As financial markets reel upon news of the pandemic, you as a leader can respond to the spread of the coronavirus with calm rationality. “Giving a sense of calm is important if there is an outbreak,” said John Beattie, whose consultancy analyzes companies’ ability to handle an outbreak of infectious disease. “Employees should feel like they’re in good hands with management and that managers are concerned about them.”
Even if your business is in a region with no current cases of the virus, the time to plan for it is now. According to Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen anymore, but rather more of a question of exactly when this will happen and how many people in this country will have severe illness”.
Preparation will go far to avoid miscommunication and disruption for both your staff and clients.
Priority #1: Health and Safety
The first priority should be the health and safety of your firm’s staff. Communicate the following pillars of health during this pandemic:
1) Remain at home if you have respiratory symptoms or a fever.
2) Cough into tissues or your elbow.
3) Wash your hands often for 20 seconds with soap.
4) Don’t touch your face.
This is also a good time to focus on office hygiene: stock up on sanitizer and disinfectant supplies. Encourage your employees to wipe down high traffic areas such as door knobs, copiers, water fountains, keyboards, and printers.
We are social creatures, but limit interpersonal contact at this time in order to stay healthy. Compared to a high-five, a handshake spreads nearly twice as many bacteria. Some companies have urged staff to forego handshakes in lieu of an elbow or fist-bump greeting – or a simple “hello”.
Update Your Remote Work Policy
The medical community encourages “social distancing,” so employees who can work remotely should do so. “The great companies of the world will start policies for employees to work from home,” says CBS News contributor Dr. David Agus. Twitter, Amazon, and other large companies now encourage telecommuting.
Here, clear communication is key. Who can work from home effectively? As a leader, what are your expectations? “A lot of managers believe that if someone is home they’re just watching, ‘I Dream of Jeannie’ all day,” said Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at Wharton. “What that forces you, as a manager, is to think about what do we really want you to do this week, how are we going to see that, how are we going to check in.” Be sure to establish your expectations around technology use at home. Will your company provide the technology for remote work? Or, should employees use their personal computers?
During this pandemic, don’t penalize workers if they are not at their desks when they are sick or if they can’t get to work due to interrupted public transit or school closings. Some companies have a culture of pride of showing up at the office no matter what. This is not the time for that. As a leader, “Don’t put people in a position where they are worried about their paycheck or income, because that may drive people to go out when they are sick, which won’t be good for them or the community.” said Danielle Ompad, an associate professor of epidemiology at the New York University School of Global Public Health.
Reality check: if there are members of your staff who are healthy and crucial for your business to run, they may be required to come in. If possible, offer staggered commute times for these individuals in order to limit the number of people in the same space at any one time.
Business Travel Strategies
Many firms have curtailed business travel, especially to countries such as China and Italy. Large industry events such as the Mobile World Congress in Spain and the London Book Fair have been cancelled.
Are upcoming conferences in your field cancelled or will they carry on in spite of contagion fears? If the latter, offer your team the option to forego an event with large crowds.
As your company implements its guidelines around business travel, turn to technology to ease disruption. Tools like Zoom, Skype, and Slack can help your team communicate and collaborate, even from disparate time zones. Train employees on these tools, as well as video conferencing technology, as soon as possible in order to iron out any kinks.
Check the CDC website each day to receive updates regarding the coronavirus. To conquer fear and confusion, ensure there is a way to communicate with all your employees no matter their location. The Edelman Trust Barometer has found that people trust their employers more than other social messengers – over business in general, government, media and NGOs by 20-point margins.
No matter what happens with the coronavirus, your preparation for any eventuality is a useful exercise for the future. It proves that your steady leadership will steer your firm through this crisis and beyond.
Let’s talk. Schedule a 20-minute call to discuss your needs and determine whether a consulting program is right for you or your company.
Carson serves as a consultant to executives at Fortune 500 companies. The author of Work Simply: Embracing the Power of Your Personal Productivity Style, her views have been included in Bloomberg Businessweek, Fast Company, Forbes, Harvard Business Review blog, and The New York Times.