You understand the importance of business continuity, but does your company have a pandemic strategy? If not, a cascade of problems can arise without proper planning.
Unlike natural disasters or terrorist events, a disease pandemic could be widespread, affecting multiple areas of the United States at the same time. It will be an extended event, with multiple waves of outbreaks occurring from six to eight weeks. Your workplace will likely experience:
Absenteeism – It’s estimated that a pandemic could affect as many as 40 percent of the workforce at its height.
Altered Commerce Patterns – During a pandemic, consumer demand for infection controls items will increase dramatically, while interest in other goods may decline. Consumers may also alter shopping patterns by going to stores at off-peak hours, reducing contact with others, or relying on home delivery.
Interrupted Supply and Delivery – Shipments may be delayed or cancelled.
Establish a Comprehensive Disaster Plan
Develop a disaster plan that includes pandemic preparedness, review it regularly and conduct drills. Items to note:
- Create a plan with suppliers to maintain operations and services.
- Develop a sick leave policy that does not penalize sick employees for staying home. Also recognize that employees with ill family members may need to stay home to care for them. Encourage employees who have influenza-like symptoms (such as fever, headache, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, or upset stomach) to stay home so that they don’t infect others.
- Identify exposure paths and health risks to your employees. Do you operate a hospital or clinic where employees are in contact with sick? Do your employees engage with the public regularly?
- Try to minimize employee interaction with the public. Can employees work from home? If so, make sure technology is in place to accommodate a remote workforce for an extended period.
- Prepare to cross-train and develop approaches to work if team members are too ill to perform duties.
- Plan for downsizing but also anticipate any scenario which may require a surge in your services.
- Stockpile items such as soap, tissue, hand sanitizer, cleaning supplies and personal protective equipment. When stockpiling items, be aware of product shelf life and storage conditions (like avoiding areas that are damp or have temperature extremes) and incorporate product rotation into your stockpile management program.
- Minimize face-to-face contact between employees through e-mail conversations and teleconferences.
- In addition to working remotely, encourage employees to stagger work hours.
- Develop protocols to disseminate updates to employees and clients during the pandemic.
- Get human resources involved to address leave, pay, transportation, travel, childcare, and absence policies.
- Provide training, education and informational material about business-essential job functions and employee health and safety, including proper hygiene practices and the use of any personal protective equipment to be used in the workplace. Be sure that informational material is available in a usable format for individuals with sensory disabilities and/or limited English.
- Keep work surfaces, telephones, computer equipment, frequently touched surfaces and office equipment clean.
- Discourage your employees from using other employees’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools and equipment.
- Work with your insurance companies, and state and local health agencies to provide information to employees about medical care in the event of a pandemic.
- Promote healthy lifestyles such as good nutrition, exercise, and sleep. A person’s overall health impacts the immune system and affects the ability to fight off an infectious disease.
What Companies Can Do Now
Much goes into to creating a pandemic plan. Below are four things your company should have in place now:
Identify the Response Team: Work with human resources to identify the company point person responsible for leading pandemic preparedness. Build a task force to support the effort.
Determine the Communication Tools: Clearly define communications protocols so it is clear how your organization will share updates. Determine what time recurring updates will be available, and how employees can find the information. Convey how urgent messages will be issued (i.e. by text, email, phone or a combination).
Determine How to Manage Exposure: Companies must protect personnel and visitors at the workplace. Know which employees can work from home and which ones can’t. Create visitor policies that limit contact and the spread of infectious disease.
Know the Consequences of Operating with a Diminished Workforce: How will a limited staff change the continuity of your business? How long can your business operate under these conditions?
History reminds us that pandemics aren’t a new phenomenon. With the ease of global travel, diseases can spread more quickly than ever before. It’s important for organizations to be realistic about how an outbreak can affect operations and profits. With careful planning, the better your business can withstand the uncertainty.