Managing the reputational risks of Covid-19 reopening

The Coronavirus lockdown has damaged the economy and put businesses under significant financial pressure, and so it's easy to see why so many are eager to reopen and restart now the Government has begun to reduce restrictions.

So-called 'non-essential' high street shops have been hit particularly hard, but even office-based businesses have been affected.

Many are now busy undertaking Covid-19 risk assessments and thinking about new health and safety measures that will help keep colleagues and customers safe - things like floor stickers to enforce the 2 metre rule, sneeze guards, changes to working practices and working hours, and the installation of hand santiser stations.

However, while they're thinking about the new health and safety risks presented by a return to work during a public health crisis, it's unlikely they will also be thinking through the communications and reputational risks.

Yet they must.

It doesn't take much effort to imagine a scenario where someone that has visited your premises goes on to develop what they think are Covid-19 symptoms and to then (rightly or wrongly) lay the blame at the door of your business.

The reputational impacts of this and other similar scenarios could be far reaching and damage the chances of successfully recovering from the current economic slowdown.

So, what should businesses be doing to get to grips with these reputational risks?

Just like in a health and safety risk assessment, think about all the things that could (reasonably foreseeably) cause a reputational headache, consider how and where details might get into the public domain, explore how these risks could be minimised and then develop mitigation measures - so if a problem does occur, there's a plan in place for dealing with it.

And do it now.

It's particularly important to think through how you might respond to a publicly circulated claim that your business is somehow responsible for the spread of infection, and to do so dispassionately with a cool, calm head.

This is because the very last thing you want to find yourself doing is reacting when something has gone bad and you're under fire in crisis mode - because, in that emotionally distressed state, your decisions won't be as good and you're more likely to make mistakes that compound the problem.

Warren Buffet, boss of Berkshire Hathaway, is commonly referred to as the world's greatest investor. He's credited with this sage advice: "It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently."

So, do something differently now. Make time to understand, prepare and plan for the communications and reputational risks of your Covid-19 reopening and restart - it'll help you to secure your recovery for the long term.

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