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Ill prepared

Julie Provino, international HR expert and CEO and founder of HR consultancy VeryHR[i] offers some essential advice on how your business should prepare for the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus outbreak has already caused significant disruption and is spreading rapidly across China and the rest of the world as more and more people become infected. Despite the number of deaths currently reported, the pathogen causing the disease isn’t as virulent as SARS, MERS or Ebola. At the time of writing, the fatality rate was 2 per cent, and most of those are vulnerable people, which means they’re already ill, they have damaged immune systems, or they’re elderly.

Of course, panicking will only worsen the situation. What we really need is disciplined, comprehensive and urgent action by everybody, which will help the world to minimise the potentially devastating effects.

As we watch the drama unfold on our screens, professionals everywhere are thinking: How will Coronavirus affect business?

The virus is already a global phenomenon with the potential to disrupt global economies. The fact that most people reading this are in the world’s western hemisphere – far away from the source of the outbreak in China’s Wuhan Province – is irrelevant.

Wherever you are in the world, you must consider how you will keep your employees safe and your business running. Planning for a potential outbreak so that you can take prompt remedial action is the way forward.

Many organisations have already appointed an executive to proactively guide and advise the rest of the workforce on what measures should to be taken now, and actions to consider in the event of a Coronavirus outbreak in the workplace.

In general, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach as the plan must reflect the nature and geographic spread of your business. However, the following considerations and actions apply to all businesses.

Infection management
This should be part of any employee centred, healthy workplace. According to the British Cleaning Council[ii], the best way of controlling it is the same as how you would deal with the flu, and patients should follow the catch it, bin it and kill it advice – use tissues if you sneeze, dispose of them properly and make sure you wash your hands regularly. If you do have symptoms, avoid others and seek medical help.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge on this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus. It has created a website[iii] which is updated regularly to provide advice to countries and individuals on measures to protect health and prevent the spread of the outbreak.

The NHS has also published advice[iv] that which includes some does and don’t to help halt the spread of the virus.

It’s also very important to think of the Coronavirus as a one-off. With other viral out-breaks likely to occur in the future, planning for them becomes a business priority, especially for multinational organisations.

Communication is key
Should concerns arise, first and foremost, keeping schtum on the issue can create further unrest. So, it’s critical to communicate openly and transparently with your staff, especially as your business priorities should be protecting your employees and other assets.

Consult with employees, be aware of their travel schedules, review your current policies and procedures, so that if, and when, the unthinkable happens, you are prepared.

Appoint gatekeepers to plan and agree on the necessary action to be taken for your business. This group should be empowered to take reasonable action in the case of potential crisis. Many global organisations have identified severity levels and mapped these to the various countries affected, allowing them to be consistent and considered in their approach.

Here’s an example of an action plan based on severity levels:

Level 1 – Low risk
Many companies have chosen to ban travel to affected areas, not just for business purposes but also personal reason for travelling such as holidays.

Self-quarantine may be an option if an employee and his/her immediate circle of colleagues is at risk. In this case, you should consider home working practices. You might also decide to put the employee(s) in question on discretionary pay or an enforced holiday. You must also consider whether failure to self-isolate will be a cause for disciplinary action.

It is also important to collate all travel requirements from employees and identify essential and non-essential travel.

 Level 2 – Medium risk
At this stage, it would be beneficial to check all your business insurance policies (especially health and disability, key employees, business and continuity) for any get-out clauses or exclusions relating to phenomena such as Coronavirus before you renew these policies.

At the same time, review your office cleaning arrangements and consider deep cleaning your workplace for a prolonged period.

You may also decide to postpone or review site visits from customers, suppliers, or staff from other locations, requesting visitors adhere to any new rules you enforce around quarantine and hygiene. Of course, it’s best to advise visitors in advance of new requirements.

You’ll also need to start thinking about establishing executive successors – who are your key decision makers and what would need to happen if they were to report their own illness?

Level 3 – High
At this stage, you’ll need to think about the main implications that would result from shutting down your location. If you’re very lucky, your business may still be fully operational if everyone works from home and there’s a complete travel ban. But for most organisations, this would result in major challenges, including significant revenue losses.

You must also consider your supply chain. Will a single point of failure bring your business to its knees?

Taking all these steps into consideration, now is the time to plan the business actions you’ll take to prepare for a Coronavirus outbreak.


In a recent mini-poll, the IWFM asked the profession: ‘In light of the coronavirus outbreak, how confident are you that your organisation is prepared to manage a public health emergency?’

Less than half; 48 per cent of respondents were either not confident or unsure. As the IWFM points out, facilities managers are one of the principle agents for managing an organisation’s response to such an issue. More help and information is available from the IWFM risk management Good Practice Guide[v], which is based on the international standard for Risk Management ISO 31000. This will help you gain a good understanding of how to identify and manage risk.


[i] https://www.veryhr.co.uk/

[ii] http://britishcleaningcouncil.org/2020/02/17/bcc-chairmans-statement-regarding-coronavirus-2019-ncov/

[iii] https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019

[iv] https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/

[v] https://www.iwfm.org.uk/resource/risk-management.html


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