The Backup Plan, Part 1: What if Employees Get It?

Synopsis: It’s not easy to talk about, but you need to. Bolster your internal employee support systems in the event people get sick.
Dr. Anthony Fauci recently said that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from COVID-19 before this is all over. If the mortality rate is 1%––which is a rough estimate as data continues to come in and further factors are considered––that means 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 Americans will have COVID-19 in some way. That’s roughly one in every 15 to 30 people.
So, let’s just put it out there. Chances are if your company has at least 30 people, at least one of them will be diagnosed with COVID-19. And depending on your company’s size, location and type of industry, it could be even more. Add in the potential of family members catching it, and the seriousness of a health problem realistically affects business operations.
How can we talk business when people are sick? But we need to address it. Your organization is one of the engines of the economy, employing people who provide valuable products and services. And you must do all you can to keep “your machine” running seamlessly through this unprecedented time. Teamwork, collaboration, transparency and productivity need to be at all-time highs.
So, hoping for the best and planning for the worst, what’s next?
Communicate with employees about what to do in case they get sick. This communication first and foremost is about ensuring they get the care they need so they get better. It’s not about their jobs or profits or productivity. It’s about their well-being. While advising them to go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) site for more information is good, consider sending them that information instead, so they have it in one place, and from you. List the symptoms. How they should stay home if they have any symptoms. How they should call their doctor. How they should isolate from family members. It’s the basic stuff, but coming from you, it’s more trustworthy. Really. According to the World Economic Forum:
“The communications that employers deliver to their staff will be among the most important information they get about this epidemic. The Edelman Trust Barometer has repeatedly found that a person’s own employer is the most trusted of all social messengers—beating business in general, government, media and NGOs by 20-point margins.”
While a person with COVID-19 may have mild to serious symptoms, evidence suggests that if they have it, it may be the worst they’ve ever felt. They have no energy. And it lasts two weeks or more. That’s where the disruption to business comes in. If one of your office workers has a cold, allergies or is even recovering from a broken bone, they can still check in. Look at email, stay connected. They may not be 100%, but they can be doing something.
With COVID-19, work is impossible. With that in mind, consider the following:

1. Save yourself. Definitely save your work. Prepare for extended absences by making sure what people are working on is accessible by others. If work is only on their computer, it can be essentially “lost” for two weeks. Have them place their work on the server. Or at the least, send it out to a few members of the team at the end of the day. At akhia communications, we have our server files in the cloud, so any employee can access it even if they are off-site. And we’re always sending updates, docs and works-in-progress to teams.

2. The healthy are going to have to step it up. You must have backs now, because they may need to have yours later. Even as work slows down in this COVID-19-affected economy, there will still be things that need doing. The healthy employees may not be doing more hours of work, but they could be doing more outside their comfort zone or traditional role. “I don’t know as much about that client.” “He usually handles that.” “That’s not my department.” Those excuses don’t fly in a pandemic. If you don’t have a one-to-one backup for some roles or a “next-in-line” person, then the others can team up to figure out the basics. Management can step in and do work they did years ago. You’re working across time and space here.

3. When in doubt, choose “Reply All.” Overcommunicate, especially virtually. Double the number of status meetings. Videoconference with Zoom and Teams until your computer gets hot. Our Human Resources Coordinator Kelsey Natale has an excellent commentary on just this sort of virtual communication.

4. Know more about what people are doing. Our department sends out a job list email first thing. Everyone states what they have, what’s upcoming, the time it may take and some explanation on the project itself. If any of them have to step out, the rest of us can step in.

5. Finally, know this will end. And when that happens, make sure you’re prepared for when you are back up and running. You can find that in “The Backup Plan, Part 2”
The CDC Guidelines here include more general steps to take as well. Check it out regularly, since the CDC site is updated regularly.