Coronavirus + the Workplace: Tips for HR and Business Leaders
MAR 03, 2020
This article was updated on March 12, 2020.
Cases of COVID-19 (coronavirus) are now confirmed in all 50 states; it’s clear that the impact on people and businesses is significant; and the 24-hour news cycle is providing non-stop coverage. It’s no wonder your employees have fears and questions about coronavirus and what it means for them in the workplace.
As HR and business leaders, we must communicate openly and do everything we can to ensure the physical and emotional well-being of our teams.
Here are the communication, prevention, and planning steps that HR and business leaders can take to minimize disruption to their companies and workforces. You can also find Inspire CEO Jaime Klein sharing several of these tactics with ABC News here and here as well as on Fox5 NY.
- Make sure expert medical information is readily available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is continuously updating its coronavirus webpage. In every communication you provide to your employees regarding the illness, remind them to check the CDC for up-to-date medical information and guidance.
- Communicate openly. You want your employees to know that their safety is your top concern. Tell them and show them by sharing what precautions you are taking to make the workplace as safe as possible for everyone.
- Offer time with health insurance representatives who can answer your employees’ questions around their coverage and care options.
- Designate a multi-disciplinary team to serve as the task force for coronavirus—and all other communicable diseases, too.
- Encourage hand hygiene by reminding employees of the importance of washing their hands for at least 20 seconds after using the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing their noses. This is the #1 recommendation for preventing the spread of an airborne illness. Also place hand sanitizer throughout the office, especially in common areas like the kitchen and copy rooms. And consider hands-free trash cans, paper towel dispensers, and other supplies that reduce contact.
- Prioritize the cleanliness of your office. You may consider asking your cleaning staff to increase their visits. At a minimum, check-in with them to make sure objects like elevator buttons, door handles, phones, and shared pieces of office equipment are receiving a thorough and frequent cleaning.
- Consider a contingent travel policy that applies to employees who are returning from specific areas. For example, some of our clients have instituted a mandatory remote work period of two weeks for anyone returning from areas where coronavirus is rapidly spreading, including China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, and others. This is because the incubation period for the virus is two weeks—meaning a person could be contagious during that time, even if they do not show any symptoms.
- Require employees to stay home when they are not feeling well. And make sure your culture promotes this in practice, without fear of reprisal. If your leaders come to the office coughing and sneezing, in other words, “powering through,” your employees will take that as an example of what is expected of them. Culture is modeled from the top. Having a policy that promotes staying home when sick is not enough. Leaders must also walk the walk.
- Follow the suggestions from the CDC in preventing the spread of the flu.
- Create or update your disaster resource plan. Do you have a plan for communication, safety, travel, and other work expectations should a natural disaster, crisis, or epidemic hit? If not, now is the time to create one—whether or not it is needed specifically in managing the impact of coronavirus. If you have one already, be sure it is current.
- Update your employee policies around sick leave and remote work, including when an employee is caring for someone who is ill. Amazon, Google, Facebook and Microsoft are encouraging their Seattle-based employees to work from home while Facebook is temporarily shutting down regional offices after one of its employees has tested positive. More employees may wish to work remotely in the coming weeks to reduce their exposure. Equip your managers with a clear policy. This means thinking through your approach for employees who are not able to perform their jobs offsite, for example: restaurant workers, machine-operators, and veterinarians, among many others.
- Practice working from home. If remote working is not a part of your current workplace culture, try a practice day where employees work from home and track what’s easier and what’s more difficult when they are out of the office. JP Morgan Chase recently asked 10% of its consumer bank staff to work from home to test their remote access capabilities as part of the bank’s emergency contingency plan. You can then use the feedback you collect to make changes now and be better prepared if remote work becomes a necessity.
- Update your cybersecurity policies and programs in preparation for a greater number of employees working offsite.
- Make remote tools available to your teams. Platforms like Slack, Trello, Zoom, and Skype for Business can be very helpful to connect the team no matter where they are. If you have low-utilization plans for any of these tools—for example, a free account with Zoom that only allows for 45-minute meetings—you may want to upgrade now. In fact, Zoom stock prices have reached an all-time high in what many attribute to a surge in remote working due to the coronavirus.
SHRM provides more useful resources for managing communicable diseases that I encourage you to bookmark and reference as needed.
As HR and business leaders, it’s up to us to responsibly prepare our companies and employees for a potential crisis. Communication, prevention, and planning are the keys.
And, whether or not coronavirus significantly impacts your business, these steps will help you better manage the flu and other illnesses that we face each year.