When we put plans in motion for the annual bank architecture edition, our goal was to examine how design-build firms were responding to the changes wrought by climate change. We expected we’d tell a few disaster stories that have prompted architects to adapt their designs, and offer readers ideas for how they might approach recovery should the worst befall them. What we didn’t expect was that in the week-long stretch between going into production and sending the issue to the printer, we’d all become bit players in an unfolding calamity of a different sort: The coronavirus pandemic.
What a strange time we live in. As news came to us about universities switching to online learning and canceling spring sports to curb the spread of the novel virus, my colleagues shook their heads in disbelief. What was this response, they wondered, and how could it even be considered proportional to the threat as we understood it? As travel bans increased and news of more school cancellations reached us, one colleague labeled the response as over-blown. The very next day, after the president proclaimed a national emergency, that same person walked into my office and asked: “What’s our plan?”
In a crisis, no matter the cause, one of the most important things you can do is communicate with your employees the details of your disaster plan. This applies to all businesses, yours and mine, and all threats. We long have thought of disaster planning in terms of natural disasters, the flood or the fire; well, COVID-19 is a natural disaster of a different stripe.
Uncertainty underlies peoples’ fears: Our colleagues are concerned about their health (and the health of their loved ones) but also about their jobs, their customers, and the overall economy. They wonder if they should proceed with travel. Should they have lunch with friends? Should they go to a movie? What about working from home?
We are a small company. Half of our workforce is in their 20s; a quarter of them are already working remotely at least half time. But the potential for community lockdown or a 14-day quarantine is real. Around our office, I notice how worry manifests differently. Some people shrug their shoulders while others ask for concrete action with all likely scenarios thoroughly covered. That’s no small thing for leaders who are trying to understand the implications of what is largely unprecedented.
Here’s what I know. As the crisis unfolds, people will need flexibility, especially if they have school-age children. Others will need help managing their anxiety. Everyone craves reassurance, which is difficult to provide when markets are tumbling and guidelines are changing by the hour. We cannot predict the future in stable times let alone in the face of a threat about which so much is unknown. But we must project calm nonetheless. And that’s easier to do when you’ve got a plan and have communicated it effectively.
We are assessing our processes daily and adapting as situations evolve. We’re also committing to continue to provide the latest on how the coronavirus is impacting this industry. I encourage you to check our homepage often to find the latest.