As we navigate the vastly unchartered territory of a global viral outbreak, one thing is for certain, complacency won’t steer the ship of economic uncertainty towards security for our businesses and employees. Indeed, let’s not overlook the fact that the impact on business is a downstream function of the impact on our usual way of life. Whilst nations are reliant on governments and policymakers to communicate guidance, there is much that we can do in the meantime as responsible employers, to manage and mitigate the risks and potential damage to our people, our businesses and our livelihoods.
Those companies that are ahead of the curve, are already putting together crisis teams comprising of key functions such as Operations, Communications and HR to develop Business Response Plans. Such plans will explore how the business model can be modified in the short term so that key activities can continue, no matter the scale of the potential effect of the virus on our workforce, supply chains and community at large. We know that acting collectively in a co-operative manner is how we will impede the spread and impact of this new pathogen. Involving employees in developing Business Response Plans will contribute to the soundness of the plan whilst empowering all those concerned to share responsibility for its successful execution.
A Business Response Plan will need to consider a range of issues, some of which might include:
• Guidance on what to do and who to notify if infected or exposed to someone who is
• Protocols for reducing transmission amongst employees and for identifying and protecting those most at risk
• Reviewing HR policies to ensure consistency with legislation whilst seeking to address whether provisions related to pay are adequate or could be enhanced under the circumstances
• Addressing whether practices such as flexible hours, remote working, job sharing can be implemented and for which roles or members of staff
• Reviewing business practices that may need to be altered or temporarily suspended in order to maintain critical operations
• Identifying essential business functions, key roles or personnel required to maintain business operations
• Implementing measures to deal with potential increased employee absences, such as identifying those employees who can be cross-trained to perform essential functions in the absence of key personnel
Once ready, the plan will need to be communicated and shared with all employees. No doubt employees will have concerns and questions, not least around whether the business will be so affected that their pay or even their jobs could be in jeopardy. Certain questions may be easily answered where policy has been established, but the financial consequences will take time to understand. Regular updates and opportunities for discussion are essential tools in managing morale and keeping employees engaged. The key though is to consider the potential impact and to act now, before the crisis escalates and creates more panic. Early indications are that this virus is going to be with us for the long term and until an efficacious treatment (such as a vaccine) can be developed to stem the spread, businesses will need to ensure that their plans are robust enough to weather the storm.