Crisis Management in Business: Public Health Depends On It.

By Julian Battersby-Morris, Copywriter

Person writing on paper

It’s not every day there’s a crisis that visibly impacts everyone, everywhere. 

Even under “normal” circumstances, businesses must prepare for crises, even when they’re not anticipated. Conventional wisdom around crisis management says that businesses should have contingency plans as to how to weather the storm during unprecedented times (and, hopefully, the finances to support it). But the global spread of COVID-19 has shown that businesses who depend on the health of people in their communities, also have a big role to play in shaping public health outcomes. Just as governments and individuals are responsible for minimizing risk, businesses should be prepared to take on this role, especially big players in transportation and supply chains. Will the current situation help to encourage companies to make public health a priority in their crisis playbooks? 

Uncertain Times call for Timely Responses

Government regulations determine what services are considered essential under mandatory shutdown measures, and who can, therefore, stay open. So, at the minimum, businesses and their employees need to know, when planning for crises, whether they fall under that category and how their role in the economy may shift with the situation. This handy timeline of responses of companies to the pandemic gives a sense of which companies had the foresight to plan for a situation like this, which enabled them to enact strong policies to ensure peoples’ safety and roll out timely messaging. Starbucks, for example, started limiting seating in their shops the same day COVID-19 officially became a pandemic. Then after concerned employees petitioned the company, it switched solely to delivery services a little over a week later. The company has since started providing employees with disaster pay to stay at home. When the situation can change dramatically in a matter of days, any lag time in a business’s response can seriously raise the risk. As such, it’s clear that businesses need a contingency plan for these crises, as well as a quick way to communicate that plan to both internal and external audiences.

Preparing to Help Others Prepare

Uber, a company that has become embedded in the global business community’s day-to-day, has done its due diligence as an essential service. They’ve urged customers to suspend all non-essential travel, despite being a company whose purpose is to ”move people.” However, Uber knows that essential workers still need to move from point A to point B. As such, in addition to keeping its drivers’ safety a top priority, the company has tailored a safety checklist for employers whose businesses may depend on continued transportation during the pandemic. They’ve also gone a step further by providing free rides and meals to frontline healthcare providers in markets where the need is most urgent. This response shows that Uber recognizes the global presence and influence of its services, both as it’s used for transportation and food delivery– with the latter services seeing an uptick in demand, thanks to customers staying home. With ride-hailing companies like Uber having such a wide net of influence, it’s been especially urgent for them to calibrate a proactive approach to ensure safety. Moreover, businesses that are nimble and can shift their services to meet the demands of the situation are better positioned to weather crises.

Protecting Employees to Protect the Community

Another business with a massive responsibility when it comes to ensuring public health and safety is Amazon, whose service has stepped in to fill the shoes of closed storefronts everywhere. The company’s response to the pandemic has received a lot of scrutiny, even from their own warehouse employees. With the risk of spreading germs that comes with shipping products to people, the health and safety conditions concerning their nearly 100,000 U.S employees can have a ripple effect. This added pressure to respond effectively to the situation has led Amazon to rapidly institute 150 changes to their processes to ensure worker safety. What would have happened if they had a better contingency plan prior to this pandemic? Would employees have felt safer and better looked after? Would their business continue to operate-as-usual? Would their reputation be more positive as a result of their response? 

Especially where public health is concerned, there’s significant importance in being able to act– rather than react to events. On top of the pressure that global crises put on a business’s operations, sluggish responses from those companies can be very detrimental to public health. Taking care of employees should be the first order of priorities. Executing an action plan that prioritizes health allows businesses to be responsible leaders among their stakeholders and their peers. Hopefully, this crisis and the attendant rise in scrutiny from business communities, employees, will help more and more business giants evolve their practices to better respond in extraordinary times. 

Even better if it helps condition them to be more responsible players, every day.