The virus that causes COVID-19 has the potential to cause extensive outbreaks and we have already seen it in action in many countries around the world. COVID-19 is disrupting the world on a large scale. It’s dramatically changing how we live, communicate, and conduct business. Put simply, COVID-19 is changing just about everything!
Due to widespread human-to-human spread, multiple areas of different countries around the world may experience outbreaks at the same time. Once COVID-19 community transmission begins, it is difficult for government authorities to trace people who may have possibly been infected.
In such a scenario, even a temporary lockdown in a city or state, where all businesses, educational institutions, places of worship, entertainment centers, and government offices except businesses and offices that support essential services remain shut for weeks or months, cannot permanently or conclusively remove the virus from an environment. Even one silent carrier can seed new COVID-19 outbreaks!
Put simply, we are in for a long haul. Well, until there is a vaccine.
As governments around the world make large-scale interventions in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses are trying to rapidly adjust to the changing needs of their employees, customers, clients, vendors, and suppliers, while navigating a multitude of unforeseen operational and financial challenges.
Therefore, it is important for employers, business leaders, HR experts, and policymakers to understand how COVID-19 has and will affect workplaces and the various steps that employers can take to contain it.
During COVID-19 outbreaks, a high percentage of workers may be sick and unable to work.
Even if a worker has cold, cough, or fever but isn’t infected with the novel Coronavirus, s/he may be sent on leave as a precautionary measure.
In case schools or daycare centers are closed in an area, workers as primary caregivers may be unable to attend to work-related matters. They may also be caregivers for sick family members.
Workers’ participation may also drop if public transport services are affected by the COVID-19 outbreak.
94% of the Fortune 1000 companies were reportedly experiencing supply chain disruptions due to COVID-19 outbreaks back in February. Today, even supply chains in smaller geographies are adversely affected by COVID-19.
Now more than ever, the smooth functioning of the supply chain is critical. Organizations that are engaged in the supply of goods and services need to do so quickly and safely, especially when they are catering to the needs of those who –
During an outbreak, supply chain disruptions are likely at both the global and local levels. Shipment of goods from an area hit by COVID-19, for example, may be delayed or even canceled with or without prior notification. Therefore, key participants in the supply chain, including direct stakeholders and facilitators, will have to be prepared to deal with such disruptions.
Supply chain organizations, while striving to meet the unprecedented demand for goods and services, need to rapidly adjust their operations, adapt to new changes, and look after the health and welfare of their employees, supply chain workers, and communities they operate in.
The COVID-19 pandemic presents a serious and unprecedented threat to businesses across the world.
Business process functions across most industry sectors are severely disrupted due to the pandemic crisis. The impact on business operations can be much worse in the near future as the vast majority of organizations are poorly equipped to deal with a crisis of this scale.
Gartner recently conducted a Business Continuity Survey that indicates just 12% of organizations are well prepared to deal with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. An Operations Survey by Accenture and Oxford Economics indicates that approximately 32% of senior executives never bothered to update their operating models.
In order to ensure business continuity, organizations must respond rapidly and robustly.
The COVID-19 pandemic will affect all aspects of day to day business operations but organizations must identify priorities and set their eyes on critical processes. For example, functions such as employee payroll, supply chain, customer service, and employee healthcare should be top priorities. If a virtual taskforce has been set up to tackling issues related to productivity, quality, compliance, insights, collaboration, people management, etc., it should be provided with necessary direction and enough latitude to get things in motion.
All employers need to understand how to reduce workers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19 in the workplace.
A well-thought-out COVID-19 preparedness and response plan can guide protective actions against the virus. Employers need to stay abreast of advisories from national, regional, or local health agencies, and consider how to incorporate various recommendations and best practices into workplace-specific plans for combating the spread of COVID-19.
Key considerations for such a plan are:
Employers should develop policies and procedures for quick identification and immediate isolation of sick people. After all, one COVID-19 carrier can potentially infect all co-workers in an office or a factory within a day.
Employers should inform and encourage all their employees to self-monitor symptoms of the Novel Coronavirus. Workers who suspect possible exposure to the virus cannot take cold, cough, or fever lightly.
To make sure workers don’t have to choose between getting paid and reporting illnesses to their supervisors, HR Department leadership may need to tweak their PTO (Paid Time Off) policies during an outbreak.
Where possible, employers should have policies and procedures ready for isolating workers who exhibit COVID-19 related signs and symptoms. HR professionals and supervisors should be trained on how to safely implement such procedures.
Potentially infectious workers, even if they have not yet tested positive or haven’t been tested with a rapid COVID-19 detection kit at a local laboratory or a dedicated COVID-19 assessment facility, should be moved to a location away from the main place of business activity. Such workers shouldn’t come in touch with other workers, customers, and visitors.
Although most workplaces do not have isolation rooms/halls, designated areas of a building/factory with closable doors can serve as temporary isolation centers until potentially infectious workers can be removed from the worksite and sent home (or to the hospital), as per the directions of federal, state or local health agencies.
Stopping the spread of COVID-19 after community transmission is extremely challenging for governments, healthcare agencies, law enforcement agencies, and organizations all put together.
The total number of infected people in a city can increase exponentially within a week even if there is just one COVID-19 hotspot. Such a hotspot can be in a factory or a corporate office where unsuspecting workers mingle together at meetings, use community amenities, or do not follow COVID-19 hygiene protocols.
Some of the most important steps that employers can take to prevent community transmission of COVID-19 are:
The Coronavirus pandemic has led to an unprecedented crisis. But there is always light at the end of a tunnel. Like doctors, researchers, policymakers, sanitation workers, law enforcement officers, and others on the front line, employers, too, can make a valuable contribution to the global fight against COVID-19.