There is plenty of good advice on remote working and leading virtual teams. Also plenty of opinion on how well / badly government and health organisations are communicating about the COVID-19 situation.

It’s dynamic, it’s not always possible to have all the answers. But communication is always possible, essential in fact, and can motivate as well as mitigate. I’ve seen leaders fail to narrate when they navigate a big event, pandemics aside.

Here’s what I think are the important things to think about to lead with communications.

Say something: Start communicating sooner than later, and more than less. Not everyone will hear or read everything you say every time. So keep saying it. Even if you don’t have the answers yet or a final decision — you can tell people where you are in the process.

Be straight: If you need to go back on a previous decision, that’s fine. The situation is dynamic, circumstances change. Make it clear why, when and how decisions are being made.

Empathise and empower: It’s tough being the one having to make the decisions, but it can be even worse not having any agency. Give people small things they can do, whether that is contributing to the organisation or general activity.

Ask and answer: People want to be heard too. In some of your comms you might want to ask people to send questions, ideas, contacts. Don’t let that drop into a vacuum — acknowledge the effort they’ve gone to, even if you can’t thank everyone individually.

Consider your audience: Think about diversity in all its dimensions in how you speak, where you communicate, how much you say and what you ask of your audience. Not everyone you’re talking to will be in the same position as you, whether financially, physically, emotionally or digitally.

Humanity and humility: Showcase what others are doing as a way to demonstrate values and expectations. Sharing and collaborating openly are strengths at times like this. Drawing on what others are doing equally shows leadership of your own.

Connect upwards: Even as a leader you will feel daunted at this time. Showing vulnerability can help connect with others, but guard against negativity and the risk of emotional contagion. You want to create an upward force, not a downward spiral.

Create a routine: A lot of people are suddenly without a routine. Like weekly team meetings or monthly town-halls, you can still establish a regular drum beat of communications at this time, which will help people know they can expect to hear from you.

Maintain the momentum: There’s a lot of information flow now, but we’re just at the beginning. Have a plan for the long-term so you can keep communicating. That could be providing a round-up of relevant news, sharing conversations or comments you’ve had, giving someone else the spotlight to give their perspective or updating FAQs as the situation develops.

Long-term leading with comms: Use this time to shape the way you communicate, learning what has worked or what else is needed. Looking forward, as you’ll need to do (even while focusing on the day-to-day), think about the ramifications of not communicating and the impact that vacuum can have.

At some point you will want to look back and reflect on this time. Write things down as you go — observations, decisions, quotes, links, ideas. You think you’ll remember all the twists and turns. There’s a long way to go, and you will forget. Make a quick note of the big things each day, and you’ll be able to come back to it much more easily.

Written by Ali Merifield