Now in the sixth week of the acute crisis phase of COVID-19, business leaders continue to deal with fundamental challenges ranging from supply chain interruptions, declining sales, employee health concerns and the ability to stay productive. The crisis is an existential one.

As communicators, engagement experts and issues managers, we are seeing clear patterns emerge that illustrate how vital crisis preparedness has-been-in appropriately responding to the challenges of COVID-19. Organizations that have been able to mitigate the impact of the pandemic, have had meticulous business continuity planning that has accounted for the information and technology (IT) requirements of prolonged remote working situations.

Other organizations have quickly recognized the changing business environment and mobilized their teams as part of crisis response to meet the challenges of COVID-19, while many small and medium-sized enterprises are leveraging their agility to try and manage during these uncertain times.

No matter what stage an organization finds itself at this point in the pandemic, operating remotely is exemplifying the critical importance IT departments and support services are playing in day-to-day operations. Email phishing scams, hardware shortages, data breaches, and software issues are some of the many challenges organizations are struggling to overcome. As a result, the IT professional is now being asked to do more to support their organization in one of the most unpredictable business environments ever encountered.

For many employees, IT is a 1-800 number or someone who emerges periodically to replace a computer screen or deliver a new smartphone. Chief Information or Technology Officers are equally as unknown, appearing sporadically through email to deliver critical software update reminders. Regrettably, this culture of anonymity is exposing internal communication gaps that are posing significant risks to organizations at critical junctures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is important for CEOs, and Chief Information and Technology Officers to recognize the essential need to build a relationship based on trust between employees and IT team members. One of the ways to do this is by ensuring that internal communications and engagement strategies incorporate IT teams. And given the current environment, where IT is frontline with employees, there is no better time to cultivate these trust relationships. Training sessions on remote workforce online safety and cybersecurity can go a long way in highlighting the vital role IT plays in the company and the need for collaboration.

The weeks ahead will continue to test the resiliency of organizations and how their technology can withstand the current circumstances. Already, reports of increased phishing scams, ransomware attacks, and other malicious activities have tested response capabilities and secondary issues and crisis management during COVID-19. It is critical that business leaders recognize their potential vulnerabilities and take action to put in place preventative measures to reduce risk. Communicating effectively with employees can be a vital action that can help to minimize exposure to online threats and ensure businesses can continue as normal as possible during a pandemic.