During the past week alone, the airwaves (or their digital equivalents) have been replete with report-after-report about the worldwide implications of coronavirus (the common name for COVID-19), endless articles have been published on the topic (at least judging by my own ‘inbox’ with pieces by, among others, Florida Trend magazine 4 and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ), and I participated in a corporate counsel web-conference on how companies are both addressing this spreading health phenomenon and preparing for the disruptions it may (…no, will) cause companies and the goods, services, and financial markets generally. Further, the U.S. Small Business Administration has repeated its emphasis on general natural disaster planning. 5 Of particularly useful note are the resources provided by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (see footnote 5 below). And, of course, endless postings on social media on all areas of coronavirus interest, preventive, political, infographics, travel, you name it…
And ‘speaking of’ resources (all no-charge), see last week’s article from this series. 7 There simply is no need to repeat terrain already covered.
This writer is a board member of CDS Family & Behavioral Services, Inc. a non-profit organization which addresses the needs of children, youth, and families in North Central Florida, and operates residential shelter programs as part of its scope of coverage. CDS, in turn, is involved with several state and national support organizations. In this case, Lutheran Services Florida circulated Governor Ron DeSantis’ March 1 Executive Order 20-51 “which directed Surgeon General Rivkees to declare a public health emergency to better equip Florida with the resources needed to handle this public health threat.” 8
Focusing on the short-term – to logically be followed by the long-term – consequences to businesses, here are several (but really just a few) to be addressed now, later, and likely permanently:
- Hygiene – Largely meaning regular (no…frequent) handwashing and coughing/sneezing into an immediately (and properly) discarded tissue or equivalent. Perhaps the common proverb ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ is proving itself to be a truism again.
- Hygiene supplies – Soap, hand sanitizer (apparently with a 60% + alcohol composition), and disinfectant wipes (which address viruses). There has been a ‘run on the bank’ for these supplies; try to find them at local pharmacy or grocery – lately the shelves are empty. One suggestion during the corporate attorneys web-conference was to order them on-line, but to simultaneously be wary of price gouging. (Example, look at the price of protective masks for use when appropriate.)
- Vendor chains – Examine goods and services providers’ capacities to continue their work, and at the same time identify multiple backups on a ‘just in case’ basis. (Again, being wary of price gouging.)
- Travel and meetings – A major topic. With a major suggestion. For the time-being use online meeting applications, such as the one by which the attorneys web-conference itself was conducted. And, while unrelated to business operations per se, monitor employees travel domestic and international travel venues – not to prevent employees from moving at liberty, but rather to be attentive to any post-travel implications.
- Salaried vs. hourly employees – Effectively salaried employees ‘can afford’ to be off during quarantines or recovery period. (That is, they will get paid.) But, as was discussed in-depth during the attorneys web-conference, hourly employees have a practical disincentive to staying away from the workplace, even while ill. (That is, they will not get paid.) It is timely, then for employers to (re)visit their infectious disease policies and procedures. The Society for Human Resource Management, of which this writer is a member, offers a variety of resources on just that very topic 9 – see the current landing page. Further, remote work for applicable employees can be considered and supported, being sensitive to those who are ill.
- Communications – Both to in-house and external stakeholders. This is critical, both to prevent rumors from propagating, and also to keep information- and work-flow moving forward as seamlessly as possible.
One topic which may begin to emerge will be the role of robotics and artificial intelligence in the production chain. Of course there are numerous positives and negatives to these tools – for example, job replacement, and continuity without regard to health concerns. These and related technological resources will be matters to be recognized and then analyzed and implemented in broad-scale public policy and political arenas.
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These are the times that try men’s souls. – Thomas Paine
The overall ‘take-away’ of the above for businesses – it is never too early from a proactive risk management perspective to plan for matters such as those mentioned above, but from a practical perspective it may become too late.
Again, more as the facts unfold.
* Derived (again) from Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez.