More Than Half the Companies in the World Don't Have a Plan to Combat the Coronavirus Outbreak - Study
Those who do have a plan in place prefer asking employees to work from home, the study revealed.
More than half the companies in the world do not have any business continuity plans in place to deal with emergencies such as the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, a recent study by global consultancy firm Mercer showed.
The report is a little surprising considering the spate of recent global health emergencies, such as the Zika virus outbreak, Ebola, MERS and SARS infections in the last decade itself, which should have prompted companies to set up business continuity plans to ensure operations run smoothly and without much impact.
"Each year, new threats to business and human life have emerged, and the ability of organizations to prepare for the unforeseen and mitigate risks has become critical," said Shanthi Naresh, Partner, India Business Leader at Mercer Career, India.
Only 24 per cent of the companies polled are only now drafting a business continuity plan, the study showed.
92 per cent of the companies that have some form of BCP in place have set remote working as their primary crisis operation mode, which also remains the official government advisory in many of the COVID-19 hot spots, the study added.
These companies, along with asking employees to work from home, have also reduced non-essential travel, particularly to areas highly affected by the virus. They've asked employees who have returned from travel to the affect areas to self-isolate, and have continued paying them for the duration of the quarantine.
As of March 5, 96,739 confirmed coronavirus cases have been reported, with 3,308 deaths.
With coronavirus still continuing to spread across the world, we've put together a handy guide on best practices companies and human resources departments should follow to help their employees stay healthy and infection-free.
Effective Communication is Key
HR departments should pull together information pertaining to the coronavirus to create a ready-to-refer instructional guide for employees that not only educates them about the viral infection, but also enlists ways to avoid it.
The communication strategy should be multi-pronged and use all channels of communication available.
"You are looking at bulletins, sticking posters on the wall, emails, chat groups, town hall, infographics, videos, and any mode of media that could help to effectively communicate the message to all employees," says Adrian Tan, a veteran HR practitioner and APAC leader of PeopleStrong, an India-based Enterprise HR SaaS platform.
Information gathered should only be from credible and verified sources, such as the page, the CDC website, and reputable news outlets that clearly attribute their information to either statements made by governmental agencies, or health professionals engaged in researching the virus.
Check out this Bloomberg story that busts some myths and highlights false information about coronavirus making the rounds online.
Implement Flexible Working Arrangement Plans, or BCP Protocols
For those in the thick of it - like countries that share a border with China, or have multiple reported cases of a coronavirus infection - allowing employees to work from home is the best way to prevent contamination given that human-to-human transmission is possible.
"By implementing flexible working arrangements, you are not just eliminating the possibility of transmission at the office but also during commute. This is especially so for densely populated cities such as Hong Kong where you are literally inches away from someone's face in the MTR during peak hours," says Tan.
This holds true for many other countries with packed urban centres as well.
"Given the better infrastructure that we have today, it is much easier to be "business-as-usual" with chat platforms, project management dashboards and other platforms that are online or on the cloud," he adds.
This might not be possible for work that is location-dependent though, but the CDC and WHO websites have laid out ways to avoid viral infections by using non-invasive implements such as face masks, alcohol-based hand sanitisers, and maintaining good personal hygiene.
Reconsider Leave Policies
The last thing a company would want is for an infected employee to turn up to work because they didn't have enough paid time off left. That not only hurts the sick employee who has had to stress him/herself out to get to work, but also their colleagues, as well as everyone and everything they encounter and touch on the way.
"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 developments in technology today, there is a suite of solutions for companies to use such that meetings, discussions and day-to-day work can go on per normal," Tan says.
For employees that are suspected of being sick, or start feeling ill during the day, particularly those that have been travelling, calling and notifying health authorities should be a priority. Fear mongering and forcing the employee into isolation, against their will, should be avoided at all costs, until advised by a medical authority.
Using Tech to Avoid Human Contact Might not be such a bad thing
Platforms that allow teams to collaborate and communicate effectively can be used during work-from-home days. Meetings can be done over Skype, Google Hangouts, or Zoom, while real-time collaborations can be done using free platforms like Collabedit.
Other HR Initiatives, Apart From Handing Out Free Masks, According to Tan
Beside provisioning free masks and sanitisers, the cleaning schedule of the office can be increased.
Senior management has to walk the talk to ensure they mask up wherever appropriate to.
Temperature taking could be incorporated so that everyone in the office would have a peace of mind and not be paranoid that their co-workers may be infected. Such information should be openly available so that employees have complete trust in the information provided.
Lastly, lunch could be catered so as to minimize employees exposure to crowded areas like the food centre.