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If you are a business owner, manager or communications professional, now is the time to communicate effectively within your organisation around the current outbreak of novel (or 'Wuhan') coronavirus.

On the one hand, you need to address concerns that may be raised by your employees about the safety of working from the office and taking part in business activities such as face-to-face meetings. On the other hand, the business needs to continue to run smoothly and efficiently, regardless of the environment around it.

So how can you balance this and make sure you look after both sides? Here are five tips to get you started and guide you as the situation develops:

1.    Keep employee well-being at the core of your decision-making

2.    Only use trusted sources for information and advice

3.    Keep up to date on major developments

4.    Communicate simply, factually and often

5.    Remember that internal comms can become external comms!

Keep employee well-being at the core of your decision-making

As the situation with novel coronavirus develops, it is important to remember that employee well-being should be your first priority. Business owners have a duty of care to employees and it is important to communicate and reinforce that you have their best interests at heart during troubling times. Listening to employee concerns and communicating that the management is listening can help to put minds at ease. Communicating effectively can help to maintain cohesiveness and keeping staff engaged and focused, rather than being distracted by external noise.

Only use trusted sources for information

Information surrounding the coronavirus can come from both credible and not-so-credible sources. Unfortunately, fake news is now a normal part of everyday life. There is a danger that fake news can rapidly incite fear through the spread of disinformation. This can negatively impact your employees’ ability to work effectively or in extreme cases, their willingness to work at all.

To combat the spread of fake news, it is advisable for communications and management teams to decide which sources of information are deemed trustworthy and relevant. These can include the WHO website, government health advisories and credible international news organisations such as Reuters. Depending on the size of your organisation, you may also have access to specialist sources of information from the medical profession that can add more detail to communications.

It is important to steer employees away from less credible sources of information and towards those that are trusted. It is also useful to reiterate in your communications that the management will only use these trusted sources in its decision-making processes. Consistency in communications will maintain the credibility of the decision-making process. 

Keep up to date on major developments

The situation with the coronavirus is evolving rapidly and news organisations are reporting regularly with major developments. Companies should monitor the news for updates and use these to inform any decisions that impact employees and the business. 

What to look for:

-      International and local health authorities’ advice

-      Travel advisories

-      International and local news on the subject as it develops

Communicate simply, factually and often

All communications around the issue should be done using simple and factual information. The frequency of the communications will depend on the business need, but in general the information should be cascaded whenever there is a change of direction or policy that impacts the business and employees. In addition, if there has been no material change to the situation for several days, it is good practice to send communications that reiterate the current state of affairs within the business.

Internal comms can become external comms

While you are trying to do your best to lead from the front of the organisation and communicate with your employees, it is important to remember that anything you send internally could be shared externally. All communications should be written with this in mind and you should be comfortable with it being shared externally, even if it is not designed to be sent outside the organisation.

Darrell Wright is the managing director of Cognito APAC