The World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic. To adequately deal with COVID-19, an impulsive reaction won’t get us far and might do more harm than good. As people leaders, we are faced with the need to mindfully respond to both the risks and the ensuing concerns our employees might have.
This isn’t the first time we face such a crisis. Between SARS, MERS, and Influenza, there are plenty of historical examples we can turn to in order to understand what was done, which initiatives helped, and which made everything worse. The following example is over two thousand fifty years old, yet it might be one of the best inspirations to guide us today:
In 432 BC, the representatives of Sparta came to Athens threatening them with war. A large assembly of Athenians gathered at the square to discuss their response. It was a loud and harsh commotion. Observing the chaotic and emotional state of the assembly, Athenian leader Pericles withdrew to his house and stayed away for about six hours.
When he finally stepped onto the stage, he proposed a calculated but patient strategy to defeat the Spartans. The Athenians listened to Pericles, and as history tells us, won the war. The Assembly’s state is akin to the current discussions about coronavirus, and how organizations should respond to it.
At Culture Amp, we took a step back to ground ourselves, look at our options, and propose a mindful strategy in a time when mass hysteria appears to be at an all-time high.
Your coronavirus HR response plan
Many of the initiatives we see today regarding coronavirus are closer to being reactions than responses. Reactions tend to be quick, not very thoughtful, and often come from a place of tension. Responses are thoughtful, calm, non-threatening, and most often bring about better results.
Evidently, mindful responses take more time to be put together. While you’re building your response strategy, it’s a good idea to communicate with your employees and inform them about the process you are working on. “We still don’t have an ideal answer to this situation, but we are working very hard to find one.” is better than not saying anything, which is yet better than spreading misinformation among the people you want to keep safe.
In order to help you keep your people in the loop with the response process and have their concerns inform your strategy, our People Science team created an Emergency Response Template grounded in change management research and best practices. We found it helpful at Culture Amp and believe it could be useful as you create contingency plans and evaluate new work policies by collecting feedback from your employees.
Questions range from items focusing on communication, such as “I, as an employee, have been kept well informed about changes/updates to company’s new coronavirus policy,” to wellbeing and support, such as “I understand my health and safety responsibilities in relation to the COVID-19 situation.”
Culture Amp’s state of affairs
Culture Amp’s platform and operations will continue to run as normal and we have a disaster recovery plan in place. You’ll still be able to use our platform and rely on our service since we’re addressing this crisis with utmost responsibility.
Dealing with coronavirus as an HR leader
Because the virus is transmitted through droplets from coughs and sneezes in close proximity, you should limit person-to-person interactions when possible.
A good way to limit the spread without going full-stop on all operations is to consider implementing remote work for your employees. Remote work limits personal contact while still keeping your employees engaged and the business engine going.
False information itself can be a threat. So make sure you only share verified information to prevent unnecessary collective fear movements. Websites like the Center For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO) provide verified information, so check them out first before sharing anything new. The psychological safety of your employees matters just as much as their physical safety.
Safety measures should also be aligned with the most marginalized workforce, such as contingent staff, and the solutions you provide should include the employees most affected by COVID-19.
Most of the problems for employees stem from the fear that the coronavirus will impact their ability to work (or keep their job), so a pay continuation and a convenient way to take sick leave should be a solution that includes even the most marginalized employees.
Large conferences with thousands of people are advised to be postponed since those could present a real threat. But regular team meetings, if they can’t be done remotely, shouldn’t be a problem.
If you must travel, prepare a home-quarantine plan to deal with coronavirus
When it comes to traveling, it’s important to know the risk levels regarding coronavirus and its spread.
In case your employees must travel to high-risk countries, it’s best to prepare a home-quarantine plan to ensure the safety of everyone in the company. The suggested plan lasts around two weeks (the incubation period of coronavirus) and involves three steps:
- Educate: explain to the employee why they need to be in a home-quarantine and the risk of spreading the disease.
- Communicate: make sure that both you and the employee are on the same page, know what needs to be done, and that you will both hold yourselves accountable to the plan.
- Provide: empathy and understanding. It’s important to listen to your employees, answer any questions they might have, and make sure that you keep their safety a priority while thinking about the good of the company as a whole..
Even travel to low-risk countries might require the observation of a home quarantine period, as airports and other high transit areas do carry a risk. For the same reason, non-essential travel such as a visit to customers or partners should be discouraged. Prevention is better than cure.
What can you do to keep your employees and your organization safe from coronavirus?
The risk of infection for most countries is still low, and you as an HR leader can help to maintain this status. Your goal is to keep both your employees and your organization safe in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak. Resources and processes that can help are workplace safety precautions, employee travel restrictions, home-quarantine plans for travelers and those who are feeling ill, and mandatory medical check-ups.
Collect information from your team to inform your next steps
Download our free Emergency Response Template