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Perspectives

Contending with the COVID-19 Pandemic: Keeping Your Business Running & People Healthy

2020-03-17


How well an organization weathers the effects of the COVID-19 outbreak will depend a great deal on how effectively it cares for its employees. Business continuity planning and execution should therefore pivot around helping employees manage their anxieties with high-quality information about the virus, effective preventive measures, and how the business intends to operate during uncertain times.

Most business disaster simulation and continuity planning centers on finite events with well delineated beginning and end points. Floods, fires and windstorms do their damage; then the cleanup begins in relatively short order. In contrast, the duration and impact of the Coronavirus, or COVID-19, is not clear. Uncertainty can lead to anxiety and a sense of helplessness for many people.

Helping employees understand that they do have control over their response to COVID-19 and that they can protect their health is key to minimizing fear — ironically, a highly contagious emotion — and maintaining emotional equilibrium. This is true for the business, too: Forming a plan, then taking steps to ensure continued operations and gather intel about how employees and customers respond to new workflows, provide positive focal points for business continuity.

One key to instilling a sense of control is ensuring your employees have access to frequently updated, high-quality science-based data about the virus. While information about the Coronavirus changes daily, many initial assertions are standing up to research. The biggest takeaway is people can protect themselves from the virus with simple, highly effective personal hygiene practices (see figure below).

Being transparent about how the business will maintain operations also helps alleviate uncertainty. View your continuity plan as a living, breathing document; it’s possible the negative consequences of COVID-19 that demand new work processes and KPIs could become operational positives.

Business continuity planning & execution

Here are some considerations specific to the COVID-19 situation:

  • Have departments map out what lines of succession to follow if team or function leaders became ill or must quarantine themselves at home.

  • Begin cross-training employees on key tasks — think about workflows and whether any single person has critical knowledge that should be shared about how work gets done.

  • If someone in the office becomes ill, have a clear plan ready about who the person should call, where the person should go, how they will get there, and what the organizational response will be (disinfect area, keep co-workers home, etc.).

  • Make it clear there will be no penalties for employees with coughs who stay home or those with compromised immune systems or other risk factors who feel more comfortable working from home.

  • Consider a policy for employees who do become ill that requires them to stay home two weeks past the date of their last clearly negative COVID-19 test to ensure the virus has fully cleared their system. Current testing is not as reliable as our science advisors would like, so this step is an extra failsafe.

  • Quickly spin up training programs for employees unaccustomed to working remotely or managing meetings or client presentations via teleconference.

  • Ensure employees, where possible, are well equipped to work from home; also provide extra IT support for setting up home workstations. Test internet connectivity and bandwidth use implications; the connections will only be as good as the weakest link, such as a low-bandwidth home plan or a phone used as a mobile hotspot.

  • Fully think through what it means to work from home — from mobile devices, security, personal images/artwork, etc.

A purposeful, people-first approach

While thinking through these issues, also take the following simpler steps to show your employees, partners and customers that you take their health seriously:

  • Frequently clean and sanitize break rooms, lunch and coffee stations, cafeterias, conference rooms and all common areas.

  • Place reminder notices around the office, common areas and restrooms to encourage and reinforce good personal hygiene, including no handshakes or unnecessary touching.

  • Offer support mechanisms such as rewards programs (in partnership with online retailers) so employees can purchase groceries and other necessities online and have them delivered.

  • Provide customers and partners with reciprocal support, such as being flexible when appropriate by easing requirements, late fees, etc.
  • Be upfront with employees about how the illness behaves. Key facts include:
    • About 80% of the people who get COVID-19 have mild cases.
    • People under the age of 20 don’t seem to get the illness very often.
    • While virus can be hard to distinguish from the common cold or flu, it often presents as a fever without a stuffy nose, so a good thermometer is useful.
    • No vaccine or treatment currently exists for COVID-19, though some antiviral drugs used for other flus may have some effectiveness. Over-the-counter fever reducers like acetaminophen will help most COVID-19 sufferers feel better, though they should remain at home until their physicians certify they are clear of the virus.

 

The lasting impact

Companies that adopt measures such as increased videoconferencing and working from home may find many employees are more productive using these tools. Think about how to capture data on the impact of these measures. The longer “temporary” measures go on, the more likely it is that the effective ones will have lasting effects on travel, training, budgeting, customer relations, etc. For example:

  • If salespeople turn out to be even more effective using tele-channels to meet with customers and prospects, this could redefine “essential” travel and lead to reduced ongoing travel budgets.

  • Conversely, the experiment could show in-person contact is essential.

The aforementioned measures may calm and empower employees by providing an important feeling of control — we are not powerless against the virus. This is especially critical for companies with “service supply chains” heavily dependent on their employees’ emotional health and behavior.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives organizations the opportunity to experiment and study new ways of working that might inform future business continuity planning and affect operations and workflows once the virus’s impact diminishes.

While the COVID-19 endgame is not clear, giving people the tools to effectively manage its potential impact on their personal and professional lives will aid individual and organizational well-being. Through frequent and transparent communication and proactive strategies for managing employee, customer and partner well-being, organizations can manage through the crisis and emerge prepared for whatever comes next.

The advice contained in this article was provided by Bryan Hill, Cognizant VP of Digital Health & Innovation; Robert Molina, AVP Cognizant Security Services; William Green, Founder, Managing Partner at TD International; and Dr. Michael Manyak, TDI’s medical advisor.

Visit our COVID-19 resources page for additional insights and updates.

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Contending with the COVID-19 Pandemic: Keeping Your Business Running & People Healthy