17 Mar Doing Business in the Face of COVID-19
Coronavirus is now officially a pandemic.
In the U.S. a massive effort is on to limit the speed of the spread of the virus, to “flatten the curve” so as not to overwhelm medical facilities as is happening in other countries. “Social distancing” has entered our vocabulary. All kinds of event cancellations and school closings are now widespread. If anyone is skeptical about all this, call someone in Italy. They’ll sing you a song from the window.
An immediate concern after employees is the supply chain. It is critical to know what your suppliers are doing and to what extent supply might be interrupted. Businesses are trying to protect employees and customers while sustaining operations.
Because this type of challenge is new, businesses are scrambling. “No one has a playbook for this,” Dan Levin tells The New York Times. Levin runs a small millwork company outside Chicago.
Mindful health practices have been put into place everywhere, starting with the basic and critical admonition to wash hands. Hand sanitizer is ubiquitous. Health monitoring is being put in place and testing is rolling out. Deep cleaning and quarantine programs are being implemented.
Large companies, especially consumer companies, are in the spotlight and have declared changes to HR policies, most notably implementing paid leave for hourly workers that formerly did not have it, to encourage them to stay home if sick.
The New York Times reported Tuesday, “Now, as it spreads across Europe and Asia, the virus is becoming a more immediate threat to all types of businesses. From Milan to Berlin to London, companies in practically every industry are refining their emergency protocols or sending employees home to try to prevent an outbreak.”
Here in the U.S. companies have restricted travel, including canceling participation in conferences. Even the U.S. military has restricted travel by service members.
Apple has included hourly workers in unlimited paid leave if they develop symptoms of the virus, according to The Washington Post. McDonald’s has a new policy to pay quarantined employees of their corporate-owned restaurants for up to 14 days. It is emphasizing that employees should stay home when sick, but some states are now mandating restaurant and bar closures, and of course, the federal government has now advised against gathering in groups numbering more than ten people.
Google has a 24-hour incident response team to stay in sync with the World Health Organization (WHO). Several Google offices have shifted to work-from-home.
Microsoft, Amazon, Ford Motor, CNN, Citigroup and Twitter are putting employees through work-from-home drills, have broken out their emergency response plans and ordered increasingly stringent safety measures to protect their workers. Most should now know the drill but the CDC provides this guide (click link). CDC has also created this helpful graphic.
The value of being able to have staff work remotely has become starkly evident. Businesses are hurriedly trying to organize in that direction to the extent possible.
Organizations must make decisions, communicate them to staff, and act. And they must review developing events daily, anticipate and continue to act to protect employees, customers, and their businesses. They have to know what their suppliers are doing to continue business and whether it’s going to be enough to sustain supply to their business.
The Harvard Business Review has published an article offering ideas for companies based on learning by Chinese businesses—see it here.
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