The coronavirus outbreak, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December 2019, has been causing widespread panic. Despite continued efforts to contain the Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, epidemic, it has already claimed thousands of lives in various countries. Even though the outbreak has slowed in China, it is gaining momentum in other countries including the U.S. According to the World Health Organization, there are now more new cases of coronavirus infections outside of China than inside.
In addition to threatening the health and safety of people everywhere, the outbreak is causing a global economic slowdown. As a result, it is becoming crucial for businesses to outline a contingency plan should the epidemic reach their doorsteps. Apart from ensuring the wellbeing of their employees, business owners should also take preventive measures to maintain business continuity.
Irrespective of the nature and location of your business, you aren’t immune to the repercussions of the epidemic. Here are a few steps you can take to minimize its impact:
1. Share Vital Information
The best way to protect your employees from the epidemic is to educate them about it. You should share daily updates about the outbreak and how it might affect them. Make sure every update from a credible official source such as WHO before sharing it. The last thing you want is to alarm your employees by spreading fake news or false information.
Additionally, you should prepare a Q & A document that outlines the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19. Make sure it includes common symptoms, precautionary steps, and personal hygiene guidelines. You can also include links to other resources where people can get more information. Apart from sending this FAQ document online, you can also take printouts and display them in common areas such as hallways, cafeteria, etc.
You can also use an emergency notification system to send regular alerts to employees. In addition to disseminating information about the outbreak itself, you should update employees about the emergency response plan. It will help them determine the best course of action should they or their colleagues fall sick. To help you in your search, we've created a complete guide on emergency notification systems to help you choose the right one.
It is also essential to communicate with other stakeholders, such as customers and vendors. For instance, you should update customers about any potential delivery delays that might be caused due to supply chain disruptions. It is also recommended that you inform them about the steps you are taking to prevent contamination of your products and packaging.
2. Embrace Remote Working
As schools and daycare centers shut down temporarily, employees with children might be unable to come to the office. Moreover, certain employees will consider self-isolation to protect themselves from the epidemic. Continuing normal business operations in such a scenario might be challenging. An effective way of coping with this situation is to introduce flexible remote-work policies.
The key is to equip your employees with the necessary tools and resources to let them work from home when required. You should also use multi-channel mass notification software that enables employees to stay connected outside the office. It might be a good idea to provide them with handy work-from-home kits that include essential stationery, such as letterheads, cheques, visiting cards, etc.
It isn’t enough to outline a remote-work policy on paper. You should test the plan before the need arises. Consider asking all your employees to work remotely for a day. Identify the challenges and loopholes and develop new strategies to resolve them. It is also essential to handhold your employees as they navigate the uncharted territory of working from their living space.
This is also a good time to cross-train your employees. Encourage them to diversify their skills beyond the scope of their current work. It helps ensure business continuity even when key employees become unavailable due to an illness. Likewise, you should build a core team that can make vital decisions and run the show if senior-level executives fall sick.
3. Revise Leave Policies
Does your official leave policy allow employees to be absent from work for long stretches? In the absence of sufficient sick leaves, an employee might be forced to show up at work despite being sick. This can compromise the safety of other employees and disrupt your business operations altogether.
That is why it is crucial to revise the existing employee leave policies. It is recommended that you remove the traditional cap on sick leaves. This will allow sick employees to stay at home without the fear of jeopardizing their paycheck.
4. Restrict Travel Plans
Depending on the scale and nature of your business, your employees might be required to travel intermittently. This is a good time to take a look at your employees’ calendars and identify their upcoming travel plans. Make sure they don’t have to attend meetings or conferences in any country or region impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.
The idea is to restrict any non-essential international and domestic travel. Moreover, it is recommended that you keep a tab on your employees’ travel plans. If they have returned after enjoying a holiday in a foreign country, you should advise them to get a thorough medical checkup.
5. Review Your Supply Chain and Cash Flow
Apart from claiming human lives, a major impact of the coronavirus outbreak has been on international supply chains. Do your business operations rely on raw materials or physical components from foreign countries? Are any of your suppliers based out of countries impacted by the epidemic? You should delve deep into your supply chain and identify the potential issues that could arise if one of your vendors becomes unavailable.
You should also compile a list of alternate suppliers who can be contacted in case of an urgent requirement. It is equally important to determine the financial impact of broken supply chains. For instance, a lack of adequate raw materials could halt the production process and bring your business to a standstill. This, in turn, will adversely affect your revenue.
That is why you should analyze your existing cash flow budgets and reduce overheads wherever possible. You should also determine the extent to which this will affect your ability to pay salaries, rent, loan installments, and other bills.
In today’s close-knit global economy, no business is immune to the impact of the coronavirus outbreak. Even if the epidemic hasn’t reached your city, sooner or later, it might come knocking at your door. Instead of wondering if your business should prepare for the pandemic, you should determine when and how.
As the outbreak continues to spread, business owners should adopt flexible work-from-home policies. It is also essential to allow extended sick leaves. Analyze your supply chains and identify alternate suppliers to prevent your production process from coming to a standstill. Lastly, you should focus on raising awareness about the epidemic and educate employees about the best practices to protect themselves and others.
What steps is your business taking to deal with the coronavirus outbreak? Share your views in the comments section below.