We’re just a few weeks into the fight against Coronavirus right now and we’re already into unprecedented territory with how government and the private sector are engaged in the fight against this epidemic.
In this episode of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal and Chief Executive Bryan Strawser talks about lessons learned from the private sector to date in the Coronavirus fight. Topics discussed include personal protective equipment, crisis communications, cleaning, reporting, pay – benefits – sick leave and other compensation topics, crisis management frameworks, and more.
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Bryan Strawser: Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath. I’m flying solo again today. I want to talk about lessons learned in the coronavirus fight to date. I’m recording this on Saturday, March 21st, so we’re really a few weeks into the heavy situation here in the United States.
Bryan Strawser: I think that to set the stage for this podcast, the most sobering number that I’ve seen this week is that confirmed coronavirus COVID-19 cases here in the United States have grown more than tenfold over the last seven days. We’re seeing increases typically between 20% and 30% per day right now across the United States with significant increases in three locations. That’s Massachusetts, California, and New York, primarily centered on New York City. We’re all fighting this fight right now as business continuity and crisis management and resilience leaders across the United States and throughout the world.
Bryan Strawser: I want to talk a little bit about the lessons learned that we’ve seen about the coronavirus fight to date. I’m just going to walk through some things that we’ve learned that we’ve picked up on from talking and benchmarking with a number of companies in the United States, Canada, Europe, and China. We’ll just share some thoughts here and then at the end I’m going to give you an opportunity to send in some of your thoughts for a future episode.
Bryan Strawser: But let’s start with some lessons learned that we’ve seen. One of the biggest is that companies that are working through this right now need a crisis management process, a crisis response process, that is coordinated by top management and experts within the company that really give experts and leaders in the organization the autonomy they need to implement creative and pragmatic solutions. This is where having the crisis management framework that we talk about all the time here on our podcast, but having a crisis management framework helps you do a number of things that are critical right now as you manage through the challenges presented by coronavirus.
Bryan Strawser: The first is having this process in place, the framework in place. It helps you understand the crisis. You’re able to get together with that crisis management team and your executive team, brief the situation on a daily basis and understand where you stand. Based upon that understanding, then you can use your framework and process to decide upon and execute those immediate strategic actions that you need to take, collaborate together and within your subject matter groups like HR, security, business continuity. You can collaborate together on other actions that align with … Those actions that you want to line up to do that really need fit with both your organization’s values and the societal norms that are going on in that moment around the coronavirus.
Bryan Strawser: You might be limited by actions that your local, state or national government is taking. That’s what I mean by coming to the societal norms. How do you line up the actions that you need to take within the framework right now of what is allowed and what is legal for you to do?
Bryan Strawser: Then your framework allows you to deliver and monitor those actions that you’re going to take. You can monitor the execution of those actions in a way that lets your organization pivot as necessary to change those decisions as you start to see the responses and make your other strategic and tactical decisions that you need to make as a company right now.
Bryan Strawser: We see four critical areas that companies need to use their crisis management process for right now to center their response. These might be a little different for your organization, but pretty consistently we’re seeing four areas.
Bryan Strawser: The first one, and the most important one by far, is protecting your workforce, taking the actions to make sure that your team is safe as you continue the operations at your organization. In some ways, managing the pay benefits, incentive pay, sick leave, attendance situation with your team as necessary. We’ll talk more about this in a few minutes. The first area is protecting your workforce.
Bryan Strawser: The second area is engaging with your customers and your clients depending upon your business. But I think you want to … Here, where you see companies really maintaining contact with your customers, ascertaining their needs. You may have to make strategic adjustments to things you’re doing as an organization to make sure that you are delivering upon the things that your customers are looking for in this more difficult time.
Bryan Strawser: The third is the stabilization of your supply chain. Here we’re looking at, depending upon your business, your raw materials, your third party services that are being provided to you. It could be the outsourcing of work that you do to a business process outsourcer, for example, in Asia or India. But what is your supply chain? Then what do you need to do to stabilize your supply chain? What’s the continuity capability, the disaster recovery capability, of your suppliers that you’re dependent upon in order to do the work that your customers are engaging with you on?
Bryan Strawser: Then fourth, and this is definitely more of a forward-looking issue, but really stress testing your financials, taking a look at your financial model, starting to apply stress to it to understand what happens if a key supplier drops out? What happens if we have a downturn in business in the 10% to 15% range? What happens if there are fewer medical claims if that’s your business? What if there are less claims in the future because it’s just going to be about coronavirus for some time. Starting to look at what those financial impacts to your organization might be as you look ahead.
Bryan Strawser: In addition, we see four practices around the crisis management process that we think is important for companies to ensure are in place. The first is to establish a single source of truth for the crisis management process. As you’re working through the coronavirus situation, what are you communicating about those decisions? What kind of situational briefings or understanding are you providing to leaders across the organization?
Bryan Strawser: The second is to make sure that your leadership is aligned on your current scenario, your current understanding or current briefing of the situation and the scenarios that you’re planning for on what might happen next. For example, if you’re not already in a state that is in a lockdown shelter-in-place situation, we should anticipate that your state will eventually do something similar to that. That’s a situation that you want to be planning for now. You want to have your tactics and strategies figured out so that when your State or States announce that they’re moving to shelter-in-place, well then we’ve talked through what that means for us and what we’re going to need to do.
Bryan Strawser: Are you critical infrastructure or not? Will your employees be able to get to work or not? If they have to come in, can they continue their work from home? Will this create other difficulties that you or your supply chain need to deal with? That’s the scenario planning that we really want to make sure that we’re doing right now.
