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The World Health Organization officially labeled COVID-19 a pandemic, but they still believe it can be contained with aggressive action.Nineteen US states have declared a state of emergency, and several major events have been cancelled in an effort to slow the spread.Companies should have an emergency contingency plan in place, which is a comprehensive set of procedures that helps business leaders face a variety of challenges.A contingency plan for COVID-19 should include ways to prevent the spread, how to transition to isolation status, and how to respond if an employee has symptoms or is presumptive positive for the virus.Click here for more BI Prime stories.
COVID-19, the novel virus more commonly referred to as coronavirus, has affected more than 127,000 people around the world and killed over 4,700. These numbers keep climbing. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 is officially a pandemic. The entire country of Italy — 60 million people — is on lockdown due to how quickly the virus is spreading there.Cases have surpassed 1,300 in the US, where COVID-19 has killed 38 people. In response to an uptick in cases, at least nineteen states have declared states of emergency, and a number of large-scale gatherings, such as SXSW and Coachella, have been cancelled or postponed.Though we’ve reached pandemic levels, WHO still believes that COVID-19 can be contained with aggressive action. If you’re in a leadership position at your company, the time to implement your emergency contingency plan is now. If you don’t have one of those, we’ve outlined what they are and some tips on putting one together.An emergency contingency plan is a comprehensive set of procedures businesses put in place in case they experience an event that could impact operations or employee well-being. This could range from a data breach to a natural disaster, like a tornado, to a high-level executive suddenly leaving.
A plan like this “empowers employees to respond quickly and effectively to an evolving disaster or emergency incident,” explained Patrick Hardy, creator of the Disaster Hawk disaster preparedness app.
According to Janet Phillips, vice president of people at tech company Kong, the main components of an emergency contingency plan include:A designated emergency response team, including people who are trained in evacuating staff from the building safelyA list of predefined scenarios that may require a rapid and/or sustained responseA comprehensive communications process for notifying and updating staff, customers, and partners about the emergency
“Every company needs an emergency contingency plan because each company, regardless of its size or where it’s based, could potentially face [different types of] emergencies,” said Phillips. Start off by making a list of key risks the company could face, along with their possible impact. What events and scenarios could interrupt everyday operations? What functions and departments would be most impacted, and how? Map out every possible outcome.For example, if the whole building loses power, every employee who works there will be affected. Wireless internet won’t work, severely hampering external communications. Parts of the office will be poorly lit, and the air conditioning or heat will shut off.
Once you have your comprehensive list, create a plan of action for each scenario. For the example above, a few things you’d want to think about are:If your office building has a generator and whether or not you have access to itWho owns and maintains the building and how to contact themHow long you want to wait to see if the power kicks back on How employees should do their work if the power doesn’t come back onThis should be a discussion among key business leaders in an effort to make sure your team thinks of every possible scenario, impact, and solution.When the contingency plan is complete, share it with staff. Transparency is key to forging trust and making sure employees feel safe and know what to do. The last thing anyone wants to be doing during an emergency is, well, trying to figure out what they should be doing.Since this plan could change, the best way to share it is on a company intraweb where it can be easily updated. To increase the chances of all employees knowing it exists and exactly where it is, require managers to discuss it with their direct teams.
“Managers are typically the first line of communication with employees,” shared Phillips, “so it’s quite important to establish a climate of communication and trust so topics like these can be raised and discussed. This is not the time to wing it.” COVID-19 is a rapidly developing situation, and there’s a lot we don’t know. A few things we do know, though, are: It’s spreading quite quickly, affecting hundreds of thousands of people, and it can be fatal, especially to vulnerable populations. Businesses absolutely, without a doubt, need to take aggressive action.
“When creating an action plan specifically for [an outbreak like] COVID-19,” explained Jeanniey Mullen, chief innovation officer at financial services company DailyPay, “businesses must consider ways to minimize their employees’ exposure to potentially contract the virus and infect others.” According to Hardy, a COVID-19 response plan should include the following: Preparedness — taking measures to prevent an outbreak among staffIsolation — steps to take to prepare for transitioning to remote operations/if your office has to shut downActivation — the planned response if the company has an employee who tests positive for COVID-19
With all of that in mind, here are some steps you can take to build out your company’s COVID-19 contingency plan.Know exactly what to do if someone at your office tests positive for COVID-19If an employee tests positive and has been at the office, the rest of the staff in that location needs to be informed immediately. However, you should do your best to be confidential and comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. The office space should be disinfected, and any employees who worked in close proximity to the infected individual should self-quarantine at home for 14 days. If possible, the safest route would be to quarantine all employees who work at that location. Either way, the entire staff should conduct a risk assessment on themselves.Communicate clearly and regularly about the virusSource all of your updates from the CDC and WHO, and regularly check to see if your state has declared a state of emergency and, if so, what that means for your company.
