We push pause for one hour each week to talk, share, and listen to 60+ clients and partners who are participating in our Virtual Roundtable. As business leaders, employers, and human beings, this group discusses the impact of the latest COVID-19 developments, and ideas to help each other navigate the changing reality.

These are the topics discussed on March 20th. We hope these can help you and your teams as you make decisions moving ahead.


TOPIC #1: Addressing Remote Working

Those participating Friday, March 20, shared concerns addressing the following questions as employees have shifted to remote working.

  • Demonstrating care/concern
  • Staying motivated/keep up morale
  • Mental health issues
  • Staying connected
  • Working from home realities
  • Focus during the uncertainty
  • Showing how our work fits within new realities

Several offered a variety of solutions to consider:

  • Checking In/Connecting With Each Other
  • Frequent and scheduled check-in with staff and regular communications not always tied to projects or tasks.
  • Virtual happy hours, virtual dance party with kids invited, virtual St. Patrick’s Eve
  • Time for small talk and humor in meetings
  • Introduce pets on the call
  • Seeking to get to know colleagues on a more personal level
  • Recognizing the good things about seeing family, being at home, etc.
  • Fewer meetings for many, but lots more meetings for a few
  • Technology
  • Leveraging video platforms and tech tools for meetings and calls
  • Providing budget/support for staff to be set up at home (including headset for video calls)
  • WhatsApp, Facebook groups
  • Flexibility
  • Understanding and adaptability in working from home realities
  • Allow for flexible work hour
  • Inspiring Leadership
  • Transparent, authentic, and inspiring leadership style including scenario planning
  • Regular, controlled central communications on COVID-19 from leadership
  • Reminding we are all in this together
  • Reminder on goals and plan objectives
  • Working gratitude into our check ins – Today I’m grateful for
  • Start meeting sixth a positive thought
  • Coaching Remote Solutions
  • Encouraging mindful breaks through the day to listen to music, look at photos, read, replenish, etc.
  • Coaching on boundaries in working from home

Heart+Mind Strategies Quick Thoughts

We brainstormed with our team. Here are a few thought starters, straight from our quick chat.

  1. Now that employees are working at home, will they want to return to the office? They have more flextime. No commuting. More collaboration tools.
  2. Provide employees a place to chat “Virtual Water Cooler” – ask questions, provide pointers, concerns etc.
  3. Explore how people are going to have to change their lifestyles right now based on emotions and new realities. What can the workplace do to provide support?
  4. We have to deal with different levels of employees – are there different expectations? Those that already work at home and are set up to work (Set up to work and understand what it takes for the most part). Those that are working home because of Coronavirus and are now dealing with kids and other realities (Getting used to working at home and have other things to interfere). Those that are single and now working at home (Getting used to working at home with nothing to interfere).

 A Few Relevant Articles

We pulled a few recent pieces with valuable insights.

Tips for working from home including communicating more, treating it like a “real” job re: getting dressed, having structure, etc., staying positive and avoiding feeling isolated.

Common challenges of remote work include lack of supervision, lack of access to info, social isolation, distraction. Managers can help combat these with daily structured check-ins, providing various communication platforms, setting expectations for frequency of communication, providing opportunities for remote socializing, and providing emotional support.

Discusses the importance of how to manage remote employees and the importance of employee trust particularly in terms of inability to measure productivity.

 

TOPIC #2: Talking to the Market During COVID-19

Those participating Friday also shared concerns addressing the following questions about how to talk to the market during the crisis.

  • Drive demand without seeming insensitive or not being opportunistic
  • Thoughtful selling, talking with prospects about the future today, how hard do we push
  • Balance between keeping business running and protecting employees
  • Communication about colleague virus-related testing
  • Helping staff not be tone deaf
  • Committing to customers without overpromising
  • Frequency and tone of advertising
  • Letting people know we are here and ready to go
  • Helping provide escape without seeming tone deaf
  • Authenticity
  • Thoughtful decisions, not too quick
  • Messaging closure because of infection
  • Social media cadence, tone, and message
  • How far to lean into the crisis, balance of enough but not too much on COVID-19 reports
  • Managing reputation amidst labor cuts
  • Sharing the good we do without sounding self-serving
  • Media relations prep for when questions come
  • Frequency of customer outreach
  • Keeping the marketing program in place or not
  • Re-starting after stopping/slowing down
  • Moving at the speed of the crisis with approvals required
  • Getting alignment on moving forward for things that have long-term value
  • New ways of saying “abundance of caution” and “unprecedented”
  • Keeping other serious issues alive: living wage, forced labor, climate change
  • Forecasting

Several offered solutions and ideas. They are summarized below:

Tone suggestions:

  • Authentic
  • Empathy
  • Simplicity
  • Relevance – focusing on what is really needed
  • Open and sincere
  • Walk the walk – action not words
  • Rational
  • Positive tone – offer bright spots, sense of “normalcy”
  • Accurate information
  • Forward looking
  • Accessible – open attitude to customer needs
  • Don’t act like business as usual
  • Communicate what is really going on, not talking about doing

