How to Talk to About Coronavirus at Work

Communication strategies to keep well-informed as the COVID-19 outbreak continues to spread.

By Stacey Engle

ArtistGNDphotography | Getty Images

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

There is no doubt that concerns regarding the coronavirus are increasing as more cases come to light in the U.S. With the stock market's current volatility, along with forecasts of global logistics and supply chains issues, business leaders need to be prepared for conversations with their employees and clients as it relates to an outbreak.

At my company, Fierce Conversations, we believe these conversations need to happen sooner than later. Below are the four objectives of a Fierce Conversation that we recommend any leader use to help frame the conversations, and get to the heart of how employees are coping:

Interrogate reality

What is the current state of the office? How comfortable are people? Don't assume that people aren't concerned about their health if they aren't pounding down your door. Proactively seek out how everyone is feeling and do what you can to fully understand their fears. This could be setting up 1:1s with your employees, and encouraging all managers to do the same. Or perhaps its proactively soliciting questions and concerns. Once feedback is provided, company leaders can look at the situation holistically, and determine how to best address issues with a more complete view of the reality of the situation. So many assumptions are made in these situations instead of truly asking the employees.

Related: Amazon Removing Fake Products 'Killing' Coronavirus

Provoke learning

Knowledge is power in these situations. What can you do to help educate your employees? What resources can you provide in regard to logistics or health that will be most helpful? CDC has some useful tips for workplaces, which is a good place to start. You may also want to consider putting someone, or a team of people, in charge of both answering questions and disseminating information to employees. Knowing that someone is staying on top of things, and communicating effectively can go a long way in easing fears.

Tackle your toughest challenge

If a larger outbreak does occur, what will the biggest challenge be for your organization? How can you proactively address this, and prepare as much as possible now? What can you do to ease concerns about these challenges? For example, many organizations are canceling travel, or even asking their employees to work from home in some cases. Don't overlook the importance of communicating how these challenges could impact the organization and individuals specifically.

Related: Coronavirus Forces Facebook to Cancel F8 Developer Conference

Enrich the relationship

Use this time to really understand the team and recognize the opportunity to come together and problem solve. Ask key questions — what is the ideal way we move forward as a team? What are the big fears, and how do we best address them? Times of crisis can highlight holes within an organization, but they can also result in a greater appreciation and loyalty from employees, if handled correctly. Employees remember how leaders and the company treat them during the rough times – often more than in the good. Now is the time to continue investment in your employee experience.

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