Situation, end of March
The threats posed by the outbreak of COVID-19 and by its development into a global pandemic have caught individual countries and the international community off guard. The impact of the curfews, confinements, and other measures taken and restrictions imposed across the nations affected to contain or slow the virus can be felt down to the smallest units of societal life: traveling is suspended, most shops are closed, events are called off, orders are cancelled, companies run out of work… The world economy is heading towards a downturn of a yet incalculable magnitude.
Everything that seemed normal, plannable, and predictable a few weeks ago is now upended. Inside companies, procedures were put into place to ensure the safety of the staff. Then, companies worldwide suddenly had little choice but to adapt working habits, often involving the switch to home office. The digital infrastructure required was rapidly expanded where necessary. All the while, in light of the globality of the crisis, many crisis plans prove not to be implementable, given that every single person, business or organisation you would rely on will be impacted, too, one way or another. Therefore, continuity plans need to be revised and adapted to the situation and to the outlook in front of us. Contingency plans are being drafted.
Impact on communications
In this crisis response, what are key points to consider when it comes to tackling corporate communications? Intuitively, one thinks of communications plans that are now void. One thinks of events that need to be cancelled, without a replacement date in sight. One thinks of public relations strategies that will not work as initially envisaged. One thinks that there’s little choice but to halt most of external communications altogether. The unpredictability of the virus’ propagation has sparked social anxiety. How high would the odds be of striking a wrong note in this early phase of adaptation?
While it is of course important to handle those matters as well, we cannot overstate the importance of internal communications in this specific situation. In fact, nobody at this stage yet knows for how long the lockdown will last. Few observers expect a return to normality anytime soon. And a lockdown over an extended period of time of several months appears increasingly likely.
As the virus spreads and the crisis unfolds, the inevitable economic harm of COVID-19 will continue to be a source of great uncertainty for your business and a cause for great concern to your employees. At the same time, the chances of you coping with the situation, surviving the crisis, and maybe even emerging stronger from it are decidedly better with teams that are reassured, focused, and that share your determination.
Some key points
Therefore, we think it is crucial to:

  1. Provide regular updates to all staff: the management must directly and frequently connect with the entire organisation in order to show the leadership and command required and expected.
  2. Keep yourself in line with the latest health advice and available economic support: closely follow and share the official information and health advice and measures of economic support and, where applicable, explain the new policy options available and under consideration to sustain the business.
  3. Use a reassuring tone: throughout your updates, adopt and maintain a tone that reassures your staff and reflects your awareness of the situation, your conscientious handling of it and your active pursuit of solutions.
  4. Keep improving internal exchange and hear feedback and concerns: as you communicate internally, keep your ears open. Your collaborators might still have questions and unaddressed concerns or contribute precious ideas you might not have thought about.

In addition to that, two general principles (always) apply:

  • Each case is different. Every country and every culture, every sector and every company is different. Every case is different. If you have a rulebook, the groundwork is laid and will prove to be a useful guide. But rarely do predefined rules fully apply the way they were laid out before the crisis, without new, other, unforeseen variables having to be considered.
  • External feedback matters. Crisis situations tend to require swift reactions, thereby creating sources of stress and pressure. Outside perspectives may help. In addition to that, cognitive biases tend to undermine decision-making processes, in particular when the situation is tense. Additional safeguards can therefore be critical.

At all levels of a business, crisis situations are moments of intense and difficult decision-making. This lies in the very meaning of the word crisis: turning points. Every crisis comes with risks that need to be understood and managed. But every crisis also comes with opportunities that need to be identified and seized. Make sure you address both sides of that coin.
(Photo by Pixabay @ pexels)

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