As the risk of coronavirus spreads across India, employers are proactively jumping into action in order to ensure that their employees remain safe. It is crucial that talent leaders play their part in creating awareness and ensuring that employees follow stringent hygiene techniques and actively steer clear of panic.
Companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Google, Cognizant, and Wipro have joined the ranks of other employers who are taking preventive measures in order to stop the spread of coronavirus.
The first and foremost way of preventing the spread of coronavirus is to restrict travel and cancel upcoming technology conferences and events. Another measure is to encourage employees to work from home and join meetings virtually.
Corporates encouraging work from home
All non-essential travel has been restricted at Cognizant and the Cognizant Community event previously scheduled in Texas has been canceled as the risk of spread of COVID-19 becomes more real, according to employee communiqué sent by Brian Humphries, CEO, Cognizant.
The request for employees to work from home for Twitter is not mandatory except for in the social media giant’s offices in Hong Kong, Japan, and South Korea, as the respective nation’s governments have placed restrictions there.
“Wipro has suspended travel to and transit through mainland China, including Hong Kong and Macau, until further notice. Employees have also been advised to avoid non-critical travel to Singapore, South Korea, Japan, and Italy,” according to a statement shared by Wipro among its employees.
All employees who have traveled to affected areas within the last few days have been asked to work from home at least for 14 days prior to coming back to the office.
Zoho’s founder has also shared that that work from home will be default work option during this time of coronavirus outbreak.
“We have adopted work from home as the default for all our offices worldwide as a matter of precaution, though we have not had any cases. Our employees are encouraged to come to the office only when absolutely essential. We will continue this policy until the virus threat passes,” said Sridhar Vembu, Founder, Zoho.
Zoho has also canceled user conferences in at-risk nations and banned all non-critical and essential travel for employees and put in place disaster-response teams for quick action.
A PayTM employee in Gurgaon who returned from Italy has been tested positive for coronavirus and is receiving treatment at the time. The company has issued a notice mandating its employees to work from home for the next two days at least as the office gets sanitized and employees get tested.
Flipkart has issued a ban on all domestic and international business travel, urged employees to get tested immediately in case they experience flu-like symptoms, and advised teams to not source samples from foreign countries. When it comes to local commute, the company has advised employees to use their personal vehicles and avoid public transport. All events, training, campaign activities etc have been put on hold.
For L’Oreal, what started out as a travel ban to APAC countries and then Europe, the company has banned any international business travel. Any personal traveling to affected nations has to be followed by a self-imposed quarantine of 14 days of work from home.
A Gurgaon-based software company, Nagarro, has requested its employees to avoid non-essential travel and work from home unless absolutely necessary to come to office. They’ve also asked our colleagues to cancel all team parties or gatherings and avoid conducting in-person workshops or training. Preventive measures such as regular washing of hands, using sanitizers, and avoiding contact with people who have cold are being encouraged.
Additionally, MakeMyTrip is advising all their employees to exercise caution while planning business or leisure trips internationally.
According to a recent survey by Willis Towers Watson of 158 employers globally, more than half of the companies are implementing an array of actions to protect employees.
Actively avoid stigma and discrimination: It is imperative that employers themselves have reliable information regarding the COVID-19 and not jump to sweeping conclusions about the risk level based on a race or country of origin. When dealing with employees’ health-related information, it is essential to remember to maintain confidentiality of people confirmed with COVID-19.
Encourage sick employees to stay home: If employees are showing fever-like symptoms or acute respiratory illnesses, then the CDC asks employers to ensure that employees can take work from home and not come to the workplace until their fever subsides. In the interest of safety of employees, employers must ensure that the sick leave policies are flexible and compliant with the public health guidance policies from CDC and governments.
Even if a family member is sick, employees must be able to avail of sick leaves in order to take care of the sick family member. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, employers must make room for employees to stay home more often than usual.
- Routinely clean up the environment: A routine and more stringent cleanup of the office space is going to be essential.
- Create awareness: Making sure that as talent leaders, employers put their employees’ safety first and create awareness about Covid-19 by sharing information from reliable sources such as CDC is crucial.
- Following a safe etiquette while coughing and sneezing: Hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, staying home when sick, providing masks, alcohol-based sanitizers, soap and water in various locations especially where there is high human contact--such as breakrooms, canteens, water coolers, restrooms etc.
- Move sick employees away from others: Many a times employees might choose to come into the office irrespective of their health concerns--perhaps, because they’ve used up all their sick days or the leave policies are stringent. During such times, managers can exercise their discretion and make leave policies a bit more accommodative and allow for remote working options.
CDC has recommended that employees who show acute respiratory illness symptoms upon arrival at work or those who become sick during the day should be moved away from other employees and asked to return home immediately.
What can HR leaders do?
As HR leaders, the duties and responsibilities are not just limited to ensuring employees’ wellbeing. Bottom-lines are getting impacted and most businesses are facing financial crises in light of the coronavirus risk that has gripped the world. It is crucial that HR leaders play their part in ensuring business operations continuity and in absorbing the financially negative impact on the organization.
Continuing business operations
A primary way of ensuring that business continues to happen is to make remote work arrangements and encourage people to take up tasks that don’t require face-to-face interaction, have no physical element which needs presence in the premises, and replace in-person scenarios with video calls and conference calls. The HR leaders can proactively ensure that employees are able to access work-related documents or log in from their respective systems remotely as well.
Moreover, if the business is experiencing a slowdown, it would help to give people vacations in order to minimize the risk of virus spread and manage the remainder of vacation days.
Managing employment cost
As businesses across the globe are facing a slowdown, some cost-cutting measures can help in navigating through turbulent economic times. Freezing new hires, reviewing the existing benefits scheme, reviewing allowances, postponing salary increases and promotions wherever possible, introducing salary cuts and reducing the headcount if the situation continues to persist.
Keeping employees healthy, avoiding unnecessary travel, and encouraging employees to work from home are some of the primary ways in which employers can help in preventing the spread of coronavirus. However, most importantly, the key is to not panic and actively take precautions as prescribed by reliable and credible health advisories.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has advised employees to:
Stay home if they have respiratory symptoms (coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath) and/or a temperature above 100.4 F.
Shield coughs and sneezes with a tissue, elbow, or shoulder (not with bare hands)
Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.