Maintaining Organizational Operations During a Shelter In Place Order

Keep employees informed (such as via SMS, text messaging) during a shelter in place order

A shelter in place order is typically issued by authorities when there is danger of chemical contamination, or during an epidemic where there is a serious risk of infection. These orders require residents to stay home except for essential activities like obtaining food and medical care, and require non-essential businesses to close. 

Shelter in place orders for a short period of time can be painful for an organization, but extended orders can be devastating. In order to control the impact to your organization’s operations, it’s essential to have a plan and supporting communication tools in place. This way, you can seamlessly switch to shelter in place mode and keep employees, contractors and vendors informed with the instructions they need. This article offers up some tips for doing just that.

Have a Plan in Place

Your shelter in place plan should include immediate instructions for what your staff should do when an order is initially issued and general instructions for its duration.

  • If your organization has physical-facing essential services, you need policies and equipment (on hand) for keeping your staff and patrons safe while maintaining operations. Ideally, your staff should receive regular training for this and be able to immediately apply the processes.
  • If your organization offers non-essential services and does not require physical-facing operations, you should have a plan in place that allows your employees to quickly pivot to working from home. It is critical to have a signed policy detailing requirements such as safe, suitable workplaces, equipment security, supervision, and communication. 
  • If your organization has physical-facing non-essential services, you need policies in place that clearly communicate which staff members may work at home and which may not, as well as resource information for those that may be temporarily without work and possibly income.

Have Communication Tools in Place (Email, Text Message, Chat)

People use and have preferences for different communication tools. So it’s critical to have an omni-channel communication plan during a shelter in place order. 

  • Email is a great tool for general day-to-day communication and many people are accustomed to using it. However, email is not appropriate for urgent communication for these reasons:
    • Many knowledge and office workers are deluged with email and get behind on it.
    • Many people who do not use email as part of their day-to-day job do not check it regularly.
  • SMS group text messaging is an ideal tool for getting your messages, urgent and otherwise, to everyone and getting it read for these reasons:
    • Mobile phones are ubiquitous and everyone of workforce age sends and receives text messages.
    • For better or worse, people are constantly on their phones and will definitely see your message. 
    • There are people who have only a basic phone and no access to a computer or tablet, but they can still receive text messages. They need your information too.
    • You can include a link in text messages to direct people to comprehensive information resources.
  • Group chat tools like Slack are perfect for communication and collaboration for those working from home, but not ideal for urgent messages, because there are often several “channels” and chats happening at once and it’s easy for a critical message to get lost in the noise.
  • Web conference tools like Zoom are great for delivering comprehensive information to a large audience because people who do not have access to a computer, tablet or smartphone can call in. However, you have to get the conference information to everyone to begin with. An omni-channel approach is best here: send a group text with the link, send an email with the link, and post it in group chat. This way, no matter what tool your audience is using, they can get to your web conference with ease.

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