The COVID Challenge

How to manage people when emotions run high

19 / 08 / 2020
Claudia Mohr
CEO
Being the owner and CEO of an SME during COVID certainly has its challenges, but perhaps the trickiest of all is how to keep staff motivated when there is so much fear going around.

I consider it a great privilege to lead a team of energetic and talented creatives, but when the COVID scare comes close to home,actions speak far louder than any words could.

It becomes even more important to be as transparent as possible, while at the same time keeping a handle on your own emotions.

A few weeks ago, we had our first exposure from a voice artist who had been to the studios. Even with all the protocols and continuity plans we had prepared, it still felt intense. It helped being able to call on a strong leadership team, who rallied over the weekend to track contacts and complete risk assessments so that we had reliable data to base our decisions on. We needed to assess who was at risk. We needed to decide whether to test and if so, whether to include permanent staff only or freelancers too.

We had put aside a budget for our response to the pandemic, but it’s still quite nerve wrecking when a test is R850 a pop and decontamination upwards of R12 000, not including transport costs to the testing centre. Then there’s the cost of shutting down, and potential downtime of critical staff members, which further impacts production. I began to realise the true potential impact if we were ever faced with multiple exposures per month. We decided to view this first exposure as an opportunity to see how robust our on-site protocols really were. Would we have cross-contamination of any of our people? Were our safety measures rigid enough? Was everybody adhering to them? Hopefully with positive outcomes, we could dispel the growing fear amongst our teammates. And isn’t fear a funny thing? It somehow makes people unrealistically paranoid. It seems to drive themto consume any information that feeds their paranoia, regardless of its validity.

Managing COVID-related fearsin a businessis a lot about dispelling the fears and inspiring confidence that you have not just taken every precaution necessary, but have gone above and beyond to ensure your people’s safety. Our strategy was to be overly-cautious, do more than necessary, and extend the range of people under our support to not just permanent employees, but to anybody working with us during this time.

Here are some of the protocols we have found to be successful:

  • All non-critical staff to work from homeWe have reduced people on site by 60%.We also make sure all high-risk staff, or staff with high risk family members who live with them work from home.
  • Educate all permanent and freelance people on protocols.We made safety videos and compose regular HR communications. View our voice artists protocol video here https://vimeo.com/438241466).
  • Create an access controlled single point of entry.We also appointed a COVID officer to take charge of entry protocols, including taking temperatures and sanitising hands and shoes.
  • Adapt processes. We changed various processes to minimise contact between voice artists and engineers. We also provide washable and reusable microphone and headphone covers for added protection during recording.
  • Apply social distancing. We demarcated areas and rearranged the canteen. We also stopped allowing in-person meetings and implemented a no smoking on site rule.
  • Apply strict hand hygiene protocols. We installed hand sanitisation stations at all major traffic areas.
  • Give everyone masks. We issued everybody with at least two reusable face masks and keep disposable ones on site.
  • Enforce a no sharing rule. Everyone brings their own crockery, cutlery, mug etc., and washes these themselves atthe designated wash area in the
  • Make sure leaders are visible. Employees cannot be left to feel abandoned, or like they have to be on the ‘front lines’ while leaders sit comfy in their homes. To this end, our leadership team is on rotation on site.

In conclusion, it’s important to support your on-site staff in every way possible – by instilling and following strict protocols, by being there in person, by being transparent and by going above and beyond to ensure everyone’s safety. This is what inspires confidence and keeps the negativity and fear at bay.

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