Be extremely clear about any changes to any policies, encourage public health habits (like proper hand washing and sneezing into your elbow), and designate a person or a small group of people who employees can go to if they have questions about COVID-19 in relation to business operations.
“Additionally, this may seem fairly intuitive,” said Jennifer Ho, vice president of human resources at Ascentis, “but make sure your employee contact information is up to date and available virtually, as you might need to contact your employees after hours, or other times none of you are in the office.”Assess the essential functions of your business and cross-train your teamIn order for your business to continue operating, what functions can it absolutely not go without? For example, if it’s a direct-to-consumer company, you’ll likely need to ensure you can still produce and ship your product. But, perhaps you can lay low on social media efforts. Make a list of all vital tasks.If only one person can carry out a certain vital task, others need to be trained on it. If there’s only a single employee who knows how to reset the office WiFi when it acts up and she gets sick, you could end up operating sans internet for a while. Create in-depth documentation outlining exactly how to do each necessary business function. Revisit the company’s paid sick leave policyIn times like this, your current policies may be too stringent. If an employee has extremely limited sick time, they may feel discouraged from staying home, instead opting to hide their suspicions about being infected and still coming into the office. This puts everyone at risk.
“PTO and sick leave policies should be revisited to allow for potential exemptions and leniency in these kinds of situations,” Ho shared. “In doing so, employees will have the assurance they won’t be penalized for taking needed sick time, which can also reduce the spread of COVID-19.” Take note that, on March 6, Senator Patty Murray introduced a bill that would require employers to provide all workers with emergency paid sick leave during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 spread. The bill’s still pending, so keep an eye on it. Some companies, such as Walmart, have already implemented new sick leave policies themselves in response to the outbreak.Additionally, be advised that the CDC says you should not ask for a doctor’s note to prove an employee’s virus status in order to avoid putting even more stress on the country’s medical system.Implement a work-from-home policy If it’s possible for your organization to do this, it’ll be a great help for employees who are quarantined but can still work, or if the entire office or building needs to be shut down. But be clear — employees should actually be working from their house, not holed up in a coffee shop where they could catch or spread the virus. There are a number of tools companies can use these days to more easily facilitate remote working (some organizations are even making their tools free right now!).
“Remote work is more than just simply email correspondence and phone calls,” said Ho. “By leveraging the right technology, companies can keep teams engaged and productive.”Ho also suggested devising ways to establish accountability for remote workers, as expectations around availability, productivity, and time management may be different when employees work off-site. Discuss these expectations with your whole team, and decide how often and when you’ll check in during the day.Provide a working environment that’s as clean as possibleThe space you require employees to come to every day should be safe and clean. Stock up on tissues, hand soap, no-touch trash receptacles, and disposable wipes. Everyone should be washing their hands frequently and disinfecting high-touch objects regularly, and they need the resources to do so.Enforce travel guidelinesAreas with CDC travel notices should be avoided as much as possible. If there are any business trips currently planned to one of these locations, cancel them.While you can’t control what an employee does outside of the office, encourage them not to travel to any of these places. If they do, require them to self-quarantine for 14 days before coming back to the office.
At Drift, a marketing platform company, all employees have been asked to let leadership know about their international travel plans.
“We’re requiring any employees who return from travel to China, Taiwan, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, Iran, and Italy to work from home for two weeks prior to returning to the office,” said Drift’s Chief People Officer Dena Upton. “This includes flight layovers and applies if a member of an employees’ household has traveled to those countries.”Devise backup plans for client meetings and conferencesAs of right now, the average incubation period for COVID-19 is five days, meaning that it could take that long for an infected person to even show symptoms. So, it’s better just to err on the side of caution and not be around a ton of people.For any in-person meetings you have with clients or vendors, opt to conduct them virtually. There are a bunch of great tools you can use that’ll allow you to video chat with others, share your screens, and show presentations and documents easily, such as Zoom, GoToMeeting, and Google Meet.Large in-person conferences and other events should be avoided right now, too. Drift’s annual conference, for example, was supposed to be in May, but has been rescheduled to September due to the pandemic.
“As a result, our demand generation team has had to pivot,” explained Upton. “We decided to partner with over 15 other members of the SaaS community to put on a free, two-day marketing and sales virtual event.”Obviously, postponing or going virtual won’t be possible in every case, but it’s worth considering so that you don’t have to cancel completely.Analyze your spending and cut costs where possibleIf your operations are interrupted, that means your revenue could be impacted. Since we have no idea what the next few weeks or months look like, you should do whatever you can to make sure you can keep paying the team you have.Are there any subscriptions you don’t need for right now? Any unnecessary perks, like unlimited seltzer and weekly office lunches? Look at every line item and see what you can eliminate, even if just temporarily. Navigating such uncertainty isn’t easy. The more prepared you and your staff are, the better. Reprioritize your current tasks so that creating and implementing an emergency contingency plan is at the very top of your list.
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