Approach:

  • Spread the idea that this is a collective responsibility – we are all in this together
  • Look scrappy despite normal production values
  • Use employee-led content
  • Do the right thing
  • Communicate staff/employee focus
  • Crisis-specific efforts:
  • Repurpose resources/products/facilities for something different to meet crisis-related needs
  • Altruistic efforts where real needs can be met – put society first
  • Practical and constructive solutions linked to your brand purpose and values
  • Creativity and genuine focus on using what you have to solve needs
  • Help people bet out of the bunker
  • Client connection:
  • Ask what’s needed
  • Human connection/calls with clients

Heart+Mind Strategies Quick Thoughts

We also gathered to brainstorm some ideas we could share with you on this topic.

  • Stay close to your customers. All of us are managing through a fractured relationship environment (brand to consumer) as we all adapting to new ways of managing our daily lives. Be actively engaged in both pushing information TO consumers and gaining perspectives FROM consumers through email, social media and online communities.
  • Use these engagements to understand how the needs of your customers are changing. The needs they are looking to serve today will likely not be the needs they seek to have fulfilled 1, 3, 6 months from now.
  • Be actively engaged in business planning NOW for how you will operate when we emerge from the current crisis. Competitiveness is not going away. Identify a plan now for engaging consumers and differentiating against the competition when the crisis subsides.
  • Get creative with online solutions for your consumers. Traditional in-person engagements are going to have to adapt. Where are opportunities for your business (e.g. personal trainers providing customized at home workout for clients, movies being released direct to streaming services, etc.) to shift to more online delivery elements.
  • Demonstrating concrete ways your business is helping the local community and celebrating others who are doing so in those communities will positively reinforce your brand reputation.
  • The social contract is increasingly more important. Many brands are offering free services (meals for children, food for health care workers, distilleries producing free hand sanitizer for people). Consumer are looking for brands that are demonstrating a recognition of their shared social responsibility and giving back.
  • As Congress continues to provide stimulus relief there will be an even greater expectations that business will “do the right thing”. Some of this will be legislated into being, but beyond that, the public will have an even more critical eye toward bad actors.

What Not To Do

  • Now is not the right time to lead with the “sell” in communications. While marketing initiatives can continue, they must do so with an acknowledgement of the common situation that all business and consumers face.
  • Don’t continue forward with previously planned media/outreach without first having a thorough review of that content for tone and appropriateness. What likely was relevant and resonant one month ago may be very off the mark in the current communications environment.
  • The “hard sell” can smack of desperation currently. Communications must convey the perspective that we are all in this together and the brand is here to help and support
  • Do not take a “bunker” mentality. Hunkering down and riding out the storm only serves to put you behind the competitive curve when we inevitably emerge. Engage in active strategic planning session now, gaming out what customers need now, three months from now, and longer term. Deploy (or establish if you haven’t) a crisis communications team that can be quickly responding to the dynamic environment and keep customers informed.
  • Refrain from communications that are hyperbolic or convey apocalyptic sentiment. Communications should look to instill confidence and build hope. Brands need to position themselves as part of the solution not contribute to the panic.

A Few Relevant Articles

We pulled a few recent pieces with valuable insights.

Provides guiding questions marketers should be asking themselves during this time, including trusting local contexts, but think big picture; as news consumption increases, there is more ad opportunity but is this the right move? Is tone, copy, content relevant in this new context? What are the most relevant brands, products, or campaigns our media can support right now, and do we need to shift budgets? What ways can our brand — and even our owned media channels — be helpful to people and businesses in this moment of need?

As tradeshows and other events cancel, content marketing becomes more important than ever, even moving conferences online like IBM Think. In general, marketers need to get creative and rely on strategies outside of traditional channels.

For the economy to function, there is a strong sense that companies must market even amid a global crisis; that stimulating the economy may be most important, and doing so in a way that is sensitive and relevant.

Priority Questions Ahead

We again asked for priority questions to focus on this coming week. We use this input to guide us as we are gathering information to share in the next Virtual Roundtable. Please reach out if you have additional information and/or requests.

  • 46% Short and long-term planning/scenario planning
  • 40% Appropriate tone of messaging
  • 33% Supporting our communities, including healthcare workers
  • 33% How to effectively survey in such uncertainty
  • 33% How to stay relevant during this time and post
  • 28% Talking realities with clients and employees
  • 28% Personal economic impact
  • 26% Speed/Pace of impact and recovery
  • 26% Our responsibility as a company and where those boundaries are
  • 22% Keeping employees engaged remotely
  • 22% Protecting employee mental health
  • 20% New adapting business models
  • 17% Supporting employees at work
  • 15% Real innovation opportunities to minimize duration and impact
  • 15% Media consumption and changing landscape
  • 13% Survival of companies in each of our own supply chains
  • 13% Connecting as a remote organization/team
  • 13% Supporting and trusting remote employees
  •   6% Who is best to educate employees