We Cannot Predict, but We Can Prepare: How Employers Can Approach their COVID-19 Strategies
By Emilie Ebert and Alan Hanson
As areas in the United States ease restrictions, and as more industries resume operations, many business owners are wary of how they could be impacted by future outbreaks of COVID-19. For many, restarting the economy is a relief. However, the threat of disruption from flare-ups in COVID-19 transmission have real implications. The unforeseeable nature of future transmission rates, human behavior, and evolving understanding of the virus (and treatment) can make it difficult for businesses to anticipate what a second (or third or fourth) outbreak could mean for cash flow, employee wellness, supply chain, and continued operations. However, while businesses cannot predict outbreaks, they can prepare.
Each business should create a response plan that is specific to the unique circumstances of their business model, their community, and their industry. Recently, Leavitt Partners released a framework for adapting industry guidelines to specific situations based on the virus’ characteristics. That white paper (found here) describes considerations for businesses seeking to strengthen their COVID-19 response plan. The ideas outlined below are intended to work together with that framework, helping businesses prepare.
Designate an employee or team responsible for COVID-19 workplace impact.
It should be clear which team member is tracking measures to protect against the virus and its impact, as well as preparing for future disruptions. This designated employee (or team) should be aware of the business’s interactions with high-risk populations; application of regulatory guidelines; and processes in place to mitigate viral transmission. This team could also consider how demand is likely to shift from changing circumstances, causing supply chain and inventory implications.
Some questions to consider include:
- How can we mitigate risk as much as possible for our staff and customers?
- Are there fixed business costs that could be scaled down flexibly?
- How should key public health and business performance indicators influence decision-making?
Monitor government and industry activities.
Leaders should stay apprised of the status of their consumers and suppliers, applicable government regulation (including social distancing guidelines), and trends within the industry. New information about the virus and how it spreads is released frequently, making it essential that businesses are informed of those details and how they impact their operations.
Businesses can look to the following key resources, among others, for guidance:
- Centers for Disease Prevention and Control
- State and local health departments
- Industry associations
Identify which business operations are essential.
In preparation for the possibility of decreased operations due to outbreak, a business should designate operations that are essential or non-essential to the core survival of the business. Creating a plan that prioritizes critical business operations can support a smoother response and transition in the case of disruption.
Owners could consider the following questions:
- What parts of my business are truly critical?
- What employees can work remotely?
- What will I do in the case of employee absenteeism if they or a family member become sick?
- What can we do to maintain operations in the face of disruptions?
Educate employees on COVID-19 impact and response plan.
Communicate your current and future pandemic response plan to employees so they can respond adeptly to disruptions. Employees will be better equipped to maintain operations and reduce waste when they understand strategies for the unique situations and environments.
- What information do my employees need to succeed in times of disruption?
- Do my employees have enough information to feel confident and safe at work?
- Am I dispersing information to employees in a way that is efficient and helpful?
Maintain open dialogue with key stakeholders and the community.
Communication with individuals, businesses, and local leaders is important when preparing for virus-related disruption. Best practices are developed through open dialogue as business owners collaborate to overcome common challenges. This may include sharing certain response plans with the community, connecting with an applicable association, and even coming together with competitors to share ideas (while avoiding antitrust violations).
Businesses should think of the following:
- With which individuals or businesses would it be most helpful to collaborate?
- Is my business’s communication boosting confidence and support among stakeholders?
Public health officials and scientists across the country are working to provide the most up-to-date, accurate information, but their instructions may not be directly applicable to each industry and community. Because some ambiguity remains in how to apply those guidelines, using these ideas can help business owners to better prepare for future outbreaks that cannot be easily predicted.
Leavitt Partners support for efforts related to COVID-19 involves the following areas:
- Social and economic consequences of the pandemic
- Implications for value-based care, prevention, and care management
- Industry alignment with best practices in public health
- Testing capacity and strategies
- Unintended consequences of mitigation strategies
- Behavioral reactions to public health recommendations