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COVID-19 business actions: Top 9 things companies are doing

The rapidly developing COVID-19 pandemic means it’s hard to know where to act and what to do as a business to get through these times. So we took a look at what COVID-19 business actions other companies are enacting in response to the ongoing situation and pulled together nine key learnings for you and your organization.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

The main theme throughout these action items is implementing processes and systems that can last throughout the crisis, as opposed to being a piecemeal solution that lasts for only a short time. Each of these have a longer-term impact and benefit – so keep this in mind as you read through them.

Table of contents:

  1. Develop a COVID-19 company policy
  2. Set up COVID-19 response team
  3. Prepare a structured response plan
  4. Expand sanitation procedures
  5. Educate employees on precautionary measures
  6. Support anxious employees
  7. Expand digital workplace resources
  8. Keep the pipeline moving
  9. Be part of the broader solution

1. Develop a COVID-19 company policy

Just 58.8% of businesses had implemented a policy to address the pandemic as of March 12, 2020, according to research from leading law firm Lewis Silkin. That number’s gone up since then, as we’re seeing a huge spike in traffic to our coronavirus (COVID-19) company policy template page.

Walmart introduced a new emergency leave policy stating: “… hourly workers who work in a store, club, office or distribution center will receive up to two weeks pay if they’re required to quarantine by the government or by the retailer.”

The HR resource website SHRM recommended new practices and benefits be introduced to help employees with COVID-19, including scrapping the need for a doctor’s note, encouraging workers to use Telehealth, deploying wellness programs, and advising against temperature checks as a “gatekeeping” tactic.

2. Set up a COVID-19 response team

A dedicated COVID-19 response team to monitor and respond to daily pandemic developments will be integral to your business. McKinsey recommends appointing a cross-functional team with a leader who reports directly to the CEO to lead the effort, and with members from each function and discipline.

Governments are doing the same – for instance, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker launched a central command center to monitor and respond to the evolving and shifting needs of the state’s communities and residents.

3. Prepare a structured response plan

A single response to a rapidly developing situation isn’t always the best bet. Put together a scaled response plan – for instance, calendar SaaS company Clockwise enacted a scaled response plan based on severity in the San Francisco metro area ranging from Level 1 (wash hands, stay home if feeling ‘off’) to Level 2 (no more office visitors) to Level 3 (mandatory WFH across company).

Workable’s series of email templates also includes details on scaling your response to the spread of the pandemic in your area.

4. Expand sanitation procedures

For companies and employers that cannot realistically operate in a fully remote environment – such as hotels, restaurants, delivery services, etc. – there are procedures you can follow, including increased cleaning schedules, on-site doctor visits (be realistic about expectations here), providing hand sanitizers as needed, etc.

The New York Stock Exchange underwent a ‘deep clean’ of its facilities for the first time since the building opened in 1903, and has asked traders to avoid all physical contact, including handshakes.

Companies are also encouraged to provide free masks, catered lunches, and sanitizers in addition to an increase in the cleaning schedule.

5. Educate employees on precautionary measures

Educating employees is integral to mitigating the spread of COVID-19, particularly in this time where it’s “all hands on deck”. This can come in the form of a new policy, stricter regulations on access, and even a dedicated message to all staff from the CEO – something that can be very powerful, as exemplified by Workable CEO Nikos Moraitakis’ email.

Partners Healthcare also published its CEO letter to all staff on its blog, reassuring employees and empowering them in their round-the-clock efforts at the front lines of health care.

Facebook – and many other large companies including Google and Amazon – is restricting social visitors to its physical offices to protect against COVID-19 exposure.

Oracle, Apple, Google, and Amazon are restricting or banning travel and/or asking employees to work remotely as a precaution against the spread.

Graphic design platform Canva has released a collection of templates than can be used on social media, to educate and help #StopTheSpread.

6. Support anxious employees

Employees will understandably be anxious about a number of things – not only about the pandemic itself, but about the impact on their job and personal budget. In the case of a work from home order, they may feel underequipped to handle that sudden shift from a comfortable, dedicated office environment to a home office. That’s particularly if they have children who are now housebound during school closures. They need to know you’ve got their back.

