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The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is creating a variety of new responsibilities for business leaders and HR departments that many of us never imagined we’d have to worry about. In spite of the challenges, this is a time for decisive and powerful leadership to grab the bull by the horns to weather the storm.

In this post, we’ll explore:

  • How to lead with company-wide and global safety in mind
  • How to lead with an eye toward maintaining productivity during this time
  • How to lead so your business can weather the storm of illness & quarantines
  • How to lead so you protect your business from a legal and compliance standpoint

How Will You Keep Everyone Safe & Healthy?

Public health needs to be the number one global priority during this pandemic. Your first obligation to your team is to do everything possible to keep people healthy and minimize the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

With that said, the media firestorm surrounding the virus and out-of-control social media dialogue have made it tough to know what to believe or who to listen to. Let’s take some time to cut through the noise and discuss what you need to do to protect your team’s health.

Adhere to Expert Guidance & Spread the Word with Employee Education

Your primary sources for information about the virus and guidance for how to respond should be the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). CDC guidance directly informs the U.S. response, but the WHO is also monitoring the pandemic on a global scale and can provide additional insights.

The CDC’s interim guidance on COVID-19 for employers and businesses can be found here.

Of course, as an employer, understanding the guidance is just the beginning. You need to serve as a key source of education and guidance transmission for your team members. That means connecting them with resources that help them understand what the virus is, how they can get it, and what they need to do protect themselves and their families.

The WHO’s concise, highly-visual COVID-19 myth busting article can be an ideal resource in this work.

Augment Your Approach to Attendance

COVID-19 spreads primarily through close contact between individuals. That’s why the United States government has urged a policy of social distancing (maintaining at least 6 feet between people at all times and ceasing all non-essential interactions).

Observing the spirit of that guidance means we need to temporarily cease using or significantly limit the traditional office work model that has dominated the last 50 years.  That means COVID-19 has crumpled up our definition of “attendance” and thrown it out the window.

In order to survive this disruption, you need to find a way to continue productivity through remote work enablement (more on that later in this article). You also need to open up your sick bank, extend paid time off programs, and give your employees the flexibility they require to feel safe and supported at this time.

With the rapid spread of this virus, the odds are, ff you continue to bring your team into the office each day, you’re inviting coronavirus through the door and back into every employee’s home as well. In order to lead effectively at this time, you must address and adjust attendance expectations.

Cease Business Travel

Nobody should be traveling internationally or even domestically right now unless it is absolutely necessary. That represents a major disruption to the way many sales representatives, consultants, and other professionals work.

While it may be tempting to continue your deal-making operations, requiring, requesting, or even allowing employees to travel can endanger your team members and threaten your operations even worse. In the coming days, you must work together with your sales managers and other relevant leaders of traveling employees to determine how they can use their time effectively and productively while staying safely at home.

The CDC’s guidance on travel can be found here.

The WHO’s guidance on travel can be found here.

How Will You Keep the Work Alive?

As a community entity, your top priority needs to be to preserve the health of the workforce and the public. Great leadership at this time involves understanding that you’re still a business, though, and must find a way to continue to financially operate.

You still have agreements to honor and new opportunities to chase down, and that means you have to connect and motivate your team in a way that keeps the work alive. There are two main components to that: communication and work enablement.

Great Communication

As we’re all discovering, many of us rely on the physical closeness and convenience of the office to make sure we stay in the loop. That goes for leaders, supervisors, and ground-level team members. Now that that option’s out the window for the foreseeable future, it’s crucial to adapt your communication strategy.

As a leader, you need to determine:

  • Which platform(s) or channel(s) will you use to communicate important information to the team?
  • Which platform(s) or channel(s) will you expect employees to use in order to collaborate
  • How will you maintain/extend your customer/client communication strategies during this time?

Once those questions are answered, you need to communicate the interim communication strategy to your employees and provide them the tools and access they need to make it work. That leads right into our next topic: remote work enablement.

Create Remote Accessibility to Work Tools

Practicing social distancing and minimizing the spread of coronavirus means that, for the work to continue, employees will have to transition to the home office. In order to smoothen that transition and make work as purposeful as possible, you need to connect them with the tools and applications they need to replicate their in-office experience at home.

That means you need to think about how employees will:

  • Access email and other official communication channels (see above)
  • Share documents for collaboration
  • Meet or conference in real time
  • Get the ERP, CRM, or HCM data (on-prem or cloud-based) they need to do work
  • Continue to serve customers and clients from home

Answering those questions will require collaboration between your leadership team, IT, and department- or team-level leaders who know best what their team members need to get meaningful work done.

Managing remote work presents some new challenges, but it’s also an opportunity for many new businesses and managers to get a taste of how tech-enabled remote work can power the 21st century beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

How Will You Ensure Readiness for Illnesses & Quarantines?

Here’s an unfortunate reality: at the current state of the virus’ spread, it’s highly likely someone who works for you will become ill with COVID-19, need to care for someone who does, or have to step away to provide childcare. That means you need to admit that your team will be in a state of flux for the next few months.

Part of surviving and thriving during that time is having your leadership team articulate a strong crisis/emergency plan as soon as possible and letting the work flow from there.

Build Back-Up into Your Depth Chart

Every key leadership, supervisory, or project management position within your organization should have at least one “understudy” right now. That way, if someone has to step away quickly, their colleague can step into their responsibilities in a way that provides continuity and minimizes the negative impact. You cannot allow for single points-of-failure within your organization during this evolving time period.

This is also a unique opportunity to identify future leaders and rising stars. If you’re looking to “test drive” some of your younger talent in leadership roles, this is a great chance to step up their responsibility and engagement levels and see how they respond.

Maximize Support for Critical Operations

One thing your COVID-19 response plan needs to address is how you will ensure the health of your core function in the event you sustain a major blow to productivity due to illnesses. Part of that is the depth chart piece we just discussed, but it’s doubly important to make sure there’s a support system in place that keeps you delivering the services that drive your business and pay your employees’ checks.

How Will You Adhere to Legal & Compliance-Based Obligations?

Legislation to address the COVID-19 outbreak moved through the House of Representatives and Senate relatively quickly, expanding FMLA and paid sick leave while creating new tax credits to offset the increased costs and lost productivity. For medium-sized businesses, this may mean a significant increase in employee leave-related responsibilities.

As a leader, you have two main responsibilities in this realm: keep yourselves updated on and in-line with emerging guidance and be sure you’re treating employees in a humanistic time that respects, understands, and responds to their medical needs.

Avoid Potential Discrimination Suits

Here’s a topic many people are scared to talk about right now: in the coming months and year, we could potentially see a major increase in leave-related discrimination lawsuits across business. That means that, while there needs to be a rigorous approval process for leave during this time, it’s important to keep an open mind and pay attention to each team member’s individual concerns, fears, and needs.

Denying leave to an employee who is immunocompromised, needs to care for a family member with COVID-19, or struggling due to childcare gaps could quickly become both expensive and major missteps for your business.

The DOL’s guidance on family & medical leave related to COVID-19 can be found here.

Takeaways

This is one of the biggest moments in recent memory for business leadership. The COVID-19 pandemic is a crisis that requires us to at least temporarily alter many of our practices to keep everyone safe while continuing the flow of business. Remember:

  • You need to keep your team members safe by following WHO & CDC guidance
  • You need to spread the word to your team about WHO/CDC guidance
  • You need to halt all business travel
  • You need to articulate an official communication strategy for your decentralized workforce
  • You need to harness a remote work enablement strategy for your workforce
  • You need to build back-up into your depth chart and insulate your core operations to ensure continuity
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