Aitch Are Gives You...
Remember swine flu? I worked in a large office in Slough when the outbreak hit the UK and day-by-day you could literally see it progressing from one function to another. When it decimated the Marketing team, which was next to the HR team, I knew my number was up… Sure enough, I contracted swine flu and as a result was unable to attend Fulham’s famous 3-0 win over Man Utd.
In all seriousness, the main lesson learnt was one of proactively having a plan in place to guarantee business continuity, along with the health and well-being of our people.
So, with Coronavirus (or Covid19, to give it it’s official name) showing every sign of continuing to spread both within China and beyond, what should employers be thinking of doing?
In a nutshell, by all means hope for the best, but make sure you plan for the worst.
I work in “that London”, and with our crowded transport infrastructure it would only take one super-spreader to infect 10 others on the crowded Central Line in to Bank, who in turn will infect people they come in to contact with, and all of a sudden something that seemed like an overseas problem will very quickly become our problem too.
So, as a responsible, proactive employer, what are the sorts of things we should be doing.
Here’s a list of things, in no particular order, to get the ball rolling. I’ve already put some of these in place where I work.
- Set up a small team who are empowered to have oversight of what is going on, steps being taken, decisions that may need to be made, communications, etc. As the situation is fluid, they should be meeting regularly and be prepared to change things at the drop of a hat.
- Communicate. Regularly. In the absence of any coherent company position, employees will make their own reality. Silence isn’t golden in this instance.
- Restrict travel to those areas that are at the centre of the outbreak. We have banned travel to mainland China and Hong Kong. If you are doing this, make sure you are fully transparent with your customers, and bring them along with you. Also make sure you are regularly checking the UK’s FCO or US’s State Department travel advisories. Also have a clear line-of-sight as to who makes the final decision, in the event travel is deemed to be business-critical. For example, our CFO is our gate-keeper.
- Provide guidance to employees on the symptoms to look out for, and to self-quarantine and seek medical advice in the event that they or any of their immediate family members do start getting any of these.
- Caution needs to be taken with regard to screening employees or requiring them to attend medical appointments. Particularly in global businesses, where local laws differ. Common sense should apply, think through the balance you need to manage between your obligation to provide a safe working environment on the one hand, and any obligations around data privacy and confidentiality on the other. Also be careful about the discrimination angle, for example, don’t single out employees based solely on the fact that they are Chinese!!
- Quarantine employees who have been in infected areas. Most companies are geared up to home-working, so asking employees who have just passed through or returned from a particular hot-spot to work from home for 14 days shouldn’t be too much of a hardship. Make sure people view this as acceptable, given some will perhaps be worried it may be perceived as a lack of commitment, shirking off, etc. Also have an eye to employees who may take advantage of the situation…!
- Most companies have business continuity plans in place nowadays. Is yours up-to-date? Would you be able to continue as a business if you had to close an office, factory, shop, depot, or…? Also apply this thinking through to your supply chain and partner ecosystem, particularly if you have single points of failure in there.
- Dust off those succession plans. What happens if your head of sales gets infected? Have contingency plans to ensure continuity.
- