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WHO today (12.03.2020) declared the Covid-19 Coronovirus a Pandemic as it has impacted more than 65 countries. Meanwhile, employees are inevitably at the forefront of contracting Covid-19. Reason one, they regularly travel. Two, they have to encounter new people. Three, they work together at enclosed work spaces. Since employees are one of the primary victims of this global pandemic, HR across the globe needs to have a pandemic business continuity plan to keep their employees safe and stop the spread of this deadly virus.

Employees have become essential carriers of coronavirus. They contract it from their fellow workers or the places they visit, and as they travel from city to city, country to country and they pass it on to as many people they come in close contact with. The major problem with this virus is that it remains undetected for days before the infected person starts showing symptoms. Since it remains undetected, they could go on to infect as many people they get in touch with. Due to this very reason, personal hygiene has been the primary focus to control the spread of this disease.

More than 22 million people across the globe have been infected. There have been 210000 hospitalizations till now and more than 12000 deaths.

HR needs to ensure the pandemic preparedness plan for their businesses. They would be required to manage their employees in a way that keeps them safe from being infected or even if they get infected, how they minimize the damage. In the process, ensuring that the interests of the employee, as well as the organization, are protected - is key.

Remember that prevention is better than cure, and a healthy employee is an integral part of a productive workforce. Catering to these lines, HR needs to work in five major areas to tackle this rising pandemic.

  1. Effective communication
  2. Framing better health policies
  3. Work flexibility
  4. Restricting travel
  5. Crisis management

1. Effective communication

Misinformation about the virus can be a bigger threat than the virus itself as rumours create panic and spread like wildfire. Organizations must have a communication platform, where they could reach all their workers in one go. It is essential to have a platform that helps in two-way communication - to minimize the confusion during the chaos and become a go-to channel for all employee-related information and queries.

Fragmented communication about the pandemic over emails or chat conversations stays locked in personal inboxes. A lot of people miss crucial information as their inbox is already filled with emails and messages. When you message someone or mail them, you are already fighting for attention amongst a plethora of mails and messages. That is why you need a platform where you could exclusively engage with your employees. That is where the need for an employee engagement platform arises.

From regular updates on infection control to changing policies, you can keep your employees updated on every critical information. With such platforms, you can follow communication protocols, wherein only the HR could address the whole organization and communicate specific information like a response plan for the pandemic.

Apart from that, internal communication platforms like Empuls, maintain phone numbers and email addresses of all employees, which could be of great significance during times of emergency.

2. Frame better health policies

The risk of spreading is at-large because many employees do not understand the severity of the problem and have the habit of turning up at work even if they are sick. Such lack of prudence leads to more people contracting the disease.

As per a recent stat, 90% of employees have admitted to showing up at work while being sick. The reasons they gave were too much work, not wanting to use sick leave, and pressure from the employer.

Treat this pandemic as a stepping stone to review your current employee health policies. As more people get affected, there is a high probability that employees would be unable to work either because they are sick or they need to take care of their dear ones - which will end up costing the company more.

As part of a successful Business Continuity plan, HR must create a secure environment and assure their employees that the organizations stand with them. Revise sick leave policies and paid time off to make them accommodating to conditions like a pandemic. Give the employees confidence that they are an integral part of the organization, which in turn will encourage them to feel secure taking leave when they are sick, reducing the risk of them infecting their workmates.

The key here is to maintain transparency in communication and let employees know that they won’t be deserted if they fall victim to COVID-19.

3. Work flexibility

Now is the time where companies need to utilize digitization to the fullest, so as to give more work flexibility to their employees. Wherein they could be provided with the option to work from home so that they avoid frequent travel that could expose them to infected people.

Yes, a lot of jobs do need people to be present physically (health-care, retail) but wherever work flexibility could be granted, it is important to give it. For instance, instead of face to face meetings, video conferencing can be done. Presentations can be done through skype and briefs could be provided on call. Make work flexible such that it minimizes the chances of your employees getting infected with COVID-19. Even engaging employees who are remotely working can be done using comprehensive employee engagement software like Empuls.

4. Restrict travelling‍

Most companies across the globe are restricting their employees from travelling, especially areas that are heavily infected with COVID-19. Right now, there is no cure available for CoronaVirus, and the best tactic is to avoid it as much as you can. You also prevent loss of productivity due to quarantine. Organizations should keep track of all Government-issued health notices to get insights on what business travel needs to be cancelled or postponed.

Check with your employees if they say they feel unwell. Ask them to avoid travelling as they would have to go through quarantine even if COVID-19 does not infect them. Health is wealth. Everything else can wait for a while.

5. Crisis management

Look at the current situation and treat it like a wake-up call. The measures you take should be well documented and mapped, keeping the future in mind. Everything you do can act as a doctrine to handle any situation like this in the near future.

Coming back to COVID-19, it is spread through respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It is highly contagious, and the person who gets infected from it can affect at-least two people getting in contact with them. There is also a possibility that one could get infected by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching one’s face, particularly the nose or mouth.

As an HR, take the following steps:-

  • Give clear instructions to your employees to wash their hands regularly
  • Ensure your workplace is regularly cleaned
  • Identify employees who seem unwell, check for symptoms of flu
  • If they show signs of flu, ask them to take a leave
  • Pass on health instructions every day
  • Issue a temporary “No Hand Shake” policy
  • Ensure commonly touched places like doorknobs are cleaned regularly

Apart from following these steps, build an internal team of supervisors and train them to tackle this problem. Please provide them with the right training, give them the right communication material and the correct contact information. They should know how to contact local health bodies and inform them if there is a COVID-19 case in the workplace. They should be given the task of communicating regularly with employees offline and spread awareness about the disease.

As an HR, make sure your employees don’t drag themselves to work if they are infected with COVID-19. If employees show symptoms of being unwell, ask them to leave or make sure they are assigned a secluded place away from the staff. Remember, minimize risk, maximize prevention.

It is always great to have a plan, but planning is only as good as execution. Since COVID-19 has already been declared as a pandemic, it is time to act on the instructions given above. We need to promote a healthy work culture to create successful organizations. If your employees get crippled, your organization falls to its knees. Protect your employees to ensure a safe future for your organization. Stay alert! This too shall pass...

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Issac Thomas

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Issac Thomas is a Content Writer and Digital Marketer from Bengaluru, Karnataka.