities, and organizations.

Strategic planning, crisis mitigation, crisis communication and support is paramount. We know from crises of the past that having a flexible and strategic plan of action — and communicating frequently — helps to bring order and support for the emotional well-being of individuals, families, employees, organizations, and communities.   

Leadership and communications  

First, ensure that all of your key leaders are involved and know the communication plans required for the three stages of the Coronavirus pandemic plan:   

    • Stage 1: community transmission occurs in the United States (occurred March 2, 2020) 
    • Stage 2: a case appears in your state/region/area; when it appears in your county begin moving to social distancing, cancel large events 
    • Stage 3: business or school closures — at the direction of the local or state health department (March 15, 2020 in MInnesota)
    • Recovery 

Keep Your Frontline Staff Informed and Engaged 

It may go without saying, but all leaders and key frontline staff should be provided initial health hygiene, cleaning, and disease prevention training, along with daily updates until the COVID-19 is identified as contained. Determine the easiest way to communicate daily updates with your team. Take into consideration employees onsite and those working remotely.  

If you haven’t yet mastered remote meetings and work, we can help. Call or email us today.

A fluid situation

As things evolve and new information is released, coronavirus communication plans may be modified. Identify who is responsible for updating the plans, documenting the updates, and person(s) responsible for crisis communication to staff, clients, and the public at the appropriate times. Think about your preparedness planning in three phases: best-case scenario (with minimal disruption), medium-impact scenario, and worst-case scenario (unable to deliver your goods or services for some time). 

Talk with your public relations adviser

Access to your public relations adviser, legal counsel, and insurance professionals as valuable resources on this uncharted journey. There will be HR, legal, contractual, and PR issues that arise. The ability to call a trusted advisor who knows you and your organization can save you from disruptive decisions. Everyone understands that we are in unchartered territory. Your proactive and thoughtful communication will build trust and confidence with your employees and customers. 


Harvard Business Review includes five steps for coronavirus communication: 

    1. Create a centralized communication team 
    2. Communicate with employees 
    3. Communicate regularly with customers 
    4. Reassure shareholders 
    5. Be proactive with communities  

Prepare an FAQ for some common questions: 

    • When will we communicate our company plan to employees? 
    • How do we sustain our organization activities, and how much communication is too much? 
    • What about employees and their families with underlying health conditions (accommodation) 
    • What are our policies for employee compensation for missed work? 
    • If we reduce our onsite employees, what are some best practices for HR and communication? 
    • Have employees traveled to affected areas for business or personal Travel; how does that impact your organization? 
    • What is social distancing, and how does it change activities, events, and group meetings? 
    • When is self-isolating or self-monitoring [not quarantines] required? 
    • How can we prevent the spread of illness

Never underestimate support for your employees

When you created your crisis communication plan, you may have taken into account the practical and tactical tasks, business continuity, and essential employee actions, in addition to the emotional health and well-being support. Never underestimate the required support for employees in the upcoming months. Our people are our greatest asset.  

Quick Links to Excellent Resources

Accurate, credible information and resources are critical to excellent communication. So, we’re providing links to the sources we have found to have timely, factual information. Also, look at your local health departments.  

New York Times Interactive Map of the Spread of the Virus 

If you have to stay home: Self-isolation and self-monitoring (CDC) 

Harvard Business Review Special Coverage of the Coronavirus 

Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center 

Travel Advisories

 Call if you have questions or need communication support

You are not alone. We have information and templates to be customized to your organization’s culture. As you communicate to your team, retain the values and culture that your employees, clients, and partners know and trust. Now is the time to remain true to your company and organization’s mission and values. They are counting on your leadership.  

Published on: March 13, 2020