Many companies have a natural disaster plan. If your business is located in a geographic area that sees regular storms, earthquakes, tornadoes, or flooding, you’ve likely had a disaster plan formalized and in place since you founded your business. And that’s a good thing. But a viral pandemic and a health threat like the COVID-19 virus we are currently navigating has a global impact. There are very few industries that have not been economically affected by the social distancing and essential service protocols taken by both Federal and State governments.
Retail stores seem to be doing well (if not frustrated by breakdowns in their own supply chain and stock availability), but they are definitely the exception to the rule right now. At every level, from SMB (small business) to corporate enterprises, the health threat is creating problems, financial loss, and management challenges.
If you have a disaster plan in effect, it may be time to update it to include pandemic protocols. If you have no emergency operational plan our team of recruitment and human resource consultants would like to share some advice to help you get started.
1. Plan for the Impact of the Disaster or Pandemic on Your Employees
Your disaster and pandemic management plan should involve visualization and scenarios to help you prepare for every possible threat to your business operations and employees. Here are four essential areas of response that you should include in your worst-cast evaluation:
a) Assign Special Leadership Roles for Deploying Your Pandemic or Disaster Plan
Who are the immediate responders who can lead different department areas into next-step practice and procedures, when a natural disaster or pandemic event has occurred? Keep in mind that these lead employees do not necessarily have to be management staff. In fact, you want to balance the mix of leadership roles between employees who have tenure, and experience in your organization, and those that have demonstrated the ability to perform well under pressure.
This response team should be trained on the policies and procedures that your business has established. Ongoing refresher training should also be conducted 1-2 times per year, as part of a routine schedule of preparedness. Many organizations also choose to review their disaster and pandemic plans annually at the same time as they provide updated training or add new staff to the emergency response team.
b) Create a Definition of Essential Roles and Employees Within Your Organization
Human resources and leadership may already have a concept of the types of roles and specific functions that can be fulfilled remotely by employees. Thanks to the transition to paperless formats, any employee that does not rely on in-office equipment can essentially function from a home office, with certain caveats.
Has the employee ever worked remotely, either with your organization or another employer? Do they have the appropriate equipment and space at home to successfully telecommute? Can they be provided with a loaned laptop from your I.T. department? Does the employee have the diligence and skills to be able to work successfully from home? Use specific criteria to determine your best list of employees who could transition to remote work, in the event of a pandemic or disaster situation.
What roles within your organization are absolutely critical to the operation of your business? This list can include (but may not be limited to):
- Finance Controller or Accountant
- Payroll Administrator
- Human Resource Manager
- Customer Service Manager
- Marketing (communications)
Some of these roles that are essential to the operations and production capacity of your business may not be able to transition fully to a remote ‘work from home’ accommodation for the employee. In the event of a pandemic, some employers rotate staff in the same department areas to allow for part-time remote work to reduce the number of individuals in the office at the same time. This can help reduce the infection rate and loss of valuable staff in the same department.
c) Establish Code of Conduct (Including Social Distancing Protocols) for Pandemic Situations
Consider offering clinics for annual influenza vaccinations. Employees can (and should be asked) if they are concurrent with required health immunizations during the hiring process. This may seem invasive in terms of personal information, but employment offers can be conditional on proof of immunization legally. And it is a move many businesses have already made, to protect their employees and management teams.
Do you have an Employee Assistance Plan (EAP) in effective for full-time employees? Part of your EAP can be to provide resources for counseling and mental health supports, which can be important when dealing with the emotional impact of a disaster or pandemic.
Other protocols that should be outlined in your wellness guidelines are containment measures within your local community and resources, exclusions or accommodations for employee absences due to personal illness or caregiver needs for children or elderly family members, quarantine expectations and reporting of diagnoses to the employer, and other important guidelines.
2. Create a Support and Communications Plan For Your Customers
What kind of communications are essential to your business to business (B2B) or consumer goods or services customers during a natural disaster or pandemic event? Ensure that your team functions from a checklist of communiques to your customers, and updates including changes to hours of operation, quarantine measures and restrictions and other changes in place for public health and prevention.
3. How Ready and Technologically Ready is Your Team to Work Remotely?
While the majority of catastrophic loss scenarios and planning revolve around a natural disaster, very few of these plans projected (or were prepared to cope with) the unique aspects of a viral pandemic. The need for physical isolation from other team members and from the business environment.
We are very much learning from this first global pandemic since the Spanish Flu of 1918. While we have technology in place, most mid-level and enterprise organizations have technological support that assumes a portion of employees and leadership will be working remotely. An intranet facilitates the important connection to resources and communication, but many corporate intranets were not built to allow the entire organization to be utilizing those resources simultaneously.
What has created some difficulty for businesses, is the inability for their technological structure (intranet, VOIP system, secure and temporary file storage) to support critical mass. That is 100% of staff required to run the business.
One strategy that we have seen successfully used (until the intranet can be improved) is a staggered work schedule. By segmenting departments into specific office hours and offline time, some companies have managed to stretch the intranet resources until it can be improved. Naturally, customer service personnel will be required to keep regular office hours remotely, but other departments such as marketing, advertising and accounting are more flexible
4. Conduct Financial Forecasting in for Short and Long-Term Disaster Disruption
Executive leadership is already aware of operating costs on a daily, weekly and monthly basis. But having a streamlined expense reduction plan in effect to cope with reduced sales revenues is vital. Project the amount of reserve funds required to keep your business operational, and alternate resources for funding that can be used for support, if your business is non-essential and forced to shut down for a period of mandatory quarantine.
At Urgenci Atlantic, our team of expert KaaS consultants can provide guidance and assistance for employers who are navigating formalized disaster and pandemic policy making for the first time. We can help you bridge the gap and build a team of contractors who specialize in crisis management, healthcare and benefits administration and corporate policy makers. If you are revising your current disaster plan to include pandemic protocols for each department (sales, customer service, financial, marketing, manufacturing or distributing), start by scheduling a meeting with our executive team at Urgenci Atlantic.