Coronavirus – Straight talk for U.P. Businesses & Community Leaders

In helping prepare our clients for employee and customer communication, the agency has been diligently sifting through media clutter and the plethora of resources regarding COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Our goal is to help our fellow U.P. businesses:

  • Develop smart communication to clients and employees
  • Prepare for the economic impacts
  • Take measures to protect employees and customers

Over the course of the past few days, we have also spoken with several public health officials and CEOs of major U.P. employers. Business and community leaders agreed that employers are responsible in assuring healthy and safe work environments of their employees and customers. It is important not let personal bias about the seriousness of this issue dictate how you handle the topic publicly.

It is also important to talk with your employees immediately about this issue. Provide confidence and assurance that you’re taking necessary steps to keep them safe. Here are a few facts and suggestions. Remain optimistic but aware.

The facts

The Virus

  • At the time of this post (10am 3/16/20) there are no positive test cases of COVID-19 in the Upper Peninsula. The health departments have sent some tests in and either pending or negative. Public health departments will be keeping the public posted.
  • Public schools in Michigan are canceled next week and all four U.P. universities have moved to online classes.
  • As of today, 3/16/2020, there are 54 diagnosed cases in downstate Michigan. Click here for the most recent Michigan data.
  • The spread of COVID-19 in China is slowing down which is a good sign.
  • A vaccine will not be available for 18-24 months.
  • Johns Hopkins has provided an excellent interactive map for anyone to track the outbreak cases by location.
  • The virus is non-seasonal.

The Economy

  • B2C industries like tourism, sports, non-essential retail, academia, entertainment, small VC start-ups and travel are already experiencing sales losses and layoffs. Some companies in these industries will incur a 20% loss this year. Restaurants and bars are closed with a government shut down.
  • Manufacturing supply chains will slow down and start to see a slight increase in costs. Some supply chains will get hit harder than others. Study your industry. High-tech component and chemical dependent industries have immediately experienced the toughest impacts.
  • B2B companies may experience a very short-term, 5-15% reduction in sales but will be able to recover and get back on track.
  • Healthcare and medical diagnosis are recession proof. This industry’s biggest issue is capacity.
  • The total recession time period is consistently expected to last a total of 7-9 months with the poorest time now through the next 60 days.
  • The 2020 GDP is only expected to slip .5% from last year.
  • The economy’s leading industries will start to experience slippage immediately. Lagging industries will start to experience hits toward the end of April.

Employee Communication

  • Be transparent about how the virus is predicted to impact your industry and company. If your company will not be affected or minimally impacted, explain why. If your company could possibly be affected then explain why. Be honest about what it might mean for them.
  • Encourage everyone to wash hands, wipe down surfaces and avoid touching their faces. Be a good role model.
  • A few things we practice in critical and crisis communication:
    • Respond immediately. Even if you don’t have a message, assure people that you’re on it.
    • Never lie. Be transparent.
    • Let people know how the situation will affect them.
    • Promise to follow up and then do so as promised.

Customer Communication

  • Leverage your online tools to update your customers on your operations including business hours, services and policies. Also, assure them you’re taking every precaution necessary to keep employees and customers safe.
  • Remain patient, understanding and flexible with customers. Think about how you might want to be treated.

Keeping employees healthy and social responsibility

  • Consider having your employees wipe down their desks and worksurfaces every day before they start work. It is critical you understand and follow regulatory cleaning standards like OSHA. Here is a list of EPA approved cleaning brands and supplies. The CDC also has recommendations.
  • Make sure that there is access soap, sanitizer and wipes around and be relentless about reminding employees to wash hands, wipe down surfaces and avoid touching their faces.
  • Monitor industry news and keep your employees updated every day.
  • Encourage employees to stay home who are sick. Do not make them feel guilty.
  • Allow people to work from home. Establish policies and ground rules first:
  • Do not allow employees to internationally travel and postpone non-essential domestic travel immediately.
  • Michigan public schools have been suspended. Remain patient and flexible with employees who have children. Offer people the opportunity to work night and weekends so they can maintain income and tag-team babysitting with other family members

Financial considerations

  • Do what is best for your company.
  • Administration and legislators on Capitol Hill are discussing measures that have not yet been signed into law, like extensions on estimated tax payments.
  • Business owners who are impacted should prioritize paying the bills that they are personally liable for (vs the corp).
  • Postpone hiring if you can. Instead ask people to pitch in and work a few extra hours.
  • Avoid optics. (especially for those companies being impacted). Don’t buy fancy cars, new suites or talk about your upcoming fishing trip with the guys.
  • In the event a company needs to reduce payroll costs, offer temporary pay-cuts before laying of people. Meanwhile, do not make any major capital expenditures.
  • Be flexible with clients on commitments and payments.
  • Secure cashflow by front loading as much work as you can. Turn people loose on projects and get them billed.
  • Resist the urge to change cash vs. profit. It is being recommended to just watch your industry closely.
  • Do not borrow money if you can avoid it. However, please note that the SBA is providing disaster loans.

Resources

We are not medical doctors or financial advisors. The above information and suggestions are collected from various government, health and business experts that we have spoken to over the past week while monitoring this issue. You are advised to use your best judgement when making business decisions.