Over the past 2 months, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has spread rapidly around the globe. We’ve covered this topic extensively on HR Daily Advisor and will continue to keep you informed with actionable advice and tips for employers and HR professionals who wish to remain compliant during these troubling times.
Recently, the World Health Organization characterized the virus as a pandemic. For most organizations, this outbreak is raising questions and concerns. Based on research from various fields, including workplace wellness and organizational leadership, experts at Mercer provide four steps to consider to help employees during a global health crisis.
1. Talk About It
According to various polls, COVID-19 is a concern for people in various countries. One survey found that two-thirds of Americans think coronavirus is a real threat to public health. Another poll conducted in England found that 6 out of 10 respondents think it is a threat to the country. People are concerned. Some may be apprehensive about travel. Others may be wondering how their organization will respond if colleagues test positive for the virus.
To determine how worried your workforce is, it is important to give employees an opportunity to voice their questions and concerns. This can be done through team meetings, department-level discussions, virtual chats, or town halls. Studies have found that social support increases resilience and ability to cope. Listening to employees is one effective way to make them feel supported.
Like Mercer, Eric Cormier, Manager of HR services with Insperity, agrees that communication is key during times of crisis. “It is vital to keep team members up-to-date on the latest developments and company response plans,” Cormier says. “Sharing information may help prevent panic among employees and project a calm presence for the company and its leaders.”
Cormier adds, “By sharing updates from government officials and CDC recommendations, managers can help combat misinformation among their teams and ensure everyone is on the same page.”
2. Educate Employees About Preventive Measures
In recent weeks, false information about the origins of COVID-19 and the best way to prevent it has emerged. For employees, misinformation can create confusion about how to stay safe.
One of the best ways to prevent rumors and half-truths from taking over the workplace is to educate employees about COVID-19, ensuring they understand associated symptoms, recommended preventive measures, and what they should do if they feel sick.
Guidelines like this one from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) can be useful. Helping ensure employees understand what they can do to keep themselves and their colleagues healthy can create a work environment that is safer and less stressful.
3. Reduce Unnecessary Travel and In-Person Meetings
According to various health agencies, COVID-19 is an “emerging disease,” and more needs to be learned about its transmissibility. Based on research to date, doctors and medical researchers find that it spreads easily from person to person.
Many health agencies have recommended avoiding travel to countries or regions with elevated numbers of confirmed cases. As the virus spreads to more communities, organizations may want to reduce unnecessary travel and replace in-person meetings with virtual meetings.
4. Provide More Flexibility
Many jobs require employees to be on-site, at their desk, or on the shop floor, but others can be done virtually. If employees can work remotely, now is a good time to make sure they have the freedom, flexibility, and technology they need to telework.
The potential benefits of increasing telework are twofold. First, it may help keep employees healthy if an outbreak hits their community. Second, flexibility may also increase employee engagement and performance.
Mercer | Sirota has found that employees with flexible work arrangements are significantly more motivated and committed than their office-bound peers. Researchers from Stanford University have found that call center employees working from home were 13% more productive than their in-office peers. And, researchers from the University of Texas have found that telecommuting employees put in more hours than their in-office coworkers.
Cormier also says that offering flexibility via remote working arrangements will help employees continue to operate if they can’t physically be present. “During a crisis situation, managers may encourage remote work options for their teams,” he says. “This can help prevent the spread of infection while allowing business operations to continue as normally as possible.”
“By utilizing workplace technologies such as team chat platforms, video conferencing, and project management trackers, employees can keep projects on track and communicate effectively from afar,” Cormier says.
1 Bonus Tip: Prioritize Team Engagement
While Mercer’s tips can help keep your workforce safe, Cormier has an additional tip that will help to keep them engaged, should your workers be confined to working remotely during this crisis.
“In any situation, managing remote team members can be difficult, but this may be especially true during a crisis when attentions are spread thin and breaking news feels constant,” says Cormier.
“To ensure deadlines are met and work is completed, managers should set expectations with teams from the outset and maintain regular communication through check-in calls, chats, and e-mails whenever possible,” he suggests.
By implementing these steps, organizations can help keep their workers safe and engaged, and provide them with guidance about what to do if their community or organization is affected.