When the whole world seems to be falling apart, it’s understandable that business team members and even leaders may find themselves distracted. Particularly in situations like the COVID-19 pandemic, daily health and public policy updates can certainly wear away at resiliency and morale.
Software as a service (SaaS) businesses are in a fortunate position when it comes to global health crises. With electricity and internet still available, products and services can continue operating in the cloud, and most businesses can have their teams work from home quite seamlessly.
But staying focused on work while legitimate concerns about health, family members, communities, security, and the economy occupy your head space is tough.
Many team members are also juggling additional challenges, such as making do with makeshift workstations, having to homeschool children, and even caring for sick family members, all while tackling feelings of isolation.
How can SaaS business leaders provide some calm in the storm? A little crisis management research can go a long way.
First thing’s first: have a crisis management plan
Crises happen—it’s simply a fact.
While a crisis is unplanned by nature, a SaaS leader’s crises response doesn’t have to be. The best SaaS businesses have crisis management plans in place to handle them when they crop up. This plan, ideally, is centered strongly around communication.
Employee communication platform Smarp understands the importance of good communication in times of crisis, and suggests an effective plan should include the following.
- the goal of the plan
- the list of spokespeople involved in the plan
- the information that should be communicated after the crisis
- clear guidelines to create fact sheets and the list of people in charge of creating them
- several crisis scenarios
- questions employees may ask
- risks associated with the current crisis communication plan
A plan can help make responding to a crisis—and addressing employee concerns and wellbeing—much easier. However, once a crisis is happening, it’s important to keep a few other things in mind as the plan is executed and potentially changes or evolves.
Living the crisis: a period of uncertainty
Team members may feel unsure about what the future holds as a crisis unfolds, threatening health, livelihood, and life as they know it. It’s important to consider how adjusting to the “new normal” may affect people’s mental health.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that ignoring employee mental health comes at a cost—both in productivity and dollars. Depression and anxiety cost the global economy an estimated $1 trillion per year in lost productivity. This is despite the fact each dollar put into treatment for common mental disorders returns $4 in improved health and productivity.
Jason Wingard, leadership strategy writer at Forbes, cites these facts in his article, Mental Health in the Workplace: Leading in the COVID-19 Context. He also shares three things leaders can support their employees with when it comes to mental health.
Many workers don’t seek mental health support because they feel ashamed or stigmatized. When leaders share their own difficult experiences with mental health, it opens the door to more discussion, and less shame.
Once that door is open, making resources available for team members is important. Make sure they know about the Employee Assistance Program (EAP), as these programs are generally underutilized.
Also, consider following the footsteps of companies like Google, LinkedIn, and Starbucks, which have offered free therapy sessions through virtual counseling apps to their teams. Talkspace is one such app, and it’s offering free session to healthcare workers, as well as discounted access for all.
Things are hard for everyone in times of crisis and leaders must recognize that team members may need accommodations. Understand that many employees are having to work while simultaneously caring for children.
Extend sick pay to those taking care of sick family members. Train managers to recognize and address the signs of mental health issues. And encourage employees to leave their desks and take a walk outside—within the parameters of suggested social distancing, of course.
Show them you care, and it’ll put at least some worries at ease.
Maintaining business focus amidst the distraction
In addition to showing genuine concern for employees, their families, and their mental health during a crisis, a little communication can go a long way to put minds at ease and maintain focus on work.
To this end, Bernstein Crisis Management recommends training your spokespeople, establishing notification and monitoring systems, and developing holding statements before a crisis happens to make communication easier during one. These preparations make it possible to quickly and calmly share information when it seems everything that could go wrong, is.
During an active crisis, transparency and factual information become key. Your team members want to know what’s happening, and how it will affect them. If you don’t provide that information, they may try to fill in the holes on their own and unintentionally spread misinformation.
To combat this, gather facts as quickly as possible and share them as they become available. Only share information from credible sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control or WHO in the case of a health crisis. Be honest about what’s happening and the potential job impacts it may have, and clearly state what information can and cannot be shared outside of the organization.
Jeff Bezos’ open memo to Amazon on-site employees during the COVID-19 pandemic is an example of an attempt at trying to meet workers’ concerns while being truthful. Though hourly wages at Amazon are being increased and 100,000 new team members will be hired, Bezos has to be honest about where efforts to provide safety may be falling short.
“We’ve implemented a series of preventative health measures for employees and contractors at our sites around the world—everything from increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning to adjusting our practices in fulfillment centers to ensure the recommended social distancing guidelines….We’ve places orders for millions of face masks we want to give to our employees and contractors who cannot work from home, but very few of those orders have been filled….When our turn for masks comes, our first priority will be getting them in the hands of our employees and partners.”
A crisis is not the end.
Global firm network PwC found in 2019 that some businesses emerge out of a crisis stronger than before, and some even see increased revenue after handling a crisis well. Helpful factors included having a crisis budget and plan, using a fact-based approach, and—perhaps unsurprisingly—acting as a team while sticking with values.
No matter what’s happening in the outside world, your team is strongest when all members work together. Survive a crisis and open the door to thriving afterwards by being receptive to questions and concerns from your team.
And as everyone seeks answers and clarity for struggles both at work and at home, you may be surprised by the solutions you find to problems that previously went unnoticed.
This can be a scary and mentally taxing time for employees, but with good communication and calm, prepared crisis leadership your employees can remain informed, reassured, and heard. And as a team, you’ll weather the storm.