During a crisis, engaging people takes more than frequent communication.

The consequences that the coronavirus outbreak will have on society and the global economy can’t be underestimated. No one can predict when the measures the world is taking to manage the spread of this virus are likely to end.

As such, we have all had to become comfortable operating in unchartered waters, quickly. Leaders need to lead differently, teams need to connect in new ways, and we all need to rally to stop businesses failing.

Organisations are rightly prioritising the health and wellbeing of their people, and customers. And many of the clients and collaborators we have spoken to have halted all but business critical communication and engagement activity.

But as we bunker down for an unidentified period of time, companies need to start planning for how they will recover when the new normal starts.  

Culture still reigns supreme

Your culture should show up at every stage of your employee journey; from the moment someone first sees an advert, to how you reward, recognise, and act in times of crisis.

Too often businesses forget this when things get tough and they kick into survival mode. The decisions a company makes now will impact its ability to retain and attract talent in the future, so sticking to your values and what makes you who you are is enormously important.

When large numbers of people are working remotely, face-to-face interaction is missing. But maintaining a high-performance culture relies on teams pulling together to collaborate, problem solve and connect. This is an emotional time, and people will seek out something to focus on beyond the virus that is dominating headlines.

If you are not already doing so, you should be asking the entire organisation to help you solve the biggest issues your business is facing as a result of the outbreak. Your people need to feel involved now, more than ever. This is not the time for leadership teams to be behind closed doors. They need to set the direction, live your values, and empower decision makers. Your teams have an integral role to play in helping you get through this period and will have a bank of invaluable ideas that might help you to pivot your services, save money or change how you work so that you can still deliver for customers. Focus on breaking down silos that exist between locations, functions and business units to problem solve. And see this moment as an opportunity to foster a culture of innovation.

Find simple, easy to execute ways to manifest your culture around the world. Punctuate the working day with culture shocks, tying back to the behaviours that underpin your culture. What you choose to do will be unique to the DNA of your organisation. If you are a business that has regular huddles – keep them in play using tech to help. Consider making them smaller and more frequent so that there are genuine opportunities for conversation. If, like us, you always try to gather once a week, we call them hump day drinks, keep getting together – just do it virtually.  Share inspiring stories of the great things your people are doing to support your culture and your values. Now is the time to get creative and think carefully about how you want people to reflect back on this time. For more quick wins ideas get in touch.

Community and family matter now more than ever

This is an opportunity to create unity in your organisation – a moment for people to truly come together in support of each other, and your business. But you need to recognise that your people have a wider community who they need to care about as well.  

Brands are so much more than a logo, and a set of promises. They may be directed by customers, but they are built by an organisation’s people from the inside out. To help your brand thrive, you need to create a community that shares a common goal and set of beliefs.

The impact that coronavirus will have on businesses gives you a cause for your people to rally behind. Even if you believe your community was already strong, use the right language to engage, reinforce the notion of togetherness and find new ways to collaborate as a global remote team. The change in behaviour required to make remote working work will take time to master and if your people are pulling together in the same direction, sharing best practice and solving problems, you will prompt better productivity.

There is also an anguish in isolation for some, and that can’t be underestimated. As employers, we need to ensure we are communicating to people frequently, but we also need to help them to stay connected to one another and create a sense of belonging. We really are all in this together, so the same principles count for your customers too – those brands that engage in the right way at the right time, will strengthen their communities and earn loyalty in return.

This is a chance to build and demonstrate trust

The pandemic has hit after a prolonged period where trust has been eroded in society. You have an opportunity to start to rebuild that trust in both your leaders, your culture, and your organisation.

Draw on shared experiences to find common ground and really connect to your teams. Cultivate empathy. Bring your company values to the fore, show compassion and practice candour. Empower people to make progress through uncertainty – reinforce the behaviours you expect teams to exhibit. Engage authentically and honestly, and keep people focused on the future, no matter how unsure it may be.

And honestly, just trust your people to do their jobs.

This tumultuous period will pass, and though it may prompt a seismic shift in the way all businesses operate, some good may surface from the challenges you are facing. And the stronger your team, the more driven they will be to chase those opportunities and rebuild.