Learning & Development, Technology

Does Your HR Department Have a Virus Toolkit?

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken companies on an extreme 2-year-long roller coaster ride that forced many HR departments to deal with a series of highly challenging events that were unprecedented in recent history.

As 2022 has brought some normality back to operations, it is now an ideal time for HR to build on these experiences. Employees have returned to work, and as much as it may be “back to normal” for businesses, many employees may still be wondering, “How will my company safeguard me in the next pandemic?”

With this in mind, the objective for HR departments is to be better equipped to respond strategically and tactically when the next virus or COVID variant strikes. They must also know how to deal with and manage any type of HR-related issue that threatens the health and productivity of employees—and the continuity of their companies’ operations.

To do so, organizations should invest in a “virus toolkit” that unites tools, techniques, and technologies to support a proactive virus management strategy.

Lessons for HR Departments

Arguably one of the most important lessons HR leaders have learned in the COVID-19 pandemic has been how to proactively and reactively manage employee risks during the spread of an infectious virus. They’ve also learned ways to ensure that an employer has enough human capital to still deliver its services and solutions despite severe supply chain pressures and business interruption.

Effectively managing employee risk during an outbreak of a potentially life-threatening virus should be viewed as the sum total of all measures to keep the virus from entering the organization and the measures to control its spread once it has entered. Those measures were, at best, loose sets of protocols or policies at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. But risk management approaches have since evolved through tools, best practices, and new technology into an integrated approach termed a virus toolkit. This toolkit is the foundation for a proactive rather than reactive virus management strategy moving forward.

With business insurers accepting only 2% of the business interruption claims that came in due to COVID-19, businesses need to ensure they have a proactive and integrated approach that is ready to protect the organization, its human assets, and supply and value chains at a moment’s notice.

Reactive to Proactive Virus Management Strategy

A reactive virus management strategy leads to the situation many businesses encountered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses were unprepared, and they let the “situation on the ground” determine their responses.

When HR departments do not have established pandemic processes that are implemented and updated, there is a knock-on effect that cascades into various departments and impacts their delivery of services and solutions to internal and external stakeholders. This results in a greater loss of productivity, continuity problems, and potential liability for health and safety issues stemming from this lack of preparation. Ultimately, clients will feel the impact.

A proactive virus management strategy, on the other hand, means an organization is pandemic-ready, monitoring the horizon, and always prepared to respond to any new health threat based on its access to a number of assets. (See below.) It is also able to avoid critical failures that impact safety, delivery, and business continuity.

This strategy extends past HR management. It is a key part of business continuity planning, which aims to protect people first and then property and assets. We only need to look back to 2020, when 80% of business leaders reported a significant downturn or impact on their business because of COVID, to understand the importance of a virus management strategy.

The Components and Importance of Virus Toolkits

A virus toolkit is a suite of tools, technologies, and processes that a business has access to and uses to manage a pandemic. Based on the circumstances and risks it faces, it can deploy the most appropriate individual asset or select a number of components operating in conjunction with each other to help prevent, slow, or stop the spread of a virus in its workforce.

The key objectives for an HR department to have a virus toolkit include:

  • Focus on the health and well-being of all employees and the company mindset.
  • Ensure continuity of operations.
  • Maintain productivity of the workforce.

Here are some of the key items:

  • Personal protective equipment for worker protection. This includes masks, face shields, and gloves.
  • Hygiene products and sanitation services to ensure employees follow strong hygiene routines and to ensure the facilities they use are sanitized.
  • Ventilation to ensure that facilities without optimal ventilation in place during normal operating times have the ability to switch to an improved ventilation system, where possible.
  • A work-team strategy that includes plans and processes dictating how workers will operate on-site to minimize infection risks when a virus is present. This includes features such as physical division of workers; splitting the workforce into teams to reduce contact; and separated, well-ventilated break rooms.
  • Health-check methodologies to determine the health status of workers before they enter the workplace. This may involve a simple report attesting to one’s health via an app and can also involve temperature checks or negative virus tests.
  • Automated contact tracing system to quickly and efficiently identify close contacts of confirmed virus cases in an organization so the spread of a virus within a company can be slowed or even stopped. This is the best method of managing cases once it gets past the initial defenses.

Resources in a virus toolkit are likely to be the key line of defense that protects the organization from disruption during an infectious virus outbreak.

Preventing, slowing, or stopping the spread of the virus internally helps to ensure productivity and continuity, while the combination of every measure helps ensure the team’s well-being, both physically and mentally.

A virus toolkit enables HR departments to have greater control over infectious viruses impacting employees, resulting in better risk management. It also sends a strong message to internal stakeholders that the HR department and employer are doing all they can to protect the company from the virus. In addition to protecting employees’ health, the toolkit gives them the confidence to come to work at a time when a potentially dangerous virus is circulating.

Now is the Time to Prepare for Preparedness

The business impacts and disruptions of COVID-19 illustrate clearly why it’s important to have a virus toolkit ready to deploy at all times. Failing to do this threatens businesses with disruption when viruses strike. A lack of preparedness will leave your organization in a precarious position as it tries to negotiate with product and service vendors at a time when supply chains will be in chaos and prices will rise.

For employee confidence and their safety and well-being, as well as for the financial drivers of maintaining productivity and continuity, HR departments must ensure they aren’t found empty-handed next time a virus threatens operations.

It is time to get ready!

Mike Steere is a cofounder of SaferMe (www.saferme.com), a global contact tracing and safety software company with products used across more than 30 countries. Through the pandemic, he has worked with Fortune 500 businesses and other well-known international organizations, helping them manage their risks and maintain their productivity and continuity of operations. Contact him at mike.steere@safer.me.