Business preparedness for Coronavirus

As of mid-February 2020 there had been 73,438 confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and 1,875 deaths.

In China the Coronavirus first appeared in Wuhun city and we have all read about the lockdown of this entire city. This is a city with a population of 11 million – to put that in perspective the population of the UK’s Birmingham is only 1 million and Paris 12 million. Can you imagine shutting down the entire city of Paris? How bad must things be for such an extreme measure to have been taken in China? There is no doubt that there is a serious threat posed by the Coronavirus and whilst, as individuals, we have no control over its spread we can make sure we are prepared should the worst happen.

It makes sense for all of us to perform a basic risk analysis for our business. A few simple planning steps and some basic preparedness will make all the difference should the Coronavirus become a problem in Europe and the USA. Can you still operate if the government decides to restrict people’s movements or imposes a curfew? If not what can you do to reduce the negative impact on your business?

Hygiene

It is important to identify trustworthy advice on hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission of the virus. It is simple to find and you can print off some short infographics to put up around the office and email to your team. The most important advice is as follows;

  1. Hand hygiene is essential. Make sure you remind staff to use soap and make alcohol-based hygiene gels available in areas like building or office entrances, kitchens and other communal areas. If your team work at supplier or client premises you should give them a bottle of the gel they can use when at other sites. Lead by example and use the gels to encourage your staff to develop the habit.
  2. If you have a cough and sneezing minimise your contact with other people. If you have the virus the tiny fluids that come out of your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze will be loaded with the virus that can infect other people. The virus can survive for several hours outside the body. Use a tissue to cover your mouth when coughing or sneezing and use an alcohol-based gel regularly to keep your hands clean. Dispose of tissues immediately in a bin with a lid.
  3. Make it clear that if staff feel ill, they should stay at home and not come into contact with other people. If visibly sick staff come into the office send them home immediately. See the section on remote working below.
  4. Use a mask if you have an infection as this will reduce the chance of you passing it on. You should also wear a mask if you are caring for, or in close proximity to, someone who has the Coronavirus. Use an alcohol hand rub before you put the mask on and after you remove it. In an office environment, no one with the disease should be at work so you shouldn’t need masks however it might make people feel better if you have some available.
  5. People should not come into contact when not strictly necessary. Hugs, kisses and handshakes are all situations where the virus can be transmitted so remind people to limit person to person contact.

Here are three great infographics you can use:

Protect others from getting sick
Wash your hands
When you should wash your hands

Remote working

The greatest risk of passing on the infection is via person to person contact so reducing the situations where this can arise is important should the infection spread to Europe and the USA. In a work environment – offices, meetings and public transport are some of the highest risk areas/activities. The safest way to work is remotely from the home.

Decide on a clear protocol and decision-making basis for a work from home rule – will you wait until the government demands it, will you look to your local health services for advice or will you make a decision based on some other factor? Will your rules for staff who work from your office and who work at supplier or client premises differ? How will you communicate your decision to your staff and what happens if you get sick?

Can your teams work from home; do they have the right equipment and remote access to your business-critical systems? You might need to spend a bit of time and money getting our remote access set up but this will be a critical investment if the virus spreads. In any case, 82% of businesses believe that remote working saves them money and employees love it so there really isn’t a good reason not to get this working for your business. If you need some pointers about how to go about this and what to avoid doing check this article out.

Identify tasks that cannot be done remotely if so what are they and how can you keep your business running if movement restrictions are applied to your staff?

Automation and access

Try to automate as much as you can so that you are not so reliant on individuals – if they become sick how will their tasks be completed? Do you have more than one person who can access and use each business-critical system or task? Do you need to train other staff to do a business-critical task? Can you still make payments and sign cheques if you get ill?

The most critical business task is invoicing and getting paid. This should not be a manual process that happens once a month when you get around to reviewing your calendar or work orders. Every business should use an automated invoicing program anyway but this is even more important should some of your team become ill. The features you should look for are as follows;

  1. The software is online so you and your team can access it from any device and any location.
  2. It can track time, mileage and expenses by customer.
  3. It can create estimates and quotes.
  4. Grant different access to different staff members to allow the submission of information, creation of invoices, review and authorization. This will make sure as much as possible is delegated which will reduce bottlenecks, delays and the need for lots of bits of papers or emails to be reviewed.
  5. Automatically create recurring invoices, email invoices to clients and automatically issue reminders. Which is no excuse for poor credit control.
  6. Integrate with lots of different payment gateways.

Assess opportunities

Do you provide remote working services or solutions, IT support, accounting support? Do you deliver supplies of any type? For many businesses, there could be opportunities for you as the businesses and homes around you think about preparing themselves for the spread of Coronavirus. If there is a serious outbreak, how you would market your services sensitively and what you might need to do to capitalize on business opportunists during an outbreak?