On 30 January 2020, the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern and on 27 February 2020, the Australian Government activated its emergency response plan, operating on the basis the virus is a pandemic.
With new cases emerging daily and the virus present on all continents except Antarctica, many are preparing for ‘when’ the virus starts spreading more deeply throughout the population, not ‘if’.
This article presents some essential factors organisations could consider to ensure they help prevent the spread of the virus and are well positioned to continue operating during and after a significant outbreak.
Some links to external resources are provided to help or provide a reference point. Readers should exercise caution and judgement as to the suitability of any such material giving consideration to their own circumstances and that of the local conditions at the time of reading.
Look out for your stakeholders, including staff and customers
Communicate personal hygiene advice
Display posters advising on best hygiene practices to minimise the spread and contraction of germs. Appropriate locations include restrooms, kitchens and meeting areas.
A range of ready to print posters are available for download from the Victorian Government’s Department of Health and Human Services’ website under the More Information and Resources section.
Provide appropriate personal hygiene products
Ensure that sufficient handwashing and hand sanitation supplies are available. These includes soap and disposable hand towels.
Thorough hand-washing with soap and water is recommended, but if that is not possible hand gel with a minimum of 60% alcohol content is a suitable alternative according to The Guardian.
Request full recovery before return to work
Encourage staff who get sick to stay home and recover. This reduces the risks of transmission of the virus to co-workers, customers and other stakeholders.
Remember employees may need to care for dependants as well
Employees with children, disabled and older or frail dependants may need to take time off to care for others.
Consider the ramifications of government imposed shut-downs of schools and other public places on your workforce’s ability to continue working.
Policy & Process
Be prepared for disruption
Adapt policies and processes to minimise virus exposure and transfer
Through the temporary adjustment of existing policies and processes, or the introduction of new ones, the impacts of the virus could be reduced.
For example, relaxing the need for sick notes. People visiting doctors’ surgeries for the sole purpose of obtaining a note could contribute to increased strain on the health system as well as spread of the disease. People should still be advised to seek appropriate medical help if they show symptoms or feel unwell.
Other policies to consider reviewing include those that can limit the movement and gathering of people to reduce the chances of exposure and spread, such as travel, working from home and meetings.
Create or review Business Continuity Plan and consider executing a dry run
Business disruptions are not limited to epidemics and pandemics. Cyberattacks, fires, storm damage, equipment failure, restricted or cessation of fuel supplies, restricted or cessation of raw material supplies and loss of key customers can all create sudden and unexpected disruption. It is advisable that all organisations have a Business Continuity Plan (BCP) so that they can continue to operate during times of unplanned disruption.
Elements of a good BCP may need to be executed or be referenced depending on how the impacts of the disease unfold, these include:
- Human resource management
- Process and business functions
- Supplier and customer management
Enterprise Singapore has published a Guide on Business Continuity Planning for COVID-19.
The Queensland Government has published a Business Continuity Planning template.
Weaknesses in BCPs are not always obvious until they are executed for real. It is therefore advisable to war game before it’s enacted in a real-life situation. The lessons learnt can be invaluable to ensuring success in future.
Review remote working system capabilities
For many industries, the option to have staff work remotely to provide some or all of its services is an option.
Ensure that remote working systems have been trialled with realistic numbers of users, if not the entire workforce, concurrently connected to flush out any weaknesses. This is particularly important if an organisation’s internet connection is required to facilitate high bandwidth and large file transfers, including video conferencing.
Legal & Finance
The devil is in the detail
In the event of inbound business reducing, revenue may decline, but financial obligations to staff, suppliers and other stakeholders may continue to require expenditure. Remain vigilant of available funds and remember that it is illegal to trade whilst insolvent.
Review contractual commitments
Consider what contractual obligations your organisation has, both as a supplier and a receiver of goods and services. In the event of changes to trading, how do contracts potentially leave you exposed? It may be prudent to put contingency plans in place.
Review insurance coverage
Insurance coverage is available for a range of circumstances and events. It is advisable to consider what coverage you have, what you could benefit from and also to understand the fine print. Further discussion on this topic can be found in this article from the National Law Review.
Do you have any other recommendations for matters organisations should consider in the face of a pandemic? If so, please feel free to leave a comment below.