Staying Connected During COVID-19: Managing Expectations Through A Crisis

It’s go time. As communications professionals, we’ve trained for this. We’ve built out meticulous response plans and established distinctive team roles. Every operations decision has a specific, agreed-upon chain of approval, and every question a predetermined, carefully crafted answer. This is the stuff of crisis simulations, and we’re so ready to show the world just how cool, calm and collected we can be under pressure.


Well, no, not quite. If you weren’t prepared for the world we’re currently living in, that’s OK. You’re far from alone. It’s safe to say that none of us expected to be where we are today. Most of us couldn’t have predicted a year, six months or even six weeks ago that we’d be faced with the challenges we’ve seen over the past few weeks.

So, if you’re new to crisis communications or have simply been faced with the harsh reality that it’s harder than it seems in those crisis drills, let’s boil it down to what’s arguably the most important function of a communicator in times like these: managing expectations.

Managing expectations may seem overwhelming when stress levels are high but, luckily, we can simplify even further to the two most critical components.

Step 1: Lay the ground rules.

Even those of us who are fortunate enough to have the ability to work remotely have to realize that “business as usual” is just not possible, as comforting as that might be to communicate. Internally, it’s important to quickly establish new parameters for responsiveness, accountability and responsibility. Analyze how workflow needs to shift to adapt to the current environment and then, with empathy, prepare to deliver these updates to teams. Externally, determine just how significantly your operations need to change, and understand how it will impact your audiences, prioritizing the short-term.

Step 2: Control the conversation.

Once you’ve surveyed your environment, it’s time to be transparent with your internal and external audiences. Beyond the message itself, it’s critical to establish a cadence for the delivery of these communications (more on this in Mark DeVito’s post from last week). By setting an expectation for the time and date of the next proactive update, you’ll cut back on the time and energy spent responding to reactive questions and comments. For example, at Beyond Definition, we’ve set aside time on Friday afternoons for our all-team COVID-19 updates. We use this time to discuss challenges we’re facing as well as any shifts in operations, giving teammates a platform to speak up and alleviating what little anxiety we can control as a company.

Seem simple? GOOD! Tackling this monstrous task of managing expectations can be as easy as executing these two straightforward tasks.

Still feeling a little lost and confused? We want to help! Reach out to to discuss short- and long-term solutions for crisis communications.

As COVID-19 pushes teams into remote, virtual workspaces, our “Staying Connected During COVID-19” series is here to help. Let’s commit to keeping ourselves, our families, and our communities safe, one step at a time. Follow us for tips on how we can further your mission together.

Nikki Francois's headshot

Nikki Francois

With nearly a decade of experience in strategic communications consulting, Account Director Nikki Parrotte leads Beyond Definition’s account and project management teams in the development and execution of successful brand-centric integrated campaigns.

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