Advice for businesses on managing a coronavirus outbreak

Author: Emma Allison

The Government’s Cobra committee are meeting later today to prepare for coronavirus spreading through Europe and we’re told that it could break out in the UK. If this does happen, how do you manage it as a business?

At the time of writing this around 86,000 people have been infected, across 50 different countries - causing more than 3,000 deaths. The total number of UK cases has risen to 36 and a number of schools and businesses have shut down as a result.

If you’re a business owners or HR professional how do you ensure that the impact on your organisation is minimal? I’ve put together a handy guide on how to ride out coronavirus and the steps you should be taking to minimise risk.

What should you do as a business?

Be flexible

In the eventuality that staff have to self isolate, or even in the worst case scenario where whole businesses may need to close, remote working is going to be where you can make the biggest impact to keeping your business ticking over. If up until now you’ve had a traditional approach to working from home, you will be forced to revisit this and explore a more flexible approach if the outbreak gets worse, so think about how this would work, sooner rather than later.

Employers in the UK have an obligation under UK law to take reasonable steps to protect staff health and safety. So, be sure to identify any employees who may be at a higher risk from the virus and take extra steps to minimise their risk in the workplace.

It’s worth communicating all of the health advice coming from the NHS on how to protect yourself and others from transmitting coronavirus, perhaps even issue hand sanitisers to your team and encourage regular hand washing. Even upping the frequency of cleaning in communal areas is worth looking at.

Tech up!

Whether it’s employees being told to self-isolate or businesses in lockdown, it is key to ensure your tech is up to scratch to keep your business moving. Platforms that allow video conferencing, such as Skype, would offer an effective solution to cancelled face-to-face meetings; even interviews could be held remotely.

Can your team access the files they need with a remote connection to your server? Do they have the kit and internet capabilities to be able to set up a home office so they can keep working? Have an action plan in place to ensure you’re ready to adopt more cloud-based way of working, whatever level the outbreak might reach.

Communicate the facts

Your internal communication will be vital in the mission to get the right information out to your teams. In the media there have been wide reports of bullying and discrimination against people with East Asian appearance, dubbed #coronaracism. This sort of misinformation can cause a HR nightmare, so make sure you are communicating the facts and have your discrimination policies highlighted.

Your staff are also probably confused by all of the conflicting information and click bait articles circulating online, so will welcome the clarity that you can give them as an employer, offering much needed reassurance and peace of mind.

Get your ducks in a row

When it comes to coronavirus, you need to make sure your policy on self-isolation is robust. Although they may not technically be sick, the government guidelines state, ‘anyone at risk of having contracted the virus must isolate themselves for a period of 14 days.’

This can be problematic for both staff and businesses, but ACAS has issued advice to say although there is no statutory right to pay employees in these instances, they go on to say, not paying staff could lead to people attempting to work when they shouldn’t, risking spreading the virus further. Ensure you’re consistent with your policies to maintain fairness.

The reality is if any of your employees do have the coronavirius, they will be too ill to work, even from home. However, if they have to self isolate but have no symptoms, having the option to work from home will be one a huge advantage, and in the digital space, it is certainly a lot easier to achieve.

Remain positive

Through this uncertainty, stay positive - balance being informative with maintaining morale and employee wellbeing. You’ve built a great team, you’ve probably worked hard to recruit the brightest talent and want to do what’s best for everyone concerned. By being prepared, keeping up to date with government guidance and having a coronavirus plan in place, can help ease the burden of potentially having multiple staff absent.

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