With Covid-19, it’s no longer business as usual

Posted on Mar 16, 2020 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
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There’s no question that the Covid-19 coronavirus has sent businesses reeling as they seek to keep their own employees healthy and make sure customers’ needs are being met while hoping there’s still enough customers to keep the organization going.

Encouraging employees to work from home, canceling business travel and hosting virtual meetings are some of the first steps businesses took to handle the crisis. Employers may also need to adjust some policies, such as absenteeism, but it is crucial those changes still meet Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) regulations and employment laws such as the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), says Travis Rhoden, a senior environmental health and safety editor with J.J. Keller & Associates in Neenah.

For example, Rhoden says if employees need to care for a sick relative or deal with school and daycare closures, the company’s sick leave policy may need to be altered to cover those situations.

Last week, J.J. Keller published a free whitepaper online to help businesses manage their responses to Covid-19. Rhoden says many HR personnel have questions about dealing with the virus. “A company’s response needs to take into account communicating with your employees regularly and openly,” he says.

Communication is vital in a crisis like Covid-19, says Lisa Cruz, president of Red Shoes Inc. in Appleton. Employers need to be proactive when communicating with their employees and customers, she adds.

“When there’s a direct link to helping to keep employees and customers healthy and what’s transpiring in our community and elsewhere, it’s an employer’s opportunity to demonstrate they are being a smart partner and community member,” Cruz says. “Any crisis is a true test of leadership and communications play a defining role.”

When communicating with employees and customers, it’s vital to communicate in a calming manner and not incite panic, Cruz says.

“One of the points I mention in working with clients and presenting on crisis communications is that leaders need to remember and know their every facial expression, movement and action are being closely scrutinized by employees and this includes the tone of communications,” she says. “I heard recently that one organization had leaders running in and out of a crisis planning room inciting fear to those around them who were not part of the planning. This is not the way to go.”

By proactively communicating in the right tone, Cruz says employers can project calm and that things are under control. She says employers also need to keep five to 10 steps ahead from an operations perspective so they can plan for future changes and map out a communications strategy.

“When an employer assumes a proactive position, they feel more in control and in turn their employees are feeling reassured and confident that their employer is doing their best on their behalf,” Cruz says.

Since some businesses may not know what they should do during the current crisis, Laurie Radke, president and CEO of the Greater Green Bay Chamber, sent information to members alerting them of what steps the chamber was taking. All events scheduled between now and April 10 were cancelled and in-person meetings are being held via phone or videoconference.

“The chamber leadership is working closely and collaboratively with medical experts in our community, as well as their access to the latest coronavirus information available globally, to set an example of best practices in this unprecedented health situation,” Radke wrote. The chamber is being “proactive in our behaviors to minimize the spread of this virus in our community, and to support our business members that are also instituting operational changes in response to the coronavirus.”

Please look for an article in the April issue of Insight about what steps businesses are taking in light of the coronavirus. Insight will also publish additional articles online as new information becomes available.