How would your business operate if half your work force were out sick? Would your business continue to function if several of your top key employees died? How many employees are cross-trained in other positions?
One threat that most preoccupies the world’s business leaders is a global COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic.
Consider some of these headlines:
- All Kentucky public and private schools to cease in-person classes for at least two weeks
- Maryland will close all schools for two weeks starting Monday
- Ohio governor closes schools Monday through at least April 3
- Utah bans large gatherings for two-week period
- Madison Square Garden and the Barclays Center could be closed for months, mayor says
- Disneyland will close due to coronavirus outbreak
- Women’s Tennis Association Tour cancels next 2 tournaments
- NCAA cancels March Madness
- NASCAR will hold races without fans
This is why you need to start asking these questions now so your business can be prepared for this pandemic. A COVID-19 pandemic will not discriminate. Everyone from the janitor to the CEO would be affected. Worst-case scenario could leave millions sick and anywhere from 5 million to 1.5 billion people dead around the world.
With markets in free-fall, major events worldwide being cancelled or postponed, and millions caught in quarantine, the economic toll on the world economy will be catastrophic. There will be major economic losses due to worker absences and interruptions in supply and delivery chains. Even a mild pandemic would have lasting effects on your business.
An economic &/or financial crash is not only possible, but is expected to be far larger than the 2008 crisis. Banking CEO’s meeting with President Trump stated the coronavirus crisis is not like a financial crisis and banks in America are solid. While I don’t want to be a scaremonger and suggest panic, I do believe you should be ready for shortages and the possibility of market closures, banking holidays and things like that. Because a global coronavirus pandemic is such a threat, current business and disaster response plans may not be adequate to deal with it.
What steps should you start to take now to prepare?
As with any worst-case scenario you should be aware of the risks and have a contingency plan in place before you need it. By planning now you will help keep your business running, your employees safe and head off possible legal issues. Some of the steps you may want to consider are:
Establish a pandemic coordinator or team with responsibilities for preparedness and response planning. Provide current coronavirus and influenza information to all employees. Identify and make available information on community resources.
Identify key essential areas and current employees responsible. Cross-train other employees in those areas so they are able to fill in for sick employees. Have written documentation for those employees filling in for others.
Identify key suppliers and alternative sources for critical materials and supplies. Increase raw material inventories to keep production going for several months. Plan for “just in time” inventory shortages. Products and inventory from Asian countries may not be available if Asian factories are shut down due to illness.
Play “what if?” What if Joe in accounting was out sick for a month? Or Sam in IT died? Who could fill in, how would the business run? It is estimated that between 30-60% of the workforce will be out sick.
Maintain a healthy work environment. Encourage hand washing, offer hand sanitizers, consider quality air purifiers. Limit face-to-face contact with employees and customers. Limit large group meetings, shared workstations and public events. Limit or eliminate non-essential business travel. Make use of conference calls and video conferencing.
Review employment policies to see if you can require employees to stay home if they are sick. Establish new sick time policies. Check employee agreement clauses for business closure plans, hours of work and position changes. Establish policies and procedures for sending staff home, staff leaving work on their own, unauthorized absences and returning to work. Plan to offer additional sick time pay or wage and salary advances to staff unable to work. Plan for family member illness, community quarantines, school/business and public transportation closures.
Offer telecommuting options to as many employees as possible. Offer flextime and other creative job options.
Back up essential files off site, provide access to a network of key employees.
Establish a communication plan for employees and business contacts. Include key contacts and tracking for employee status. Employees will be hungry for up to date information about their business, jobs and co-workers. Good communication with your employees is essential to avoid rumors, panic and misinformation.
To encourage employees to stock up on food and supplies for an extended home stay, purchase supplies for them in bulk to take advantage of discounts, offer the savings to employees. Or offer them a SAMís Club or Costco membership at no charge.
Taking these steps today will help your business be better prepared for this coronavirus pandemic, survive for the duration and return to business as normal faster than those who are not prepared.