Keep Running 

  • By Jana Al Hammouri

Amongst mask-wearing, curfews and quarantines, and in-depth sanitary precautions and restrictions, COVID-19 has exposed us to a new aspect of communication: One that encompasses attempts both sincerity and relief of uncertainty, but often fails to do either effectively.


At the beginning of the pandemic, people received more information about what to do and how to do it from everyone and everywhere than their bosses and directors. Whether it be the belief that "we're all in this together" and that "in these unprecedented times" "we'll get through it" and figure out this "new normal," companies and organizations have built a fictitious facade of their somewhat maintained measure of control in the time of a worldwide pandemic. As inboxes were flooded with messages, "personal" letters, and reassuring promises from big brands telling you what they were doing as we faced the global pandemic of COVID-19, the repetitiveness of the communications became more intensified, but the transparency became more opaque, creating more noise and more distraction. As a result, it became more difficult to distinguish a meaningful impact, which lead to less and less transparency. Although the point behind these communications were to quell fear and reassure people that it's safe to patronize these said businesses, it quickly became a trend to preserve their companies and not risk losing their customers.  Organizations began competing in an attempt to stand their ground in the survival of the fittest, corporate industry edition.


While accepting the potential COVID-19 held and still holds is essential, the messaging behind the portrayed stability is critical. As societies worldwide deal with the uncertainty over the coronavirus pandemic and wonder when life will return to have some level of stability and routine, external organizations must strategize to ensure that their recovery plans play a part in providing certainty.  By conveying a sense of certainty in a sea of uncertainty and appearing stable, organizations have had to go the extra mile to ensure that their messaging has the potential to reach all of their stakeholders amidst the background noise around the world. Increased pressure to keep their people informed and safe while also showing an appropriate level of caution has also come with an increased focus on remote work. The additional stress to represent a uniform organization mission and a shared vision are essential. Issues like ethical behaviour, corporate social awareness, and appropriate responses and adjustments to the pandemic are vital to the upkeep and proper communication within an organization. However, the uncertainty and disruption around the coronavirus are not going to be solved with "thoughts and prayers." Therefore, wanting to come across as both helpful and transparent while trying to market a pitch to your customers that encourages people to continue to spend money with you may not attract the right audience in the long term. The phrase "we're all in this together," for example, doesn't entirely succeed in providing cautious optimism about the pandemic. The ambiguity of the now repeated expression doesn't actually explain who is in what and if we're all really in this together. At the rate governments, businesses and organizations are operating at, it sounds like they're absent.


While it is vital that organizations speak up during hardships and global unease, both for the survival and continuation of their organization and its reputation, it is also crucial that they use their platforms to communicate and share resources surrounding the issue rather than sales messaging. As communication evolves over time, the underlying tone should be: It will be challenging, but we will get through it. Here's what we're doing and what you need to know. You may not have every piece of information about the story you're telling, and that's fine. You don't need to disclose every last detail, but you do need to be able to have something in your backbone if you're asked about it.


The vulnerability of companies at this time is the primary focus of emphasizing familiarity and reassurance. By empowering their customer base by helping them feel more prepared or in control of the desperate situation by sharing sound resources that provide steps to make good decisions, organizations create a relationship built on safety and care. Additionally, talking about their organization and what it is doing to ensure the safety and wellness of customers is another way to gain customer loyalty. Whether it be through increased cleaning or screening, or if by a change in the way business is done, it shows perspectives of truth, transparency to build trust, which is the most crucial aspect behind communications. The vulnerability of organizations can also be spotted in how they share ways in which people can safely support their businesses by changing some of their consumers' habits. Whether it be through booked time slots, delivery services or even virtual means to enjoy the organization, being able to provide alternatives that also lessen the risk of exposure were optimal. Essentially, reminding the community of their commitment to your organization and thanking them for their support during these "difficult times" is the primary purpose. As well as reiterating the extra efforts being adopted, ensuring that we "are in this together" and that the safety of consumers, as well as the safety of their employees, is their top priority.


Yet, trying to be vulnerable and seem authentic can be difficult. The issue in question is when is it okay to show vulnerability and how? Additionally, what do you show to depict vulnerability, situationally, without undermining your own credibility? An aspect of vulnerability is oftentimes admitting when you don't know something in order to work towards it. Coming to a split path of "What to do" and "What not to do" often involves asking what I can do to change or to alter something to make it different and to what extent I can accomplish it. Rather than organizations grouping themselves together with consumers and praying on the idea that they've done their part, what is needed now more than ever is the assurance that if companies do their part that consumers will be able get their lives back. But is depicting vulnerability only a tactic used by companies and corporations run by a certain type of CEO, or can and should it be used by other leaders in other situations?


Trying to introduce a new type of leader can often be negatively interpreted as depicting vulnerability is often associated as something feminine, which furthers women in the gender divide in the corporate field and creates added pressure and stereotypical assumptions to the ways and means of showcasing vulnerability as a company. Whether it be older or younger CEOs, intersectional CEOs in gender, race, ethnicity, sexuality, and those who are new to the game and those who are veterans of the industry. "In these difficult times," it's important to recognize the legitimacy of managing your messaging. Especially in a rapidly evolving crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic, it's important for leaders to communicate with their key constituencies, early and often, and with empathy, honesty, and transparency — even when you don't have all the answers. It's also important to convey a message that appropriately addresses the issue at hand while positioning yourself in a place that is safe and stable in terms of future company potential. While decentralized communication may be desirable in large, complex organizations where there are more than one audience, but in an emergency or fast-moving situation, being able to take control and develop a message for key constituencies, including employees, customers, shareholders, and community is vital to the longevity and survival of any business. As Minhyuk Nam and Soohyung Lee report in the Seoul Journal of Economics, the negative effects of COVID-19 are more severe than those resulting from the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. The impact on the job market is impacting multiple age ranges from young adults aged 25–29, to middle-aged adults aged 45–54, and adults with less than a junior college degree. Thus, “the share of workers in temporary employment has been significantly reduced across various demographic groups, suggesting that COVID-19 hurts those with vulnerable employment security more than others” (Nam and Lee, 2021). Therefore, conveying a sense of certainty through vulnerability and integrity in “times like these” to all of your stakeholders is important. It assures all the people involved in your organization, both internally and externally, whether that be your own employees, your partners, affiliate organizations and even your customers, that although you might not have all the answers now, you’re working diligently on getting them and executing them effectively. So, keep running, the finish line may constantly be moving, but you’re getting closer.


Nam, Minhyuk and Soohyung Lee. 2021. "COVID-19 and Employment in South Korea: Trends

and Comparison with the 2008 Financial Crisis." Seoul Journal of Economics 34 (1): 43-80. doi:

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