It’s more important than ever for companies to inform, support and connect with employees and customers during uncertain times. The only thing that’s certain during COVID-19 is that circumstances and facts are changing at a dizzying pace. How are business leaders staying connected with internal and external audiences in the crisis of large-scale quarantines, social distancing and remote work?
Executives, business owners and other leaders are sharing their insights with us and, in turn, we’re sharing them with you to help your organization maintain relationships, communication and trust. They’re also offering personal stories about how they’re coping with the anxiety and stress all of us are feeling. There’s no end game. No sales pitch. We hope their suggestions and perspectives help.
Here, we feature Yonhee Gordon, principal and chief operating officer at JMG Financial Group, an independent, fee-only wealth management firm that serves clients from coast to coast. She oversees employee development and firm operations.
Were you prepared for COVID-19 in terms of strategy and crisis communications?
No one can ever be completely prepared for things like this. Going through the  financial crisis was a bit of a wake-up call. Then there’s disaster recovery planning associated with Mother Nature. Years ago, we decided we had to have a plan in place in the event of an emergency, focusing on power outages and financial crises. We never imagined something like this.
What did you learn from the 2008 financial crisis that’s helping you internally now?
We learned about what panic does to emotions – the panic of the unknown. It’s important to try to calm people down from a communications standpoint. Leaders must realize how much employees look to and count on them for guidance, comfort and transparency and to be ahead of it. When people ask questions, you may not have the answer right away, but at least communicate that you’re working on it. Perfectionism is not a priority. It’s more important that you’re working on it, that you have a plan, that you’re thinking about these things and that you’ll communicate when it’s appropriate. Our firm is mindful of that.
How are you communicating with employees?
Before the [Illinois] stay-at-home-order was issued, we’d been communicating the possibility of what might occur. I told everyone to be prepared for tomorrow. One of the first things we communicated with them is that we’ll be fine and that no one would lose their jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic. We had already begun to transition anyone that could work remotely and used that as an opportunity to test our systems. When we learned we all had to work remotely, it was a nonissue. Since we began working from home, we’ve increased the number of meetings per week and we do check-ins via email. We also have phone calls with smaller groups and use Microsoft Teams and GoToMeeting to make sure they are OK. Everyone feels very connected.
How are you keeping employees engaged and motivated while they’re working from home?
March Madness is such a big deal in our office: Without sports, it’s been hard. We have a pretty creative group, and our event team is planning some fun activities that we can do as a group while we’re still at home. We might be able to recreate some of the social things that we do in the office. If the shelter-in-place order goes longer, I think our team members will appreciate one another more. Since we began working from home, we’ve done fun things like push-up challenges. When we got the Illinois tax extension, I asked the team to join me in a virtual cheer so I could toast them for dealing with and adjusting to working under these emotional roller-coaster circumstances. I asked everyone to take pictures of their workstations at home and we posted them on our intranet – they’re hilarious and so much fun to look at.
What, if any, changes have you seen in your team since you began working remotely?
I had a conversation with a couple of people, and I said, ‘Are you a warrior or a wimp?’ It’s a funny way to ask, ‘Are you going to be tough and fight or are you going to shrivel up?’ You have to message it in a positive way. There’s a great opportunity for people to step up. It’s been wonderful to see some team members take a leadership role in this situation. It’s been happening where you’d never think someone would take the lead. If everyone remains working at home longer, I think people will begin to appreciate one another more. When we were packing up to work from home, if felt like you were going away to college and you wouldn’t be seeing your friends for a while. You know that saying, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder?’
How are you communicating with clients?
Initially, our CEO notified clients that we’re complying with the shelter-in-place order and that we’re prepared to serve them remotely. It’s really a nonissue from a client perspective. They needed to hear that we’re able to execute trades even though we weren’t in our office. Our advisors are always in touch with their clients and have been keeping them informed of the market fluctuations and volatility. Now, we have clients asking us when they can get back into the [financial] markets because they know it’s a long-term game. It’s still about staying the course.
During this time of crisis, how are you planning?
We’ve always planned for the long term. Obviously, now we must deal with the short term. I’ve hired two people in the last two weeks. Even in this time of crisis, we’re hiring and planning for growth because clients are not leaving us. We need to have depth in our organization, and I think something like this makes our firm stronger. I’m curious how firms less than 10 years old are handling this situation because they’ve probably not been through anything like this. This is a reset for our world.
What are you doing for self-care during the pandemic?
I have to be disciplined about exercise and being active because I’m working longer hours from home. I got some fresh air by taking a walk the other day, and it felt great.
As a business leader, how are you engaging with your internal and external audiences during COVID-19? Let us know in the comments below.