All posts by Don Sanford

About Don Sanford

Don Sanford is a Senior Consultant and Partner at Smith. Contact the author directly

Working Through a Pandemic (Part 2)

Smith interviews an expert on workplace disease control

Smith Communication Partners can help you navigate the choppy waters and tidal wave of Covid-19 information and messages cascading over your business and employees.

One of Smith’s partner firms is Viven Health which has developed a unique hand hygiene training program that can be effective in protecting your employees from the coronavirus. Viven Health is led by Dr. Tom Ahrens, a research scientist who is an international authority on infectious diseases.  

We sat down with Dr. Tom recently to pose a number of questions we are receiving from clients and contacts about the coronavirus and how best to keep ourselves protected.  In our last communication, we presented a few high-level queries and answers on common coronavirus topics. Today we continue our session (part 1) with Dr. Tom to give you more insights on how to prepare for and deal with the new virus. Look for more updates from Smith in the coming weeks.

How important is it for people who are sick to stay home? We have a culture where people go to work unless they are really sick.

Very important!  There are three common symptoms of Covid 19: fever, cough and shortness of breath. You’re first going to see a fever and maybe body aches, much like a flu. If you have a fever, 100 degrees or higher, you absolutely need to stay home. Even if you have a mild experience, you need to stay home so you don’t infect others. 

Some of the news reports are discouraging people with mild to moderate symptoms from walking into the ER or their doctor’s office. Can telehealth medicine fill the gap here? 

Absolutely. We should be using telehealth enormously now. If you’re having trouble breathing, clearly go to the emergency room. But if your symptoms are manageable, use telehealth first and they will tell you if you need to go to the ER.

Unless you have a preexisting condition or happen to unfortunately be seriously affected, it sounds like COVID-19 is something you’ll be able to manage at home. What do people need to have on hand at home? 

Really, it’s no different than what you need to manage a cold or flu.

Once you get COVID-19, can you get it again?

Like with any virus, we anticipate we will develop an immunity to it. So, if someone is sick now, this coming fall they should have immunity and won’t get it again.

You’ve been talking about cold, flu, pneumonia, sepsis, and other viral and bacterial prevention for years now. It must be frustrating to have a proven method that could have made a difference in stemming the tide, but also hopeful in the sense that employers can have an impact on a go-forward basis.

Employers need to prepare and find ways to mitigate the loss of productivity. This is going to hit them and there is no way around this. I think we have 18 months of COVID-19 to go. This is going to be a long and drawn-out fight. In the meantime, we’ve got to get out and educate people on the best ways to mitigate infection. 

Keep in mind that Smith can help you build and implement your communications strategy around the coronavirus.  For more information, call your usual Smith contact or Don Sanford of Smith’s St. Louis office at 314.348.4687.

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Working Through a Pandemic (Part 1)

Smith interviews an expert on workplace disease control

Smith Communication Partners can help you navigate the choppy waters and tidal wave of Covid-19 information and messages cascading over your business and employees.

One of Smith’s partner firms is Viven Health, which has developed a unique hand hygiene training program that can be effective in protecting your employees from the coronavirus. Viven Health is led by Dr. Tom Ahrens, a research scientist who is an international authority on infectious diseases.  

We sat down with Dr. Tom a few days ago to pose a number of questions we are receiving from clients and contacts about the coronavirus and how best to keep ourselves protected. We present some of the questions and answers here for your information and will post others in the coming days and weeks. This is the first of a two-part interview. 

Dr. Tom Ahrens, thank you for speaking with us. A lot of business continuity plans are focused on weather-related or terrorism-related events, which by nature are isolated to a specific location or region. How do organizations manage a rapidly spreading virus? 

The coronavirus is similar to the flu in how it spreads. It will generally concentrate in populated areas—the more crowded we are, the more likely we are to get an infection. Typically, if you get one of the two common types of flu viruses (type A or type B) you will infect two other people. This year in the United States almost 50 million people will get the flu. What we are seeing with COVID-19 at this early stage is an infection rate of three other people, with a projected infection of 100-150 million people, or one-third to one-half of our population.

Let’s talk about employers whose people can work remotely. Are we at a point where employers should require employees who are able to work remotely to stay home? 

Absolutely. This is the simplest way to control the spread of COVID-19. This isn’t rocket science. If you are close to someone, you are at risk. We want people to avoid crowded train and subway stations. Congregating in tight areas sends your risk level up. 

When those who can work from home do so, they are bringing down the risk level for those who must be present at work to do their job. Look, employers need to figure this out now. COVID-19 is going to be an issue this fall and winter. I think in 30-60 days we’ll see a drop because of warming temperatures but expect the virus to come back with a vengeance this coming fall and winter. 

So, we’re expecting coronavirus to have seasonality? You’re saying it will recede in the summer months and come back in the winter months? 

We’re not absolutely certain, but I think so. We’ll get an idea during the summer by watching the Southern hemisphere. If the virus picks up there during our summer, which is their winter, that will be our answer. 

Now, let’s turn to employers who need their folks on the ground to do their jobs. Healthcare, police, transit, public works, grocery stores, gas stations. What should employers be doing to proactively protect these employees?

It’s all about managing the chain of touchpoints. As much as you can, put a physical barrier between you and your customer. You want to reduce how much the customer can breathe on you. Also, there needs to be very careful handling of money. Let’s say I give you money and you have to handle it; you must keep your fingers out of your mouth, nose and eyes until you sanitize again. Any surface you subsequently touch before you sanitize again should be considered contaminated. But as you know, this applies to the cold, flu, any virus. 

