Global coronavirus diagnoses are nearing 100,000, and the international marketplace is beginning to feel the pain as well. Many businesses are unsure how to address worker concerns and are quickly discovering they don’t have pandemic control policies on the books to guide their decision-making.
If you’re a business or HR leader anywhere in the world in 2020, you need to have a proactive plan for how your organization will handle employee cases of coronavirus, minimize the spread and impact of coronavirus throughout your team, and maintain the flow of productivity and work while keeping everybody safe.
Moving forward, we’ll take a deeper look at:
- What coronavirus is
- How you can address the outbreak with your employees
- What you can do to strengthen and protect your business at this crucial moment in public health crisis
What is Coronavirus, Really?
In science and medicine, the term “coronavirus” actually refers to a whole family of viruses that have evolved to cross over from animals to humans. If you remember the SARS (Sever Acute Respiratory Syndrome) and MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreaks of about a decade ago, those were both examples of coronaviruses.
The coronavirus generating so much concern this winter is technically known as “COVID-19”.
COVID-19 is what is known as a “novel virus,” meaning it hasn’t been seen before. Novel virus strains are dangerous because, by nature, they have no vaccine yet. That’s why an up-to-date flu shot, while a best practice for every individual, provides no protection against Coronavirus this year.
What are the Symptoms of Coronavirus?
Generally speaking, coronavirus affects the upper respiratory symptom. Symptoms include:
- Shortness of breath
- Difficulty breathing
In especially severe cases or in vulnerable patients such as the very young, very old, and the immunocompromised, coronavirus infection can lead to:
- Severe acute respiratory symptoms
- Kidney failure
How is Coronavirus Transmitted?
COVID-19 is spread primarily through person-to-person means. When an infected person coughs or sneezes, they sends droplets into the air which can land into mouths and noses or get inhaled by other people, leading to infections.
Coronavirus can also be spread through infected surfaces and objects, although it is far less common. If an infected person sneezes or coughs onto an object and someone else touches that object and accidentally communicates the virus to their mouth, nose, eyes, etc., they can become infected.
It’s important to understand that the virus lives and reproduces within the respiratory system. That means that if it’s on your hands, clothes, etc., you can prevent it from entering your body by taking the right precautions.
How Should We Address Coronavirus with our Employees?
Being a great leader is all about strong communication, and that’s never more true than during times when people are worried or confused. At this particular time, you need to communicate with your team in ways that inform them as to what’s going on, reassure them that there’s a plan in place and everything will be fine, and empower them to continue working in safe ways.
Points of important communication during this state of the coronavirus outbreak include:
- What is coronavirus?
- How does it spread?
- How many cases have occurred in your state or local area?
- What can employees do around the office to keep everybody healthy?
- Who should stay home and when?
- What can/should employees do if they’re sick?
You can share this article or any number of other resources to answer baseline questions about what is going on, bust some myths that have people worried, and show that you are taking a proactive approach to protect your employees from the spread of disease. Moving forward, as the virus continues to spread, keep people updated on how your planning is evolving to maintain transparency and keep everybody bought-in.
“Unlock” the Earned Time Bank
One simple, practical, impactful thing you can do during this time is to eliminate limits and restrictions on paid time off. Every flu season, millions of people go to work sick because they’re out of earned time, anxious about running low, or saving time for a vacation in a few weeks. This year, you need to keep those diligent folks away from the office!
Granting your team unlimited PTO increases the chances that employees will act in the best interests of the group and stay away from the office if they fear they may be getting sick.
Expand Remote Work
Given that person-to-person contact is the main vector for the spread of COVID-19, one smart prevention measure is to keep employees from being cooped up in the office together. Consider allowing traditionally office-bound team members to work from home in the coming weeks and months. Expand your use of eConferencing applications and online productivity systems to deliver the structure of the office to your team while everyone is safe and healthy at home.
If you have employees who would rather stay home during the coronavirus outbreak, you should do your best to enable their continued productivity from afar. Even if nobody at your organization ends up contracting COVID-19, you’ll still be respected by your employees for letting them earn their living in a way that protects their health and the health of their families during this crucial time.
The ease and ubiquity of international travel have played a key role in the spread of COVID-19, and, as everybody knows, if one person is sick on an airplane, it’s only a matter of time for everybody surrounding them. That’s why this spring could be the time to ease up on your sales team’s tradeshow schedule, minimize all non-critical business trips, and focus on maximizing the work your employees can do from their desks (or from their homes, in the case of remote work).
While this sounds like an attack on your ability to close deals and continue normal operations at first blush, it’s important to note that entire global economy is struggling through this outbreak together, and everybody must do their part to contain and eliminate the threat. Part of that is eliminating all unnecessary travel that could put your team at risk for exposure.
Provide Healthcare Accessibility Reminders
While most of your employees just went through benefits enrollment in November and December, this public health emergency is the perfect example of the scenario that nobody is really thinking about when they select their healthcare coverage. As your team’s employer, it’s your responsibility to provide them with the education they need to connect with responsive care if they are concerned about the health of any of their family members.
This could take many forms, but it’s a good idea to remind employees:
- Which healthcare facilities are in their coverage networks
- How they can use HSA/HRA funds to cover medical needs during this time
- A realistic estimate of what a trip to their doctor would cost to talk about their health
Be Supportive But Serious
It is by no means an exaggeration to say that the whole world is watching as the COVID-19 scare plays out. Many of your employees are likely nervous about their own health as well as that of family members. You need to create an environment in which everybody feels as safe as possible in the moment and trusts that there’s a plan in place to prevent them from getting sick.
You need to project confidence, concern, and compassion at all times.
Creating a Disease Control Plan
If your business does not have a disease/pandemic control plan in place, now would be the perfect time to get working on one.
You need a clear policy that will guide:
- How your business will adjust day to day to discourage disease transmission
- How your business will address and handle employees who become sick
- How your business will address operations if COVID-19 expands to true global pandemic status
- How your team will address the needs of traveling employees who become quarantined in other countries
- How you will clear team members for return after their illness
- At what point you will shut down your office
With those questions answered, you’ll be equipped as best as possible to protect your team, weather the COVID-19 storm, and continue your business’ success into the future.
The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is continuing to spread rapidly across borders and oceans, disrupting life and business for billions of people around the world. Your business can survive and even thrive throughout this time of international concern, but it’s going to take a lot of hard work and strong planning. Remember:
- COVID-19 is a new virus which infects the respiratory system
- There is currently no vaccine or cure available for COVID-19
- COVID-19 is primarily transmitted from person to person through droplets that are coughed or sneezed into the air
- It’s crucial to communicate proactively and transparently with employees during this time of international panic
- Unlock the PTO bank, extend work-from-home opportunities, and do anything you can to keep sick people away from the office this year
- Reduce your team’s travel schedules to keep everybody healthy