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How Organizations are Tackling Coronavirus: What We Can Learn For the Future

Emily Black | FEB 15, 2020

 

If you’re reading this it’s likely that you’re either a formal Crisis Manager at a midsized company, or the de facto emergency preparedness person in a smaller team. Crisis or emergency management may not be your standard day-to-day role. Perhaps you are HR or in an administrative position, but find yourself being the default subject matter expert when it comes to how your company responds to events like the latest pandemic of COVID-19 (the official name for the recent coronavirus that has spread internationally).

COVID-19 has emergency teams and crisis professionals across many industries and disciplines putting their heads together to share the latest methodologies, technology, and procedures to help companies recover more quickly during and after an event. Sharing best practices is the name of the game in emergency planning, so we’ve combined our best practices with those of other emergency management leaders and industry organizations like the Business Recovery Managers Association to share with you.

Whether your company is just starting out or is already huge on a global scale, the threat posed by COVID-19 should be taken seriously, even if you do not have assets in China. If your company does not have an official Emergency Manager yet, take this time to start the conversation of who might be best suited to that role. Use this opportunity to start or improve your emergency procedures and answer the question of “what would we do if XYZ happened?”

Redfora has broken down the myriad ways that companies respond to any potential crisis into three easy-to-understand portions: provide communication, policy, and the physical needs of your office.

1) Providing Communication

Communication from the company to its employees should be clear and concise. Thinking about the culture of your company will affect what tools you use to pass along information. Some companies have set up dedicated Slack channels so that information can be passed on in real time. Your executive team may decide it wants to host all-hands meetings, send out a daily update email, or hold video conference calls.

Whatever tools you use to communicate to the rest of the team - be sure your messaging is consistent, timely, and that you’ve set in place the standards of who is authorized to disseminate information. This will cut down on possible mixed messages or confusing the chains of command. Here are some tips for communicating company wide during a time of emergency:

  • Be proactive - If your department or others start getting questions about the Coronavirus, or if it has become a topic of informal employee conversations, then it’s time to address it.

  • Decide who is authorized to update the company as a whole on policy changes and updates - The fewer people sending company-wide bulletins the better, in the effort to keep messaging consistent and not overwhelm staff. However, it is wise, if you have a single person in this role, to have a backup or “understudy” in case the authorized communicator becomes unable to fulfill their duties.

  • Lean on trustworthy sources - Your team is reading info everywhere trying to understand the risks. Anchor yourself and your policy updates to the most trustworthy sources. Fall in line with CDC recommendations and share that when communicating with your team. John Hopkins is a trusted source for public health information, and with this latest outbreak has been able to communicate more quickly than the WHO .

  • Be upfront - Will Coronavirus be a major issue in the US? So far, there have been 12 confirmed cases in the States. If there will be more remains to be seen, and you can be honest about the lack of clarity. Being honest, practical, and applying a common-sense approach will get your message taken seriously.

  • Stamp out fear-mongering - Some people love a crisis. It’s important to talk about any situation in real terms - no sugar-coating, but also no fanning the flames of panic. Engage with concerns from rational, common-sense point of view. Do not invalidate people’s fears, but reassure them with insights as to what your company is doing to protect them, and what else they can do to keep themselves safe.

  • Provide practical actions - Give your team a reasonable action (backed by a trustworthy source) that will be helpful. Right now, it may be calling out the CDC’s reliance on increasing hygiene and reducing exposure to airborne transmission. Some companies have offered N95 Mask kits to employees that want to take additional precautions. Perhaps run a short demonstration on how to properly wear and remove masks.

    When the Ridgecrest earthquake hit Southern California last year, many of our clients ran earthquake drills, with reviewed drop, cover and hold on, shared our guides to creating personal emergency plans ( free digitally / purchase print ), and offered discounts on emergency supplies (contact us to set up for your org). Taking a precautionary action will give your team something they can control, while also encouraging them to be prepared while it’s fresh on the mind.

  • Be sure to communicate definitions. If you have a policy of asking those who have traveled to self-quarantine for 14 days before returning to the office, define what self-quarantine means. Does it just mean work from home, or do you expect those employees to remain in their home exclusively (ie: don’t go to the movies or other public spaces after work) to lessen their likelihood of exposure?

  • Don’t forget your customer - whether your company provides a service or a product, if your supply chain or service can be affected, communication with your customers is key. Be up front about delays in shipments or roll outs. You might consider communicating even if you find your employees and supply chains are not directly affected, reassuring the consumer that service will not change or be interrupted.

    2) Policy Changes

    You may not have disaster policies in place yet, or perhaps you do but want to refine how they are rolled out. Here are some things to think about regarding how your company does business normally vs. how it conducts business during a pandemic or natural disaster.

