While organizations and individuals have taken their experiences with COVID-19 seriously, many have failed to put plans in place to support staffers in the event of the unexpected. While some organizations had a plan for small issues, like business being shut down for a couple of days, the idea of an almost two-year interuption was unheard of.
However, the reality is that what we all fear could be true … a disaster of this magnitude could happen again.
That fear was realized on August 29, 2021, when Hurricane Ida hit the state of Louisiana, plunging almost 1.5 million people into darkness for weeks. Just shy of a category five ranking, Hurricane Ida’s 172 mph wind gusts destroyed or severely damaged many homes and businesses beyond repair.
With Sidecar headquarters being located in New Orleans, LA, our team took a particularly large hit. For almost two weeks many of our team were without power and cell service, and up to a month later, were still having significant difficulty finding stable internet access.
Having made the switch to a completely remote office during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, having the majority of the team off the grid was an extremely unexpected and difficult experience for Sidecar. This was the case for hundreds of other businesses, too. The speed at which Hurricane Ida formed left many Louisiana residents and business owners scrambling to find the proper resources to evacuate or efficiently weather the storm and its aftermath.
In the future, it is imperative that organizations not only create a plan for natural disasters but also have some dialogue around proactivity, expectations and staff resources during times of crisis and uncertainty.
To get started, here are three ways organizations can plan to support staffers before the next unfortunate event:
For days after the storm, it was almost impossible to reach family, friends and coworkers to check on their wellbeing. Once we knew everyone was safe and sound it was just as difficult to understand what was going on with the business.
How did staff fare during the storm? Is the business okay? Who is responsible for releasing updates? What’s next? — All questions that many staffers would ask when not educated on any after-disaster plans.
To combat this, the Polygon Group suggests that prior to any natural disaster an organization should have a clear communication plan in place to alert staff of any response and recovery actions taking place, update staffers on their coworkers, and share any return-to-work plans. Having a clear plan for outreach and highlighting decision-makers prior to a natural disaster will help to alleviate some of the stress felt afterward.
As we learned during our struggle with COVID-19, mental health is the most important focus for a successful and secure staff at any organization. Psychological safety — a sense of confidence that the team will not embarrass, reject or punish someone for speaking up — is the backbone of an established and successful organization because staff who do not feel valuable, heard, comfortable and supported are not going to take risks or stay loyal to the organization.
The first step to support staffers and promote psychological safety during times of natural disaster or crisis is to listen to their needs and accommodate accordingly. Disasters are terrifying, exhausting, scarring and have a habit of staining your mental health for an extended amount of time. Having the flexibility to process and prioritize things that truly matter over other assignments or deadlines allows staff to come back when they're willing and ready to work can benefit your organization and your staff.
Sometimes during natural disasters or crises individuals can lose everything — their homes, personal belongings, important documents or even loved ones. Don’t let their work projects or data be added to this list.
In preparation for any potential disaster, have a backup created of all organizational information in an off-site or online location to avoid losing any work or professional documents that could cause your staff undue stress. Coming back to the office after a disaster only to realize that all your hard work had been for nothing is devastating, and preventing this should be your number one priority.
Another way you could support your staff is by having backup or temporary staffers come in to give your employees extra time to get on their feet. Depending on the severity of the damage, some staff may need a couple of weeks to rebuild homes, return from evacuation or organize childcare. Shifting projects that are behind schedule to unaffected staffers could also alleviate some of the stress of returning to work.
Whether it be a tornado, flood, hurricane or even a worldwide pandemic, having disaster support strategies planed and resources will help your staff feel comfortable and prepared to deal with whatever comes next. Remember, your staff builds the foundation of a successful business. A foundation built on loyalty, trust and support can outlast any unfortunate event.
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Ashley Neal joined the Sidecar team as Community Coordinator in March of 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic began to shut down life as we knew it. Having to adapt, overcome and predict the changes needed to survive in the new normal, Ashley now has the skills needed to juggle any obstacle thrown her way. A soon-to-be graduate from Southeastern Louisiana University in the field of Strategic Communications, Ashley spends her days balancing her work and education with her love of dogs. Taking her three dogs — Scooby, Pipsqueak and Moose — to restaurants, hiking trails, vacations and even participating in dog shows and sports is the highlight of her weekends.