It is an understatement to say a lot has changed in the past five or six weeks. The majority of us living in the U.S. and countries around the world have learned to “shelter in place” or stay home. We’ve become accustomed to words like “quarantine” and “work from home”. Digital schooling is the norm as is wearing face masks. We’re also kept constantly updated on the number of people who have contracted and died from COVID-19. And the U.S. unemployment numbers have skyrocketed. It’s like the world turned upside down overnight.
There is also a good deal of confusion. Confusion about how the virus is spread and how to respond to it. Governors are challenging the President; the President is criticizing governors. Strong leaders have emerged and the light has been shone on those that could use refresher courses. The economy has more than a blackeye – it looks like the loser of a brutal battle.
For many communicators and business leaders, traditional media outreach, internal communications and human resource activities or messaging have been radically altered. Crisis communications and keeping employees, customers and investors informed of the company’s response to the health crisis is now one of the top jobs in any organization.
Just as any government or business leader is thinking both about what is happening today and what happens after we come out of this crisis, so too must communicators think about what the New Normal looks like for our careers and the companies/ organizations we work for.
Planning for the New Normal
There have been many comparisons made between COVID-19 and the September 11 attacks in New York in 2001. As someone whose life was forever changed by the events of that day, I know very well the concept of “before” and “after” and that there is no going back to what life was like on September 10.
Think about it. Even if you weren’t specifically impacted by the terrorist attacks, you were impacted by the changes to American everyday existence. For months, there were heavily armed police and military showing force in and around the city; flying changed – remember how odd it was to take your shoes off or to make sure you had the tiny bottles of shampoo? And then there was the lasting impact of the wars halfway around the world that still rage on almost two decades later.
What will be the “after” of COVID-19?
Four Guideposts For Tomorrow’s Communications … Whenever Tomorrow Is
Is the concept of business as usual actually dead?
Earlier this week, I used that term on a conference call. I was referring to keeping non-COVID-19 communications activities going while the majority of the communications team was focused on COVID-19 crisis communications. I was met with dead silence from everyone on the line. I guess no one else was thinking about the other things that had been so important just a few weeks before.
While not an approved roadmap, here are four concepts that can help in the transition to the New Normal:
Situational Awareness. There is no way that each of your employees will come back from this health crisis unscathed. Inevitably, someone you know will have had to face the death of someone from this virus. And just like many employees knew someone or were impacted directly by September 11, people will be forever different. From my experience, I would recommend:
- Acknowledging the loss
- Understanding if that person doesn’t come back to work for a while – or ever
- Respecting their need for privacy or their need to talk … but don’t push the latter
- Providing meaningful work
And most of all, make sure that internal corporate messaging doesn’t skip over the events of the past few weeks – it’s not all rainbows and unicorns because we’re out of quarantine.
Sense of purpose. One of the reasons I mentioned business as usual during that call was because I was thinking about the people on the communications team that were not directly involved in crisis communications. Other activities are still going on. Make sure that those employees know that what they are doing is important, even if it isn’t critical for business continuity. When the New Normal starts, some of what these folks are working on now might be the springboard for your new communications program.
Authenticity. When the New Normal starts it is not the end to human decency. This crisis brought humanity together while being apart. Strange but true. People are connected even if they are staying 6 feet apart, wearing masks and washing their hands raw. Companies and brands have advertised compassion and togetherness. This feeling/emotion/message point needs to be woven into the new storyline of every business. People – whether they are your employees, customers or investors – won’t stand for anything else.
Acceptance. Not too many leadership teams had time to debate working from home before everyone was assigned to it. Despite all of the new technology, some leaders and managers don’t like the idea of not actually seeing their team members attached to their desks from 9 to 5. Not too many managers were trained in how to lead diverse, virtual teams before they were thrown into it. Through the bumps and bruises, ups and down, for the most part companies have made this work. And from everything the leaders and medical professionals are saying, working from home is likely the norm in the New Normal. While we might be able to go to corporate buildings again, the need to be socially distant will remain for some time. How long? I recently heard until 2022. So, it’s likely not going away any time soon. Accept the technology. Accept that the concept of work/life balance is forever gone and accept that the 9 to 5 workday is no longer going to be a reality for many, many people.
While the reboot of the economy is desperately needed, it’s extremely important to keep in mind that the economy is built by people, by the humans who have been forever changed by this new invisible enemy. Making money and meeting investor demands is a real issue that will shape the New Normal, but maybe we’ve learned as a human race that the health (mental and physical) of the working people are a real issue too.
What’s the New Normal going to be like for your company? Have you and your team started to think about priorities and coming back to that beloved (or hated) communications plan that was thrown out the window before the end of the first quarter of 2020?
Note: This blog was originally posted on LinkedIn.