Cancelled events, remote working, government guidelines, mandates, and legislation—every day a new COVID-19 challenge comes along. Meanwhile, you’re thinking about your members… how are they and their organizations dealing with the impact of COVID-19? How is their job changing? What do they need? How are they feeling?
Although you may feel like you don’t have any bandwidth to spare, your association has a critical role to play in serving an emerging and different set of member needs during the COVID-19 crisis. It’s also a time of opportunity—a time to experiment with new ways of member engagement.
Member needs during the COVID-19 crisis
Ask, listen, and prioritize needs
You won’t know how members are doing and what they need unless you ask. Don’t just rely on the input of board members and other volunteer leaders. Their experiences may not represent all the segments of your diverse membership.
Dave Will, founder of PropFuel, suggests asking members these questions:
• What resources can we provide to help you and/or your organization prepare for and deal with the impact of COVID-19?
• How has COVID-19 affected your day-to-day job?
• Has your company implemented any special policies related to COVID-19?
• How do you foresee COVID-19 affecting our industry?
Schedule virtual town halls or smaller virtual meetups to discuss these issues. On ASAE’s Collaborate, an association CEO described a meetup where they discussed “COVID-19 and its impact to their businesses… We were able to identify critical concerns, there was some 'group-think' to address some of them and it also allowed us to understand what additional resources and information our members needed from us.”
After you gather your data, prioritize where you should spend resources.
Continue providing credible, trusted information
At times like this, your association can offer a sense of level-headed stability and calm. Your role as information curator has never been more needed. Several associations have created dedicated pages for news and information related to COVID-19, such as:
These organizations have also held webinars on different aspects of the virus’ impact on their industry. Newsletters are another approach. The MIT Technology Review’s Coronavirus Tech Report is a good example of mixing internal and external content.
Share best practices and other resources
Find and/or develop guidelines, models, templates, and best practices for your profession or industry. Expect to tweak these resources as you and your members learn from experience. As an example, Educause’s “resource page was created to help higher education institutions plan for possible campus disruption by COVID-19, or Coronavirus 19.”
Develop, gather, and include:
• Sample criteria to consider when making decisions, like cancelling an event.
• Business continuity plan template.
• Crisis communication plan template.
• Guidelines on educating and protecting employees.
• Guidelines for communicating and/or interacting with customers.
Help members adjust to remote work
Remote work is unknown territory for many organizations. Many of your members are not prepared for this inevitable situation and don’t even know where to start. If you can provide leadership and advice, they will be forever grateful.
Work with experts to develop and post resources on working remotely, or search for general advice and tweak it for your industry/profession. In these resources, include information such as:
• Best practices for remote working policies, procedures, and technology.
• Cultural changes related to communication, meetings, and management.
• Pitfalls to anticipate and avoid.
Schedule webinars and webcasts on remote work. Organize panels that include remote work consultants, IT staff, and member employers and employees who can talk about their success working remotely. Ask these members to discuss their office setups, tools, company strategies, and tips. Provide online forums where members can ask questions and provide advice for remote work, for example, forums for member company IT staff, HR staff, supervisory staff, or individual members in specific roles.
Look after the whole person with wellbeing resources
Sadly, in some industries, members are losing business—and that’s a topic we’ll address in next week’s post. In other industries, such as healthcare and education, members are dealing with long hours and changing workloads. Never has there been more of a need for serious self-care and peer support.
In northern Italy when schools closed, teachers had 24 hours to get their classes up and running online. Teacher wellbeing quickly became an issue, according to an article in Quartz. “Many teachers are struggling, as they work long hours to learn new tools and create new content… Some are not well-versed in online ed, so they are in crisis mode and trying to make do.”
Many associations already offer self-care and wellbeing programs for their members. Make sure your members at least have access on your website to information about stress management, burnout, and mental health, and referral information for professionals who can assist them.
Answer the need for social connection and community
As social distancing and remote working become part of our everyday lives, the craving for social connection will intensify. The COVID-19 crisis eliminates many of the usual opportunities members have for planned and serendipitous meetups and for relationship building.
Your online community may see more participation, but there’s nothing like seeing people’s faces to prevent feelings of loneliness and isolation. Schedule virtual round table discussions, lunch breaks, and happy hours—any opportunity for members to see each other’s faces on a web-conferencing platform like Zoom or GoToWebinar.
Encourage your board, committees, and other groups to take advantage of online platforms to continue their work and socialize. Get chapter leaders involved too. Everyone will appreciate the chance to check in with each other, commiserate, vent, and share advice.
The New Yorker found a silver lining in this horrendous crisis: “Perhaps, in an odd way, the prospect of forced isolation may lead us to embrace a bit more gregariousness when the virus relents…I can guess, though, that liberation will feel sweet when it comes, not only because people presumably will be safe but because they can be social.”
Do the best you can to help your members remain safely social during this crisis. Next week, our post will discuss ways you can help members cope with the economic impact of COVID-19. Until then, all of us here at WBT Systems wish you, your colleagues, and your loved ones a healthy week.