The Coronavirus which causes a disease known as COVID-19 has not only brought health fear but has disrupted many business operations across the world and affected productivity adversely. With forced company shutdowns and travel bans, companies are now forced to rethink their business operations to stay afloat during this turbulent time that has affected the world. Company culture, leadership, employee experience, and digital workplace experiences are now being put to the test. The way many companies work was changed overnight. Massive numbers of workforces have gone remotely. Team collaboration, moral support and the ability to executive teams to pivot, and quickly, have seemingly never been more paramount. According to Business Insider, the coronavirus pandemic is shrinking global economic growth by $1 trillion, companies need contingency plans to keep their workforces safe and their operations running.
A health crisis like the coronavirus is far different from disruptions that businesses usually go through, according to Mihir Mysore, an expert, and leader of the crisis response team at McKinsey & Company. Mysore highlighted that the core challenge of a crisis is to redirect your focus from reacting to yesterday’s news to proactively preparing for tomorrow's headlines. To stay one step ahead of the pandemic, Mysore advises companies to set up a “nerve center” made up of carefully selected people to be in charge of company responses. “Nerve Center” is a unique McKinsey term, but he said it can be used interchangeably when referring to company war rooms and crisis response teams. Miller, CEO and co-founder of the Digital Workplace Group deemed that business response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 as a “fundamental shift in how work happens.” Major companies across the world have had to shift how they word due to the pandemic for example Facebook ordered all employees in Seattle to work from home until are March 31. Apple CEO Tim Cook also told employees at most global offices they could work from home and called this an “unprecedented event” and “challenging moment”. Google also asked its employees in North America to work from home. Big Four Consulting firm EY also asked its entire staff to work remotely from home.
Leaders and management all over the world are forced to quickly think of new measures that will support both their business and their employees during this pandemic. Three things to consider in coming up with a plan are as follows:
- Ways to address workforce safety, as employees may face different health risks depending on the type of work they do and where they do it.
- How to ramp up remote working capabilities to keep people connected securely, and to keep projects documented and moving forward. It may not be possible to hire or find substitutes fast enough to replace sidelined employees or operations. As the virus spreads, its impact across many sectors seems inevitable. There have been several high-profile warnings by leading US companies about sales disruptions, as well as early indications of industry-wide impacts, for example, in the airline industry.
- Creating a strategy for communicating factually and effectively to employees, customers, partners, and other stakeholders. The fear of the disease — and the contingencies that many companies put in place — may result in long-lasting effects. For example, consider the economic impact of a growing list of canceled or postponed industry conferences on the host cities.
Furthermore according to McKinsey organizations can implement a fast-acting contingency plan through a four-step approach known as the 4 D’s-discover, design, decide and deliver:
- Discover the information you need from data- According to Mysore “it’s fundamentally about understanding your current situation and getting the data”. He further goes on to say “if you don’t have accurate, relevant information in a timely fashion, it’s going to be very difficult for you to know what to do” Organisations need to gather all the relevant facts especially regarding the pandemic in their respective area to come up with an effective response plan. Organizations must not only look at the now but look at how this pandemic is also likely to affect the future operations of the company.
- Design an approach based on that information- When coming up with a plan to combat coronavirus, decisions should not be based on emotions. Mysure urges business leaders to go beyond emotional headlines and comp with a “portfolio of actions”. Have immediate plans in place and also have plans ready in case the pandemic worsens. Restricting employee travel is an example of a designed approach that many companies have taken in the past weeks. Even before deciding to send people to work from home organizations need to thoroughly consider the option and how they will sustain it, it would be difficult to send people home then call them back to work again because the plan was poorly structured.
- Decide on who will be the decision makers-One of the most difficult aspects of a major disruption is that everyone wants to weigh in with their opinions, Mysore told Business Insider. According to Mysore, you need a few carefully selected people being the decision-makers. In coming up with decision-makers especially in this crisis, Mysore suggests that organizations should choose people knowing that their ethics, that there is no question they will do what’s right by not just the shareholder and their careers, but also what’s right by the company at large.
- Deliver your plan of action in a way that makes sense for your company- Once as an organization you have committed to a plan, you need to execute it effectively. For example, employees who are working remotely will need laptops, Wi-Fi connections, and computer monitors to maintain productivity. Leaders will need to pay attention to these kinds of details for their contingency plans to run smoothly.
The contingency plan should also consider the following:
Secure employee safety
Test emergency contact systems to confirm you have accurate contact information for all employees-particularly those from centralized functions like Finance, HR and IT. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued interim guidance for all employers and specifically for those in health care. There are recommended steps for handling sick workers, employee travel and environmental cleaning.
Prioritize remote technology capabilities
Organizations that are ready to adapt quickly to changing conditions have tested and enabled technologies that can support emergency communications and continued collaboration, as well as information back-up and documentation. These processes are critical to continuity when a crisis, such as a viral outbreak, can take business partners, as well as competitors, offline at the same time.
Although many companies have the pieces in place that enable employees to work away from the office, an effective remote technology plan should include the following:
- IT infrastructure and security plans that address integrated processes, documentation and back-up. As many companies are already in various stages of workflow migrations to cloud environments, these measures should not be unfamiliar. However, the shift to a fully remote environment can create additional challenges.
- Network availability to employees, including those who do not have company-managed devices, enabling them to stay connected to the company and various working groups. Can the company offer access to core systems and control conditions for entry? Companies also should understand whether supporting systems, such as VPNs, are optimized for mixed (both company-managed and personally-owned) laptop/WiFi and mobile device/mobile network control points.
- Clear expectations to teams and supervisors regarding documentation, communication, and validation.
- Consultations with legal to understand any increased liability for employees who are working off-site or at home, as well as any potential data security issues that could arise.
Assess the impact on global mobility and business continuity
Global mobility issues should be top of mind, including how to address the health of employees and business continuity with customers. Companies are developing their contingency plans quickly. While it is too early to fully understand the severity of this crisis and its long-term implications, there are several steps businesses can take now to improve the situation. Learn more about crisis response planning for COVID-19. Find a checklist of the key considerations to managing risk emerging from the outbreak.
When this virus will end is unknown but it’s up to organizations to come up with ways to minimize the level of financial loss and loss of productivity by developing mitigating plans. Company cultures have been put to the test and its time management rethink their different approaches because this could be the beginning of a new era of how businesses operate.
Tatenda Sayenda-Havire is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4 481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: [email protected] or visit our website at www.ipcconsultants.com
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