Opinion

Practical advice for businesses in the time of COVID-19

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Earlier this week, the firm where I work presented a webinar in collaboration with the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce.

 

The two-hour presentation was intended to provide some practical advice for companies that are trying to deal with the spread of the coronavirus and COVID-19.

 

The webinar is free and you can watch it at: https://www.portlandregion.com.

 

Normally, I don’t cross my professional work with my column, but there were a couple of pieces of advice that I think are important to share with Maine businesses at this time of crisis.

 

The most important came from attorney Paul McDonald, who is a business lawyer at Bernstein Shur.

 

He said that during his 30-plus years as an attorney, litigation is almost always the result of a failure of communication. It sounds simple. But in reality, it can be hard, especially at a time like right now when it feels like the wheels are flying off the bus.

 

Here’s what he meant: If you’re a business owner and you have contracts that you’re worried about being able to meet, call and talk it through — today.  If you’re not sure that you will be able to make your rent payment, call your landlord and have a discussion about it. If you’re not sure you can deliver on an obligation, begin the conversations now.

 

We are in unprecedented times, and everyone’s business — everyone’s lives — are being upended by the steps we are taking as a state and nation to try to control the spread of COVID-19.

 

The more open and honest the communications between a business and its partners, clients, vendors and customers, the better the outcome for everyone.

 

This, of course, doesn’t mean that disputes won’t occur and that the outcomes will be perfect. But open, honest communication is the best course of action as we all try to navigate a quickly changing and scary landscape.

 

Businesses also need to communicate openly and honestly with their employees. Uncertainty is the enemy.

 

Employees, regardless of whether they are hourly or salary, understand that businesses are under a tremendous amount of stress and that their lives are going to be disrupted.

 

Global Strategy Group, a national polling company, conducted a survey of workers and asked them the type of information that they are hoping to hear from their employers.

 

The results are important: 68% said that the most important thing they wanted was information. Sixty-three percent said they wanted communications from their employer to help them prepare. Only 32% were seeking reassurance.

 

According to Global Strategy Group, workers want the boss to share with them contingency plans, information about the economic implications of COVID-19 and provide direction on what the employees should be doing.

 

For example, it’s important for companies to describe the precautions they are taking to keep employees and customers safe.

 

Employees also want to know some key pieces of information that will help them to make better decisions.

  • What will you do if an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • Will you inform them of potential exposure?
  • What steps should they take if they’ve been in contact with someone who has been diagnosed?
  • And they want specific directions on when they should avoid work if they are feeling ill.

 

Finally, employees want to hear from their boss and from health officials like the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

 

Maine government has done a good job of modeling this behavior. Dr. Nirav Shah, the director of the Maine CDC is providing daily updates and its website is updated frequently..

 

Gov. Janet Mills and the Maine Legislature have taken aggressive action to try to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

In times of uncertainty, there is no such thing as too much communication.

 

For business leaders, your employees and your communities trust your voice. You can help them — and yourself — by communicating openly, honestly and frequently about what’s going on.

 

David Farmer is a public affairs, political and media consultant in Portland, where he lives with his wife and two children. He was senior adviser to Democrat Mike Michaud’s 2014 campaign for governor.

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