      • How does a crisis affect your day-to-day company policies? Can employees work from home? Do you put a hold on all international travel? What about those employees who are currently away on business, do they shelter in place or return to their home countries? If they return home, should they self quarantine for the suggested 14 days to ensure they do not become symptomatic? Many companies also have “essential” (sometimes referred to as “critical”) personnel and those considered “non-essential.” During an emergency, are non-essential employees excused from working on-site?

      • How does your company handle work-from-home situations? It’s not always as simple as “bring your laptop home.” During an information sharing webinar hosted by BRMA , we learned that companies with offices based in certain areas of Asia have employees who do not have access to home wi-fi, and as such, were attempting to gain online access for their work laptops using their cell-phones as hot-spots. This raised a question of phone plan reimbursement.

      • Do you have special emergency policy plans in place? Many companies use color coding systems so broad changes in policy are easily communicated. For example: Code Yellow might mean “reduce travel to critical business flights, all employees currently traveling abroad are accounted for, and local employees all work from home.” Code Orange might mean “all flights to the affected area are cancelled, all non-local employees evacuate the area and all local employees are to work from home with the option to also evacuate. Those colors are more easily communicated than sending out several sets of updated policies, especially where a situation can escalate quickly.

      • Do you have disaster pay for employees who are affected? How does your company handle health coverage or care for anyone affected? How does this affect your PTO policies surrounding “sick time.”

      • Do your cyber security policies change? Cyber attacks often take advantage of the widespread fear during a disaster to gain access to proprietary knowledge. Do access permissions tighten? Do you require VPNs to be used on work computers used off site?

      • If your product is made in an affected country, do you reach out to governing bodies for regulatory filing deadline extensions or reprieve? Are there insurance policies your company holds that are affected by the current emergency?

      • Have your supply chains been disrupted? Do your second or third tier suppliers have pandemic plans?

      • Are you checking with your company’s peers or competitors? Share your best practices with others in your same industry, even if they’re often thought of as a competitor. Often times, during a crisis, the more information you arm everyone with, the faster it improves everyone’s safety. Now is not the time to withhold information if your team has a particularly effective strategy for dealing with the current emergency.

        3) Physical Needs

        Sometimes, even in the event of an emergency, the show must go on and some staff members may need to report to the office. If that is the case, supporting your team’s physical needs for increased hygiene, security, and protection is crucial. Checking your supplies, talking with janitorial teams and other companies in your building now sets your office up for smoother operations during future emergencies.

          • How is your company attending to the physical needs of those who work in the affected area or who must still come into the office? Are you sharing the work space with other companies, or is the building occupied only by your company and related janitorial or security staff?

          • Increase visible signage and hygiene protocols. Have you increased the number of times the janitorial staff cleans shared spaces like elevators, bathrooms, and lobbies? Pay special attention to things like elevator buttons and door handles. Could you add free-standing hand sanitizer stations to high traffic areas as well? Perhaps also providing antibacterial wipes for people to clean items in their personal area like keyboards and landline handsets more frequently.

          • Roll out “social distancing” protocols. Encourage face to face meetings to change to video conference if possible. If a meeting was supposed to occur in an affected country or area, consider moving it to another location instead. Wear masks during in person meetings. Avoid shaking hands - to Americans this may seem rude, but a quick explanation often remedies any misunderstanding.

          • Take inventory of what personal protection equipment you have on hand and what you should stock up on. Naturally this works best if done BEFORE things like masks and gloves are bought up in the panic caused by an outbreak. There may be shortages of certain items, and some vendors increase pricing when demand outpaces their stock. Redfora can still send out orders of PPE during an emergency, and we do not increase pricing during times of crisis. Do you keep gloves, masks, and sanitizer in stock at all times? How does your company disseminate these to employees on an individual level? How is a running inventory kept and by who? Are supplies rationed? Do you have a few supplies like masks or an entire emergency kits ?

          • Are you screening employees who come to the office? How about visitors? Many companies have tightened outside visits to a select list of important clients or collaborators. Others have hired on third party wellness center contractors to screen the temperatures of employees upon entering a building. If your company isn’t the only one in the building, is this a cost that the other tenants would be willing to share with your company in the interest of all involved?

            Redfora is always happy to discuss the policies we have in case of emergency, and will continue to share information and best practices as  COVID-19 evolves and other global situations arise. Crisis management and emergency preparedness can feel scary or overwhelming to a quickly growing company.

            This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it gives salient ideas both to established crisis teams, and gives newly minted (or de facto) Emergency Managers a broad overview of what types of policies and planning other companies have successfully put in place. Use this article as a “cheat sheet” to think about starting an emergency plan, or to discuss where your existing procedures and policies could use a tune up. Taking the time to start the conversation with others on your team, or to improve procedures already in place, benefits everyone in our communities.