Twitter’s own policy update emphasized keeping employees and partners safe – including paying contractors, vendors and hourly workers, introducing new resources to support parents, helping ‘Tweeps’ to set up their home offices, and resource guides to make the WFH transition easier.

Tech giants – including Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter are all actively committed to paying hourly workers even if they’re asked to stay at home during the pandemic.

For those companies asking or requiring employees to work from home, Workable has an email and checklist template to help employees get set up at home as well.

Facebook, Google, Twitter, Amazon, and many other companies have implemented remote working policies for many or all of their employees across the globe.

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7. Expand digital workplace resources

As companies move quickly to a remote-first working environment, one of the best things you can do is ensure your employees are well-equipped for that transition and for working in that mindset. In a comprehensive tutorial aimed at CIOs, Gartner recommends identifying work use cases, identifying security and hardware needs, looking at endpoint security, and providing new capabilities in the form of technology and online tools.

You must also understand that success in the transformation lies in change management. Build a framework, prepare for and communicate that change, test first and then implement.

For even quicker transition, companies in China – where the outbreak was initially felt before it spread around the world – turned to social media to coordinate employees and partners to overcome the challenges in workflow collaboration and ensuring everyone was on the same page.

8. Keep the pipeline moving

As Workable COO Grigoris Kouteris says, the worst thing a company can do in a crisis is be idle. You must keep the pipeline moving in every aspect of the business and prepare your business for recovery.

In China, companies such as Master Kong – an instant noodle and beverage manufacturer – anticipated hoarding and stock depletion and shifted its business to accommodate online sales, as well as increased monitoring of sales in order to adapt quickly to changing dynamics in sales.

Chinese hotel chain Huazhu set up a crisis task force and leveraged its internal information app to ensure quick relay of essential information to employees and management in local areas in response to developments.

Other companies in China hard-hit by social distancing advisories such as movie, restaurant and hotel chains, shared their employees with other companies desperately in need of more labor to supplement increased demand – a crucial step if you don’t want to lay off employees or scale back your workforce.

To keep its customer relationship strong, Airbnb introduced a policy allowing eligible reservations to be canceled without charges – specifically for those guests traveling to and from severely affected areas, hosts who are in or welcoming guests from those areas, and those who are seeing trips canceled or delayed due to official restrictions and other travel hindrances related to COVID-19.

Likewise, in the broader sense that there’s a behavioral shift happening worldwide both in the workplace and people’s personal lives, you want to look at customer needs and how those are changing. The above-mentioned Gartner report recommends expanding capacity for self-service and digital sales, enabling remote experiences, and embracing the opportunity to adapt your product or service for current demand.

9. Be part of the broader solution

Just as animals band together to escape a forest fire, societies thrive on participation of individuals – and companies too – in response to a crisis.

Facebook, Google, YouTube, Microsoft, LinkedIn, Reddit, and Twitter have all announced active consultation with each other and with government health departments to ensure people have the information they need on COVID-19 and the novel coronavirus.

Facebook announced a $100-million program offering cash grants and free advertising to small businesses worldwide that may be impacted financially by the crisis.

Slack is offering free upgrades to teams actively working in response to COVID-19, including virus R&D, response plans and mitigation efforts.

Google has stepped up to combat the spread of misinformation around COVID-19, including an “SOS Alert” popping up in search results related to the pandemic, and the active and ongoing removal of videos on YouTube that promote unreliable advice on preventing the virus in place of medical treatment. They are also removing some apps related to the virus from the Google Play app store.

Facebook has banned advertising and commerce listings for medical face masks to prevent exploitation of the product via pricey resales, and Amazon has blocked more than a million products on its e-commerce network that claim to cure or prevent COVID-19.

What are your COVID-19 business actions?

Many of the examples are from large companies with significant leverage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do anything in your own business. In fact, learning from the top dogs and implementing their practices in your own processes is what helps you succeed as a company. More so, being smaller means being more agile and proactive in your decision-making, a crucial advantage during these times – especially when what you’re doing is in line with your company’s values.

Be strong, get proactive, and stay healthy – as a business, too.

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