An ounce of prevention (How to be systematically prepared)

Mar 15, 2020 - Robert Thurston

Digitally-colorized, negative-stained transmission electron microscopic (TEM) image depicted some of the ultrastructural morphology of the A/CA/4/09 Swine Flu virus.

We are living in a world of hyper connectivity, with technologies like 5G wireless, Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite connectivity and global fiber optic networks enabling communication on a level never before seen in human history. However, it is sometimes all too easy to forget that at the core of every great service delivery organization are the people who work every day to delight and surprise their customers.

Given the very unfortunate recent news globally, many organizations are struggling to prepare for the potential of a prolonged period of “work from home” for their employees.

Educate your organization

Preparation begins with awareness and moves forward with a willingness to adapt. Inside your organization it is critical that you are:

  1. Educating your team on how a clean workspace protects them, their families and improves their quality of life. Make sure that everyone on your team is invested in maintaining a clean office space.
  2. Provide guidance on proper hygiene (even as simple as basic hand washing technique can reduce the incidence of respiratory illnesses by 16-21%). This could even be as simple as making sure you have a monthly rotation to clean out the ever infamous office refrigerator.
  3. Empower your office neighborhoods (the five or six people nearest to you are your neighborhood) to take steps to maintain a cleanly environment. This could involve providing sanitization supplies (Lysol wipes, hand sanitizer, etc.) or even simply encouraging people to take pride and responsibility for removing trash and debris from their workspace.
  4. Practice before the event happens, so that when an incident or emergency occurs your team knows what to do. Provide time for your employees (or even assist them with) taking classes in emergency preparedness, such as those offered by the American Red Cross in First Aid, CPR and AED use.

Plan for the worst, hope for the best

While no one hopes for a pandemic illness or other similar event, we have to understand the risk they pose and take action to minimize the impacts to human safety, business continuity and our wider communities.

An exercise that we recommend to our clients is developing a comprehensive risk management plan and developing a regular cadence to systematically review, quantify and address risk scenarios which may impact your organization and your people.

Key to this risk exercise is properly quantifying both the likelihood of a risk impacting your operations, but also the cost that implementing remediation will entail, allowing you to properly prioritize your plan of action in a cost effective way. Further, it is important to keep in mind that not all risk can be fully addressed. Even the best plans can be foiled by bad luck or happenstance, so make sure you are being realistic in your risk planning and expectations. Remember the old adage that “Perfect is the enemy of good.”

Example Risk Management Plan

Risk Impact Likelihood Cost Remediation
Staff absenteeism due to illness Service delivery may be slowed or halted Moderate Low Encourage preventative steps (hygiene, social distancing) to prevent spread of infection
Staff absenteeism due to family illness Service delivery may be slowed or halted High Moderate Provide work from home capabilities for staff, allowing flexibility to meet family need
Disruption to supply chain May be unable to procure required supplies and materials to sustain business operations Moderate High Proactively work with supply chain partners to temporarily increase inventory levels in warehouse of critical supplies
Disruption to corporate travel Sales pipeline may be impacted due to limited contact with client decision makers High Low Develop compelling digital marketing and social media engagement platforms. Encourage sales team to utilize video conferencing or similar solutions to bridge the gap on client interactions

Can your people work from home?

Asking employees to work from home can be a big cultural shift for many organizations. Moreover, while this may help prevent the spread of infectious disease, you may also find that your employees mental health and wellbeing could be negatively impacted by long term isolation or distance from their coworkers and peers.

Before you start a work from home program, make sure you:

  1. Determine the Scope
    • Determine, based on job requirements, which employees may be eligible for work from home and for what period of time this may be acceptable. Make sure these details are clearly communicated to your team!
  2. Develop a Work From Home Policy
    • Be sure to communicate to your home workers about your expectations as an organization:
      • What sort of environments are suitable for work from home? (Can I work from home in my living room, at a coffee shop or from a beach?)
      • What technology will be provided to your home workers and which must they provide on their own? (Does accessing your corporate network from a personal workstation potentially put your IT systems at risk?)
      • Will working from home change pay structure, benefits or other compensation?
      • Does your home worker need to provide a secure location in their home for storage of documents or technology assets? (Locked cabinet, locked office, document shredder)
      • Are there certain types of data which cannot be transmitted to or stored in home office locations?
      • Do home workers need to include company assets under their home owner’s insurance in case of loss or damage? If so, how is this tracked and communicated?
  3. Assure your home workers have a viable work from home environment
    • Is the space appropriate and professional for voice calls and video conferencing? (Is the space unkempt or inappropriate for your company image? What about crying children or noisy pets?)
    • Is the space relatively free from distractions that are not work related?
    • Does your employee have a sufficiently robust Internet connection or Wifi to be effective when working from home?
    • What ergonomic assistance will be provided by the organization for my work from home space? (What happens if an employee has a repetitive stress injury due to poor at home ergonomics while working from home?)
  4. Develop strong work from home culture and community
    • Will your teams have regular video conference check-ins or an “always on” video conference to stay connected with their coworkers and peers? (Avoiding social isolation and fostering strong teams)
    • Do your typical office workflows need to change? (Perhaps you need to deploy e-signature or other document workflows to replace paper forms?)
    • How will you keep your home workers engaged with the daily “comings and goings” of your organization when they are working remotely? Will they know when your company or team is successful and how will they celebrate it?
    • When and how do your home workers need to be available to your customers and their co-workers? Make sure to establish strong guidelines for progress updates, team communications cadence, customer contact expectations and meetings with their supervisors.
    • When is it appropriate and how do your home workers delineate when they are “off work”? Your people are even more susceptible to burn out when working remotely, if they feel they can “never disconnect” fully.

Look to ecosystem partners

Your organization is not an island, we all depend on suppliers, vendors, partners, and customers to move forward. Make sure that while you are working to protect your employees and mitigate risk that you don’t forget about your ecosystem. While this may be an occasionally awkward and sensitive discussion, you should try to address it directly as possible with those organization and individuals you rely on.

  • Are your contracts with suppliers sufficiently robust to cover possible risks to your supply chain?
  • What are your service providers obligated to do in the event that they are facing issues with absenteeism due to illness? Do they have contingency plans to help you?
  • Does your insurance provide any coverage to mitigate your potential losses?
  • Do your partners have strategies which can make your business stronger and more resilient?

Be brave and help lead your community forward

If nothing else, don’t let your organization fall prey to fear. While in business, as in life, there are no perfect guarantees of safety there are steps you can and should take to be systematically prepared.

AlasConnect is committed to the success of our partners, clients and community. If you have concerns or feel you need assistance with becoming systematically prepared, please contact us so that we can start a conversation and help you move forward.