Leaders around the world are facing twin anxieties; how severe the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak will be for the economy and what companies should be doing to prepare.
Scientists have long warned that emerging infectious diseases represent a new reality with the potential to cause untold human suffering and economic disaster. While the financial damage of the COVID-19 epidemic first reported from Wuhan, China, on Dec. 31, 2019, has so far largely been confined to China, organizations around the world are directly and indirectly affected by what is fast becoming a global crisis.
We’ve been taking a close look at the effects on Chinese companies and workers of the government quarantines that began being imposed in January. The responses of these two sets of stakeholders at the front lines of managing this crisis offer important lessons for organizational leaders in other locales. Current projections suggest that it is only a matter of time before most organizations are facing similar challenges.
We believe that managers can learn a lot from how companies in China have been coping with COVID-19. These practices include; having smart policies around remote work; anticipating and mitigating operational roadblocks; and addressing the social impacts of this health emergency.
Many jobs, particularly those in manufacturing, cannot be transitioned to remote work. Only 33% of Chinese small and medium enterprises, which employ 80% of Chinese workers, were able to resume normal operations by the end of February.
Using the Chinese experience as a model, we believe there are steps managers can take to maximize the effectiveness of the remote work option during a crisis. They include;
Companies that allow for remote work right now will have the necessary tacit knowledge, planning, and infrastructure in place to quickly transition more operations if that becomes necessary.
Do they have the tools to work effectively from home if they have to? Ensure that they are prepared.
How would your organization operate if there was a quarantine that shut down geographic areas where you operate? Use techniques from scenario planning to generate ideas about how your company could pull together the capacity to resume operations in even a limited form.
Routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs. Use the cleaning agents that are usually used in these areas and follow the directions on the label.
No additional disinfection beyond routine cleaning is recommended at this time.
Provide disposable wipes so that commonly used surfaces (for example, doorknobs, keyboards, remote controls, desks) can be wiped down by employees before each use.
Provide tissues and no-touch disposal receptacles for use by employees.
Instruct employees to clean their hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60-95% alcohol, or wash their hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Soap and water should be used preferentially if hands are visibly dirty.
Provide soap and water and alcohol-based hand rubs in the workplace. Ensure that adequate supplies are maintained. Place hand rubs in multiple locations or in conference rooms to encourage hand hygiene.
Managers lack clear guidance on how to prevent the spread of this global pandemic event. The World Health Organization (WHO) tracked 1,438 epidemics between 2011 and 2018 and notes, “In addition to the loss of life, epidemics and pandemics devastate economies.” Many of the outbreaks in this period, including Ebola and MERS, were able to be contained geographically. But the conflux of hyper urbanization and global warming makes pandemics and other ecological dangers more likely to spread over a larger area, and a very real threat to the world’s economies.
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