Now is the Winter of COVID-19

Forget nature’s schedule. Now is the long winter of COVID-19. It’s not a snowstorm gone in two or three days, but a season that will last many months (18 months according to a US federal government plan submitted 3/13/2020).

Work is now a mix of daily disinfection, social distancing, working from home – with schools, businesses, cities, and states on lockdown as infections surge throughout the U.S.

Add to this the certainty of economic recession.

The near-term impact on businesses will be harsh even with federal and state agencies trying to minimize the pain.

Extra Harsh Burden on Service Companies

Service companies have an added burden; they need workers near customers to deliver service, such as janitors, food servers, guards, retail associates, etc.

But in the winter of COVID-19 as businesses close, service workers are furloughed or laid off.

And many service workers are part of the 40% of American households who don’t have enough savings to make ends meet at the poverty level for three months if their income was interrupted.

COVID-19 is that interruption; tough times for workers, companies, and consumers – long tough times.

Between Old & New Normals

We are in a period of adjustment, a no man’s land between the start and eventual end of the COVID-19 winter, that future season when a vaccine becomes widely available.

Until then, service companies are adjusting to closures, service workers to unemployment, and the rest of us to a new way of life.

This in-between period will last longer than optimists believe but less than the pessimists.

What service companies say to customers during this no man’s land will be more important than the barrage of initial customer announcements spewed out at the beginning of the pandemic.

Communicating with Customers

Work, as we know it, is evolving during this in-between period; evolution before our eyes.

Service companies must communicate with customers how their work will be transformed, supported and/or delivered – instead of regurgitating pandemic info from mainstream media,

Communication messages must be relevant to whatever phase is current in the evolution of a particular service company; messages that develop in changing specificity, in real-time, in multiple channels, and through different mediums.

Communicating with Employees

Service companies must communicate with their workers in equal volume and frequency as with their customers.

Even more important now than before this winter of pandemic, workers must be recognized (and communicated with) as service companies’ greatest resource – unlike the marketing platitudes and cliches of the past.

Keeping service workers informed and engaged is crucial for retention, which is already a new competitive battleground.

Mary Barra, CEO of GM, does this well, as do many other CEOs. Recently she posted “…My message to employees at this time is to stay connected: over-communicate, and then communicate some more. Even while social distancing, we are all in this together, and we will get through it together.”

There is a Time

The COVID-19 winter will end, and businesses will ramp-up and resume.

Resumption will be a slope of upward activity, which will vary by industry and geography, rather than one big whump everywhere all at once – more of a thaw than flood.

Just get ready. When businesses do come back, the way we work will have changed.

Therefore, the challenge of this moment is navigating from our present unknown, through a mid-term “no man’s land” to the future “new normal.” What service companies say to service workers will be equally important as what is said to customers during this evolution.

This article first published on LinkedIn