How to Lead Your Company Through a Crisis
Across the world, organizations are coming together to confront COVID-19 in their own way. Here’s a quick glimpse at what our team has learned in the process.
As a society, we’re facing a challenge unlike any in recent history. Yes, we’ve taken economic hits before; yes, we’ve triumphed over headline-making health scares. Yet right now, we’re in the midst of a global crisis that carries immediate community effects — not only is COVID-19 threatening our physical health, but our social and fiscal wellbeing as a country.
At Hello Alfred, we were built first and foremost on the importance of human help, and right now, we could all use a hand more than ever. As we’ve worked to uphold our commitment to our members, we’ve had to weigh it against another priority: Ensuring that we keep our team healthy and safe.
Every day, our employees provide help with in-home tasks in thousands of households across 20+ cities nationwide, all of which now have confirmed cases; there is hardly a business model that could be more impacted by this pandemic than ours. And yet, we’ve been proactive. We’ve been creative. And while we’ve certainly made mistakes in the past few weeks, we’ve also found success in a number of sometimes surprising ways.
In the spirit of providing help for its own sake, we want to share a few of these learnings with other young companies that are finding their way through the outbreak:
Tip 1: React in real time
The only thing that spreads faster than a virus is misinformation. As a company with offices across the country, we wanted to be able to operate nimbly and responsibly from afar, not base our operational decisions around media speculation. Recognizing that the virus would likely escalate at different rates in different cities, we created a tiered response structure at the very beginning so that we could act quickly in any circumstance as it unfolded, not before.
We used the first few cities where the outbreak ramped — Seattle, Atlanta — as our blueprint for getting quicker and more effective as other markets required it. And thanks to our structure, we never had to make the same call from scratch twice.
Tip 2: Weigh long-term risks against short-term
While some companies made the early call to shutter operations at the first sign of trouble, doing so can trigger a bigger risk: Not being able to provide jobs at a time when people need them most. We immediately pledged to do right by our team and not leave anyone without a paycheck due to illness, but we also found innovative ways to keep our operation intact across a variety of business states to ensure employment continuity for workers, while taking precautions to keep them safe.
Not only did we have to consider our team, but we were also aware of the incredible and unique responsibility we had to our communities at a time when our help was most critical. After all, we fulfill essential functions for people — if we can do it safely, then who better to go to the grocery store, refill prescriptions, pick up packages, and support quarantined, high-risk, or 65+-years-old individuals when it may truly be a matter of their life or death?
Tip 3: Communicate often and transparently
During times of heightened anxiety, it’s especially important to keep all of the players on the same page. Our network includes a complex cast of real estate partners, brands, vendors, our members, and, of course, our own team; every decision or change we made needed to be shared across multiple groups over myriad channels or we risked spreading even more misinformation.
To get ahead of the situation, we developed a communications cascade to make sure that not only everyone knew what was happening, but that they were informed in the right order. We also systematically archived each one of our regional, situation-specific communications so that we could act faster when the same thing happened in another one of our cities.
Tip 4: Don’t assume there’s a one-size-fits-all solution
Finally, empowering people to make the right choice for them in a high-stress situation is by far the best thing you can do. We offered our team members options: Voluntary leave of absence with continued healthcare coverage and guaranteed job security upon return, paid time off for anyone who became sick or was exposed to the virus, and uninterrupted employment for all team members who simply wanted to keep coming to work.
By putting the power to decide in their hands, we could ensure that everyone felt comfortable and cared for no matter what their unique situation. And once we had solidified our stance, we documented it as an official policy to further build confidence and trust within our team and beyond.
All across the world, communities are working together to confront and conquer a global situation that underscores just how equal we are in our humanity. On every continent, we’re proving daily that people come first and we are in this together.
From multinational corporations to local entrepreneurs, this outbreak represents uncharted territory for us all. We hope that by sharing bits of our experience over these past few weeks, it will help others as we take on and ultimately triumph over COVID-19 together.