Part 2 of our interview with Dr. Ahrens will be published tomorrow, March 19, 2020.

Keep in mind that Smith can help you build and implement your communications strategy around the coronavirus. For more information, call your usual Smith contact or call Don Sanford of Smith’s St. Louis office at 314.348.4687.

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Just-in-Time Creativity

Two successful strategies

When being creative is your job

Where do those clever, innovative ideas you see in communications and marketing come from? How do people take flat and uninspiring content and spin it into something that captures our imagination and urges us to seek more information?

In my career, I’ve had the great pleasure of working with many exceptionally creative people. I‘ve observed and learned from them the best ways to unearth creative thinking. I have two favorite approaches … similar, but with important subtle differences.

Inside out

The first approach is what I call the Observe and Apply Technique, or OAT for short. Quite simply, OAT is a process of looking carefully at everything that is around us to find what is unique to your situation. Then OAT adapts an interesting concept to match your problem or issue.

Here’s an example of how OAT works: A client we were working with was having trouble getting employees to read the corporate newsletter. A study they had conducted showed employees were so disengaged that many literally dropped the publication in the trash before giving it even a cursory review. The client wondered if there was a way for us to have the printed piece stand out to grab the reader’s attention.

Our team took a few days to mull on the challenge. When we reconvened, one of the team members made this observation: 

“Our client is a white-collar business, and most of the employees sit in an office—offices have doors. This week when I was traveling it struck me that most of the doors on my hotel floor had Do Not Disturb signs on them. I thought, what a wonderful way to communicate. What if we took the newsletters, cut a slit in them, and then hung the newsletter on the doors of employees’ offices?  The cost to do this is pretty nominal and the impact is significant.”

This is a classic example of a person paying attention to the elements of a situation, finding something unique or intriguing that had previously been overlooked—everyone had an office—and then finding solutions that better match that problem. That’s inside-out creative thinking. 

Outside in

The other approach to creative ideas I have seen colleagues successfully use is what I call the Echo and Adapt Technique, or EAT. Here the individual echoes something he or she found compelling and applies it to his or her project. 

Here’s generally how it works: think about what you’ve seen over the past three or four days that caught your attention. Was it an image? Or maybe a video clip? What made that image or clip interesting? Once you answer this last question, think of how that element can be adapted to a communication piece you are crafting.

Here’s a real world example of EAT: Do you remember the water bucket challenge from a couple of years ago? And, more recently, the bottle cap removal challenge? The EAT approach taps those viral campaigns to create a “challenge” adapted especially for your communication problem. Your new communication need not be exactly like the original, it merely contains an echo/homage/memory of the original.

There are many tried and true methods and techniques used in business to help employees think creatively. These include formalized brainstorming sessions, retreats to clear your mind and spark innovation, and mixing teams with experienced and inexperienced skills to see what happens. For me, the idea of seeing what is right in front of you and putting it to work in your communication plan has always seemed to generate the most fascinating results.

I hope that you’ll use the OAT and EAT techniques to generate some innovative approaches of your own. 

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Smith Bits

Q: How can I make this 24-page enrollment guide easier to review?

Make Your PDF “Interactive” And Improve Its Use

“I just need to jam in one more comment … no make that two … okay a paragraph or two … alright a few pages … but it’s all good stuff the employee needs to know.”  

Sound familiar? By the time we are done talking ourselves into an expanded benefits enrollment guide it has become so long, that if you printed it off, it would be a thick enough wad of paper to serve as a replacement leg on that broken couch.

It was Mark Twain who said, “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” Thus, poking fun at how we drone on and on and how difficult it is to edit our messages to make them sharp and succinct. Editing is a fine art that has become lost on many.

Still, when it comes to benefits information, it’s just not that easy. There is a lot of information that a person might need and could be critical in helping him or her make a decision that later has financial impact on their lives. Not every employee needs all of the information, but it still needs to be there for the ones who do. What should you do?

Your best bet is to organize the material so it is easy to navigate.  This isn’t Shakespeare you are editing, so it doesn’t need to be flowing prose that someone will study from beginning to end. Rather, your goal is to make it accurate, engaging and well-organized – and especially easy to find specific information. Most readers are hunting for a nugget of content and couldn’t care less about the other 23 pages of “mission critical” stuff you have jammed into the guide. If they can find it fast and with ease, you will win them over.

Layer Your Documents With Helpful Information

One of the niftier improvements by Adobe in recent years is the ability to create links within a pdf. The feature makes “wandering” to the information you want much easier and less frustrating.

Want to jump to the section on dental benefits? … easy peasy … just click here. Want to jump to the section on how to enroll? … fine and dandy … click on this link here. You can structure the contents of the pdf to create an experience much like you would have with a website … only all the links, jumping and content are contained in that one document. And … get this … it doesn’t cost anything more for this feature. It’s already built into the pdf software. It just takes a little planning on to set the document up to make it truly interactive.

So next time you create a bulky document that you absolutely, positively must send to all employees … make sure it is easy to find all those needed content nuggets. And, take the time to make it interactive so your readers can glide from section to section with ease. You may not satisfy Mark Twain, but you will empower your employees to experience a faster and better to interact with important content.

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