Prepared for Unprecedented and Challenging Times

As government agencies around the country address the current public health emergency, communicators have been charged with developing effective and creative messaging for residents, a unique challenge to say the least. Over the next few weeks several 3CMA members will share the details and outcomes of their COVID-19 information campaigns, continuing the founding principle of 3CMA that ideas are for sharing.

By Chris Floore
Office of Public Affairs | Macon-Bibb County, Georgia

“In the time of COVID-19…”
“These are unprecedented and challenging times…”
“This is where we are right now, but it could be different tomorrow…or even later today...”

You’ve used one or all of these in just about everything you’ve written (speeches, releases, posts, tweets, etc.) or said in the past several months. Go ahead…finish nodding your heads knowingly. I’ll wait.

I’ve wanted to write something about how our daily lives have changed so much in the time of COVID-19 (see, what I did there?), but every time I sat down to write it, things changed. And then they changed again. And then they changed again. And then…well, you get the point. So maybe I’ll write something big picture and not so specific; something that can be more broadly applied to our current situation, at least until things change again. 

Our professions are actually designed for this new type of work, whether it’s spending all day at home or working split days between the office and house, all while juggling childcare, errands, household projects, last-minute media requests, remote meetings and more. 

Think about what your days were like pre-COVID. You got up early to watch the news broadcasts and take calls and emails. You got calls from elected officials and department heads following the evening news, and then followed-up media calls leading up to that night’s newscast. On the weekends, people tagged you on social media with service requests and questions about ongoing issues, and elected officials called you asking why they were tagged in posts. Reporters were working all weekend, which meant they were calling you. Meetings were held to plan for future events, and you attended meetings just to stay aware of what’s happening in your government and community.

So our lives weren’t beholden to a desk or an 8-5 schedule. We’ve already had to create a balance in our lives in order to make it all work. You purposefully put the work phone away  the moment you got home to your family at night, only checking it immediately if it rings and waiting until later to look at emails, texts and social media notifications. You have some separation between work and home.

Go ahead…finish nodding your heads. I’ll wait. 

However, in these unprecedented and challenging times (did it again…), we find ourselves at home more as we either fully shelter in place or work a modified schedule. Our kids are at home full time since schools are closed or summer break, meaning your work overlaps with their online lessons. (And don’t forget the inevitable Zoom bombs as they run into your screen in the middle of a meeting!) You also have to work around your significant other’s work schedule

Where’s the balance when your work and home life are happening at the exact same time in the exact same location and not just sometimes blending into the other? Here’s what I found worked for me in the initial weeks. But this was only for that moment in time (did it again…) and has since changed as I’ve gone back to full days physically in the office. 

Wake Up First

Go ahead and get up before the rest of your family. You’ll be amazed at how much you can get done in the quiet kitchen with a cup of coffee and the morning news on in the background. You’ll be able to knock out a full round of emails, press releases and social media scheduling that should carry your communications through the morning. With those out of the way, you’ll be able to work mostly from your phone as you fix everyone breakfast and get the kids started on their work or activities.

Schedule Physical Activity

Get that walk or run around the neighborhood in every day. You’re not moving from office to office and park to park throughout the day, so make sure you get your heart rate up and get some time away from the screens. It will help keep you focused on juggling all the tasks in front of you. 

Take Your Lunch

You get time to go to lunch while in the office, so why wouldn’t you take one at home. Close the computer, put the phone down and sit down to eat. Talk with your kids about the work they’re doing and plan out the afternoon activities. 

Reach Out to Other Communicators

You may be a solo shop or a small office, but this is something impacting communicators at all levels. Make short phone calls to your colleagues working in your community, whether it’s for schools, healthcare, universities, public health, etc. We all have a part of this response, and it can be refreshing to hear from others that they’re up against the same challenges…and for them to hear from you. 

Evenings & Weekends Belong to You

Don’t lose your evenings and weekends. Only work as you have to, just like you did pre-COVID. Just because you’re having to work from home for part or all of the day doesn’t mean you have to work ALL the time you’re at your house. 

Again…since I started thinking through this blog, my schedule changed. I was balancing working from both home and office, but now I’m now back to being physically in the office the entire day. Another week…another new normal. For those of us in this situation, I can only stress the importance of making sure the evenings and weekends belong to your family. Get home and put the phone down and do whatever it is your family needs of you. 

What we did for our professional and home lives prior to COVID-19 set us up well to juggle the ever-changing needs during the response. But you have to fight harder to find a balance. It can be hard since it’s easy to fall into the trap of working from home more, but it can be done, even in these unprecedented and challenging times.