Nick Whiteley, CEO at leading workforce management provider HFX explores how organisations can respond to the Coronavirus outbreak to safeguard their people and mitigate business risk.
With the spread of COVID-19 extending beyond the borders of China, the World Health Organisation has warned of the likelihood of a Pandemic – a global outbreak. Despite the hysteria, there is no need to panic, rather the need to develop a contingency plan. The possible WHO designation means that activity will move from containment (trying to identify and isolate “Patient Zero” and whoever they have come into contact) to Mitigation, slowing down the spread of the virus to reduce the impact on healthcare systems.
This is as much as a message for employers as it is for governments. In China, we saw how unprepared businesses were, and how damaging it has been, with many now teetering on bankruptcy. To be fair, Chinese businesses had no warning and very little time to react. The same cannot be said for the millions of employers outside mainland China.
So, what is your contingency plan to mitigate COVID-19 within your organisation? There is much organisations can do to help safeguard their company, employees and wider community and below are just of the mitigations that you should consider adopting in your contingency plan;
Many organisations provide for some form of home working but often this is ad-hoc. Can your systems/IT support longer periods of home working, e.g. 14 days or more? Soft/internet phones, video conferencing, internet speeds? Many Home Workers already complain that there is insufficient IT support/infrastructure put in place for home workers. Would an increase in home workers and the duration of remote working be sustainable with existing infrastructure/bandwidth?
Not all employers/employees have the luxury of home working (e.g. production plants) but there is still much that can be done;
If you operate a shift-based system, consider staggering shifts or breaks between shifts ending and starting to reduce the number of physical interactions with employees (e.g. reducing physical contact between those ending a shift and those starting). Consider staggering breaks particularly if you have a canteen to reduce the number of people congregating together. Whilst it may sound drastic, closing the canteen might be an appropriate response depending on your circumstances.
Hygiene. This is not simply a matter of communication or policy, rather adapting facilities and promoting behavioural change. What handwash do you currently provide? Consider whether alcohol gel should be provided and not just in the toilets/kitchens, but anywhere there are touchpoints. For example, some organisations use biometric (finger or hand) readers for Time and Attendance or Access Control; Consider hand sanitisers by these devices or switch to touchless biometrics such as Face or Iris readers.
Meetings. Reduce the number of physical internal and external meetings. Is it necessary for you to visit your suppliers/customers/prospects or could this be done via video conferencing? The same is true with visitors to your office. Every physical interaction is putting your business/suppliers/customers/colleagues at risk.
Temperature checks. Whilst passing the temperature test is no guarantee that a colleague is not infected, it will identify those who are unwell and who therefore shouldn’t be at work. **Face masks. **If you are only now planning, then you have probably left it too late (this time) to prepare as masks are in short supply. Using the correct masks (often in conjunction with eye protectors) can help reduce the spread and protect your staff.
Protecting your business.
Resource planning. How many staff can you manage being off-sick at any one time? What will your isolation period be? 14 days is a long time – what would the impact be? Do you have a policy in place ready to activate? Do you have a procedure for onboarding agency/contingent workers?
Key workers. Have you identified key workers whose absence would have a significant impact on the business? Is there an option to upskill or segregate key staff?
Holidays. Can you actively manage holidays to reduce the number of people likely to be affected during the critical stages of the contagion?
Suppliers. Have you reviewed your supply chain and a mitigation strategy, e.g. over-stocking, alternative suppliers?
Whilst some may take a “wait and see” approach, the reality is that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Having a good contingency plan will help ensure organisations are resilient when a pandemic occurs. Note the keyword here is “when” not “if”. The WHO has said it’s simply a matter of time before the next Pandemic occurs and given constant population and travel increases, the time between pandemics may even shorten (the last pandemic – H1N10 – was in 2009).
The UK government published its latest National Risk Register in 2017. The likelihood of a Pandemic within the next 5 years was high and its impact the greatest of all potential natural/accidental disasters within the UK.
Whether COVID-19 will turn out to be a pandemic is still a matter of debate, but even if a COVID-19 pandemic doesn’t materialise, what it has proved is the need for businesses to have an actionable business contingency plan for when such event occurs.