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ANALYSIS

How to deal with COVID-19 as a business?

DUBAI, March 11, 2020

It is critical for companies to have a system in place to continuously monitor new developments related to the new Coronavirus (COVID-19) and to be able take rapid action as necessary in order to limit damage, Makeen Advisors says in a report.
 
It is hard to escape the news about COVID-19. Statements by leading health authorities and actions taken by governments across the globe underscore the significance of COVID-19 and the importance of having a perspective and understanding how to deal with it – both as an individual as it relates to protecting oneself and one’s family, but also as a business. 
 
Makeen Advisors, a network of independent management consultants with proven experience at leading management organisation firms in the Middle East and abroad, provides a thought-starter for organisations on how to do this. 
 
It says there are three dimensions to this analysis:
• Awareness and Prevention: What are the measures that we should take as an organisation to create awareness amongst our staff and for outbreak prevention?
• Scenario planning and preparedness: Are we sufficiently aware of the various scenarios that might emerge in the context of this virus and do we have a plan in place to address them?
• Incident management: If anticipated scenarios materialise, are we as an organisation responding as per response plans developed and tested? 
 
Even though it is easy to get lost in the breadth of publications out there, fortunately, there are a lot of strong and trusted resources for awareness and prevention that can be referred to inform decision-making. Examples include the WHO (https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf?sfvrsn=359a81e7_4, https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports) and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (https://www.ecdc.europa.eu/en/novel-coronavirus-china). Additionally, people are advises to research trusted resources in their local geography.
 
The report says with regard to scenario planning and preparedness, in light of the fast transmission speed of the virus, and the massive actions taken to curb its spread, it is critical that each organisation has a perspective of how to deal with a number of scenarios (which are real and already affecting a large number of people), including:
• Suspected / confirmed cases of COVID-19: Does the organisation have access to expertise and a process in place to identify staff that are affected by this virus, and what to do after an infection has been identified? This relates to healthcare provision for affected staff members and their families, healthcare provision for colleagues, as well as for the impact on work.
• Rising concerns about COVID-19 amongst staff: It is hard not get impacted by what is happening. People are worried about themselves and their families. Organisations need to create awareness and guidance for their staff to reassure them and to help them deal with this risk both at work and at home (through individual conversations, e-mails, or other means). There also needs to be a process to actively listen and understand specific concerns or issues (e.g., when to visit a doctor, concerns of family members stuck in places with travel restrictions, etc.).
• Schools / nurseries suspended: There is frequent news of schools or nurseries shutting down for periods of time. This is heavily disruptive for families, for whom it is very hard to prepare or deal with disruptions of their typical routine. Organisations need to understand how much their staff are affected in places where this already happened, or be prepared for this potentially happening. This includes support for parents to find alternatives for childcare or to facilitate further flexibility in how work can be completed (e.g., through remote work).
• Travel or movement restrictions: Whether out of caution or necessity, there are increasing constraints (or calls for constraints) on travel and movement. This has clear implications on the ability to conduct business as usual. Organisations need to have a plan or perspective on how to deal with such restrictions, which will primarily center around the question of remote work. There needs to be thinking, technology, and policies and procedures for staff members to be able to conduct a bigger chunk of their work remotely. A contingency plan is also needed for staff stuck in remote places due to such actions. Judgement calls are also necessary for own proactive decisions or guidance to limit travel for staff members to high risk areas (both professionally and privately).
• Disruption of ability to serve partners and clients: The above scenarios or others might impact our ability to collaborate with our partners and serve our clients. It is important that all stakeholders are briefed and aware of potential disruption of service, as well as of decisions taken to address risks in this regard (e.g., limiting travel or in-person meetings), including how such decisions may impact the other party. This also goes the other way round: It is important to create clarity how partners might be affected by the virus and how they are planning to react to it, to be able to design own contingency plans accordingly.
 
Finally, it is important to realise that this situation is evolving very rapidly (e.g. in terms of number of people affected, regions affected, actions taken by government stakeholders, etc.). Therefore, it is critical to have a system in place to continuously monitor new developments and to be able take rapid action as necessary in order to limit damage (e.g., a taskforce combining leaders in different teams as relevant per industry), as well as to measure whether the organisation is acting as per plan if and when anticipated scenarios materialise, says the report.
 
"The above is by no means a complete list, but it can serve as a thought-starter on how to be better prepared, and to increase awareness of the right questions even if the answers are not yet 100% clear," it says.
 
To facilitate the planning around this issue, Makeen Advisors has compiled a process and check-list thought-starter that can help in that planning process:
• Step 1: Set up a cross-functional task force in organisation to own this topic
• Step 2: Determine scenarios and key questions that need to be addressed (questions and template below can be a thought-starter)
• Step 3: Develop and test response plans, assign responsibilities
• Step 4: Monitor implementation of response plans
• Step 5: Put in place process to continuously monitor and trigger responses as needed, actively monitor situation
 
Check-list thought-starter
Awareness & Prevention:
* Do we know which resources and institutions to turn to for relevant insights and updates (e.g., international bodies, responsible government authorities, local health clinics, health and safety guidelines, etc.)?
* Have we reviewed these resources thoroughly and do we have a team responsible in the organisation to monitor those resources / flag new developments to the leadership of our organisation? Does this team have sufficient capacity (e.g., to cover nights / weekends as well)?
* Do we have a panel of experts we can resort to for questions to ensure we understand the situation well and to validate that we are taking the right measures? * Did we create a list and implementation plan for our awareness and prevention measures with clear responsibilities and accountability?
* Did we put in place a system to monitor implementation of awareness and prevention measures?
 
Scenario Planning and Preparedness: Suspected / confirmed cases of COVID-19:
* Do we have a process in place to identify infected staff or suspected cases of infection?
* Do we know what to do when we identify staff members (or family members of staff members) who are infected? Both as it relates to healthcare and work for infected staff members and their colleagues?
 
Scenario Planning and Preparedness: Rising concerns about COVID-19 amongst staff
* Given the context of our business and geographical set-up, do we have the right content and delivery method and to inform and re-assure our staff on what kind of actions they need to take regarding COVID-19 to protect themselves?
* Do we have a system in place that allows concerned staff to reach out and ask questions of any sort?
 
Scenario Planning and Preparedness: Schools / nurseries suspended:
* Are we keeping track of decisions by schools or education authorities to suspend schooling?
* Do we know who among our staff have kids and could be impacted by such decisions?
* Have we developed a plan how to assist these colleagues (e.g., ability to take temporary time off, alternatives for child-care, ability to do remote work)?
 
Scenario Planning and Preparedness: Travel or movement restrictions:
* Are we monitoring the news and continuously assessing risk / updating guidance for our staff as it relates to travel and outside meetings?
* Are we doing all we can to reduce need for outside meetings or travel?
* Are we prepared to help colleagues who are travelling and get stuck or face other issues (e.g., infection during travel)?
* Are we doing the required thinking (e.g., technologies, processes, procedures) to increase level of remote work if need for movement restrictions increases?
 
Scenario Planning and Preparedness:  Disruption of ability to serve partners and clients:
*Do we have a perspective if and how COVID-19 may impact our ability to serve our partners and customers?
* Do we have a plan for dealing with any disruption to our ability to serve our partners and customers?
* Are we actively communicating with our clients, suppliers, and other stakeholders to inform them how we are affected by COVID-19 and to understand how they are impacted and how we can help? - TradeArabia News Service
 



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