Bryan Strawser: The third thing companies should look at in relation to this is establishing communication and influence channels with local, state and national political leaders and health officials. This might be as simple as making sure you’re plugged into their official communication so that you’re seeing policy statements, executive orders, press conferences, and those kinds of things so that you’re currently on the situation in your state and across the country. But it might also be that there is a role to play for your company to influence some of these situations. I’m not sure, it’s a little different by the organization, but those are the things that we want you to think about.
Bryan Strawser: Then fourth, companies should establish a battle rhythm, a cadence of meetings and decision making cycles that you’re using with your crisis management and executive teams all throughout this crisis. Generally, we’re recommending that one of those teams meet every day and look at what is going on from a crisis management perspective. What’s new with the situation and what adjustments do you need to make to your strategy? What communication may need to be published about what’s happening with the situation? There’s a strategic point of view on the crisis management that needs to be coordinated and in place for your top management.
Bryan Strawser: Let’s talk now just more tactically on some lessons learned. For the most part, right now you should have if possible, your workforce work from home. Hopefully, you have the remote tools in place, a virtual private network or VPN, collaboration tools like Slack or Microsoft Teams, project management tools like Base Camp, Trello, Asana, Microsoft Project, Office 365 or others.
Bryan Strawser: But obviously there’s work that needs to be done in person; production lines, food assembly, retail, grocery stores. These are all things that have to be done in person. Where you have work that has to happen in person at the office, at the manufacturing site, take appropriate precautions.
Bryan Strawser: As much as possible, you want to social distance the team. Think about the workplace. Can you move workspaces farther apart? What about the cafeteria and break room? Think about removing or marking off every other seat in order to create that six-foot barrier we want from a social distancing standpoint. Can you stretch out or adjust your production lines so that workers can be farther apart? In some cases, you might need to think about only having some of the workers on this shift and moving some of the other workers to another shift in order to create that social distancing space. I acknowledge that this may have an impact on productivity, but this will also adhere to the social distancing guidelines that we’re seeing from public health agencies. These are important things that need to happen.
Bryan Strawser: We want to see regular cleaning. Think about cleaning workstations or areas before and after each shift. Clean the facility between shifts if that’s possible or at least once a day in order to ensure the virus is killed on surfaces, doorknobs, food areas, etcetera. With personal protection equipment, unless you’re working in healthcare or as a first responder or in law enforcement or a role where there’s usually PPE required, generally mass and things like that should be reserved right now for healthcare and first responders emergency services as much as possible in order to reduce demand on those products.
Bryan Strawser: Except for certain applications, we don’t recommend temperature screening in the workplace, although we’re seeing this a lot for visitors coming into companies, although really you don’t want to be doing much of that visitor stuff right now anyway. If you do decide to take temperature of your employees, think about maybe just doing it as a sample, sample every 10th, 12th, 15th person coming in as to not violate social distancing and not slow down your workforce, but that might be an acceptable alternative.
Bryan Strawser: Successful organizations, of course, we’ve seen this since the virus really began to take hold here in the US, sick employees should stay home in line with the CDC’s guidance. You’ve probably already looked at adjusting your pay, your sick leave, and attendance policies accordingly, but certainly, if you’re sending someone home because they have a respiratory infection of some type, they’re off for 14 days. Most companies are paying them for those 14 days before they can return to work. Many companies are also now paying incentive pay or perhaps attendance or retention pay and many companies have also increased compensation across the board during this more difficult time that we’re going through.
Bryan Strawser: We see a lot of value in communicating upfront to employees about your efforts and keeping them informed about your efforts. You should also tell them, particularly if they have to work in the office or a manufacturing line or elsewhere, what will you do if there’s a confirmed case in that environment? You should just be pretty upfront about pausing or not pausing production about cleaning, about quarantine and self-quarantine efforts that you’ll follow as a company so that they understand what that means.
Bryan Strawser: We do recommend creating an internal hub of information. That might be an intranet page if that’s how your employees communicate, that has fact sheets, links out to credible resources like the CDC or your state health department, that has frequently asked questions, etcetera. Make sure you cover where to report if they’re sick, where they can go for more information. For factories or manufacturing facilities or food production, this might just be a bulletin board where the information is up on the bulletin board. Again, you should communicate in a way that is most effective for your organization.
Bryan Strawser: We’ve seen a number of false reports with our clients where folks have said, “Hey, I’ve been diagnosed with coronavirus,” and then when the client has asked for documentation, it turns out not to be true. We would recommend that you clamp down on those pretty hard from an employee standpoint, a disciplinary standpoint in order to encourage the others not to create false reports. We’ve also had issues where employees and contractors have made fake posts, so to speak, on social media where they’re saying that their employer has a confirmed case, even though they don’t. We would recommend also coming down pretty hard on those. Don’t be afraid to use the libel and slander and defamation laws in order to force someone to take down a clearly false post. That’s just crazy what people will do right now.
Bryan Strawser: Lastly, you should continue to remind your teams, and I would talk about this all the time, about them following the guidance from the CDC and the World Health Organization and that is to wash your hands, stay home if you’re sick, don’t go to gatherings over 10 people. Don’t play in gatherings over 10 people and avoid those that are currently sick where you can do so.
Bryan Strawser: These are some of the lessons that we’ve learned so far in the coronavirus fight. I’m sure in the days and weeks ahead we’ll learn more, but I would love to hear the lessons that you’ve learned. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your thoughts, reactions, and your own lessons learned and we’ll use them in an upcoming edition of the Managing Uncertainty podcast. That’s it for now. We’ll have another new episode soon.