Coronavirus: 3 Things You Can Do to Prepare Your Organization for the Unexpected

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Mar 3, 2020
This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.

Being global has great advantages to an organization. It also creates great challenges. Disasters or epidemics from other parts of the world can quickly become a local issue. Whether it’s the Coronavirus (now more commonly referred to as COVID-19), a national disaster, or a local emergency, every organization must be able to respond to unexpected changes quickly. Being proactive in developing a plan is a critical component to ensuring an organization’s sustainability.

To ensure your organization continues to operate, regardless of whatever interruptions the world sends, create a plan that addresses three key areas: gather and share accurate information, protect your employees and determine how work will get done.

1. Gather and share accurate information

With natural disasters, technological challenges, and health scares, among other things, seemingly becoming more common, it requires two big elements to be in place: management team awareness and clear and open communication. Develop a list of resources to share with senior management and, when the situation requires it, be sure you fully understand what’s happening and the potential implications for your business. This will help you develop a calm, focused, and meaningful response to share through established protocols for all employees. But be aware: slow responses by management create the opportunity for the organization to fill in the missing details with hearsay and opinions. Any situation that requires a response and potential change to the way business is done can activate anxiety, fear, and panic, which encourages shared worries instead of shared facts. The rumor mill can be a powerful place of false information that can significantly impact your culture (and productivity). Stay ahead of fake news by including a review of the external and internal threats to the business on a regular basis. This ensures the organization is always reviewing the most accurate information and can respond quickly.

Next, if it’s not already in place, create a proper information-sharing protocol with employees. Whether it’s an intranet, an email or text approach, or something else, having this protocol in place will give your employees peace-of-mind that they will always know where to find accurate information and will always be kept updated on any important information. This will undoubtedly improve the success of any emergency response plan and is directly related to the next section: protecting your employees.

2. Protect your employees

Organizations that don’t have a plan or are slow to respond put their employees in danger. Employees need to know that the organization is always aware of the environments and situations that can negatively affect them and that there is a plan and process to keep everyone safe. This plan can take a variety of forms, like working through a bad weather response drill in a facility, providing safety equipment, such as masks for employees due to the Coronavirus, securing access to the workspace to keep unauthorized or unstable individuals from employees, or restricting employees’ travel schedules out of unsafe areas (political, weather or health-related), to name a few. Employees expect to work in a safe environment, regardless of what disasters may exist; just think of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. When employees don’t feel safe, they are distracted and don’t focus on their work. Keeping employees protected and safe must be a core management commitment.

3. Address how work will get done

This requires a little more effort and strategic thinking, so don’t wait until your hand is forced. Start by having senior management review all of the roles in the organization to determine which jobs can be done remotely, at least for the time of the interruption or disaster.

For these roles, review or redefine the performance expectations based on what can be successfully completed and what resources are needed to get the job done. This could be anything from connectivity, access to programs or materials, or access to other required information/resources (think VPN).

Once you’ve identified the jobs that can be done remotely and defined the expectations of that role, you’ll need to review the employees in those roles. Not all employees have the discipline, focus or the workspace to work at home, so you’ll need to consider if additional training or support will be needed, or if an alternate work site could be provided when their roles become remote.

This is also where performance expectations come into play. Consider creating a performance dashboard that provides the performance metrics and expectations for each role to help employees stay focused, empowered, and guided in approaching their work in a new setting.

Coming full circle, it all comes back to open and clear communication. Remote employees, especially those who are new to the work-from-home environment, will likely need expanded management contact. Set up daily or weekly review times. Determine what to review and how to review it (call, Skype, online meeting), and create an emergency call number and identify the situations that warrant the emergency contact. Expanding contact at this time is critical to help previously non-remote employees develop the confidence and discipline to continue their workday and maintain their performance.

There are obviously some organizations that cannot function with remote employees, such as hospitals, pharmacies, and some retail locations. In these instances, review your safety protocols and determine how your employees will be safest. You may find that there are various levels of the best response and action pending the situation. For example, at its worst, you may close your doors for a certain amount of time. A best worst-case-scenario option could mean running a skeleton crew or only using a certain group of employees.

Be prepared

Successful businesses pay close attention to the internal and external threats to their business and have a plan to quickly, accurately, and wisely deal with them.

We can’t be surprised by what happens in our world, caught flat-footed when the need to respond quickly with an effective strategy that protects both employees and the organization arises. A successful business will have a management team who is tuned in to know what is going on in their environments, have an informed and dedicated team to discuss how to gather information and inform employees, commit to the safety and security of employees, and have and implement a plan to train and support employees to stay productive and keep the company running if their roles suddenly require work-from-home status.

When a situation arises that forces you to reconsider the definition of business-as-usual, will your organization thrive or get left behind?

This article is part of a series called COVID-19 Coverage.
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