Being prepared in the times of Coronavirus
The Coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak has sent the globalised world into an unprecedented tailspin severely disrupting day to day life and work. The virus first surfaced in China, the world’s factory, late last year, where shutdowns are impacting Indian business along with the rest of the world. Public health experts have been advocating social distancing to combat the spread.
Last week the World Health Organization officially declared it a pandemic. Entire populations are being urged or even forced not to travel, most workplaces are remaining shut in affected countries and regions, public spaces including educational institutions, malls, parks, cinemas have been advised to remain shut.
These next few weeks are going to be trying and with Coronavirus continuing to spread, it is important that companies follow best practices to avoid panic, and ensure its employees stay healthy and safe. Here are some broad guidelines which can be followed:
I. Focus on effective information dissemination:
A) Companies should put together an effective communication regarding the virus. The key message is to maintain good hygiene and not to panic. If you haven’t already done so, it will help to create an instructional guide that employees can refer to at a glance to educate about the infection, its spread and ways to avoid it. Keeping it simple is key, as since it would be coming from the organisation, employees will not take it lightly.
B) The communication can be done through a variety of mediums including emails, bulletins and posters, work chat groups etc. It may be advised to avoid a town hall or conference to disseminate the information as one of the key directives being advocated here is social distancing. However, if unavoidable holding meetings in open, well-ventilated spaces is advisable. It is always safer to choose a live telecast to employees or a video conference call to give important information.
C) Only rely on accurate sources of information. This will help stop spreading myths. All information gathered should only be from credible and verified sources, including the WHO website, or the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare website. Credible news outlets attributing information to official statements clearly should be trusted and not social media forwards that are not verified.
D) It is important to establish a point of contact in the organisation. This is a person one can reach out to in the organisation in case of any doubts regarding the virus or an emergency. In case of emergencies, it is best to have a plan in place and make sure the local public health departments or contacts are in the loop. Fear mongering and forcing the employee into isolation without adequate information should be avoided at all costs, and relevant authorities should be informed.
II. Prepare for changes in plan, emergencies & maintain hygiene:
A) There may be events scheduled and travel planned for various business activities. Goes without saying that companies should consider prohibiting or strictly limiting business travel to countries and regions that pose a high risk of transmission of the coronavirus.
It is important to keep a close tab of what events and services are being cancelled or rescheduled and to keep the relevant parties informed of the same. It is also important as an organisation to take charge of the situation and execute the decisions smoothly. Keeping customers informed about how your organisation is dealing with the situation and what they can expect will help employees handle matters more efficiently.
B) It is also important to provide the workplace with hygiene supplies including an effective antibacterial soap, hand sanitisers containing 60-80% alcohol, toilet roll(s), hand tissues, toilet seat covers etc.
Employers should also review their cleaning operations to ensure that frequently touched surfaces, such as door handles, elevator buttons, phones, keyboards, workstations and countertops are routinely disinfected. Make sure toilets are regularly cleaned and waste disposal is timely.
Employers that rely on staffing services for temporary employees (like officer assistants or security services) should ensure that those services are taking appropriate precautions for workers sent to the employers’ premises.
It is also prudent to keep the first aid kits up to date including face masks for emergencies.
C) Food is also a big part of the workplace. Limiting food sharing, strengthening health screening at the cafeteria of services and ensuring cafeteria staff practice strict hygiene is important if the office needs to remain open.
III. Social distancing, flexible work options and using technology:
A) If your company hasn’t got a flexible work option in place for employees now is a good time to put it in place. Several employees may have young children and older relatives – both among the highly susceptible groups – to watch after.
On the other hand, if you expect business to slow significantly, it may be inevitable to let employees stay home or work part-time, or you may even be considering temporarily closing your office. This lessens the risk that those exposed to the virus.
B) As a company, it will help to plan for staff absences by developing flexible attendance, work from home policies and sick-leave policies. It helps to plan for alternative ways to get work done if possible, and most importantly if anybody has not reported to work as they are ill it is the responsibility of the organisation to monitor and keep track of their health and progress to ensure that in case they are positive is there a way to contain it Employees resuming after sick leave should be requested to submit a fitness certificate from an authorised medical practitioner before being permitted to resuming office.
C) If the company is results-driven, whether the employee works from home or in the office should not matter as long as the work is being delivered. Given the advancement in technology today, there is a suite of solutions for companies to use so day-to-day collaborations and work can go on as normal. Technology platforms that allow teams to collaborate and communicate effectively can be used during work-from-home days. Meetings can be done over Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts, while real-time collaborations can be done using platforms like Slack, that have free versions. To step up, large tech companies like Microsoft and Google have both enabled free use of their premium conferencing and collaboration apps, Microsoft Teams and Google’s Hangouts Meet for the next few months to enable organisations to transition to remote work.
Industries such as manufacturing or hospitality, where employees are unable to work remotely should explore setting up an on-site medical team to screen and monitor employees.
There is no “one-size-fits-all” approach, as every employer has different operational needs. This is just the beginning of the pandemic and we are still unsure how the situation will pan out. Whether it will spiral into an all-out global recession or not it is bound to hit businesses. Employers must recognise the severity of the situation and also give employee safety the utmost importance. This includes starting to prepare for the possible impact during the year, for both the business and the organisation itself. For now, stay informed, act responsibly and be safe!
Yellow Spark can help you devise contingency plans for your organisation. To know more write to firstname.lastname@example.org
Author Profile: Deepam Yogi is an adventurer at heart, socially conscious in her gut and professionally a strategic consultant. She co-founded Yellow Spark to support organisations to build workplaces that people love being a part of. Deepam describes herself as a shy yet opinionated writer and firmly believes that most answers to complex issues lie in simple communication.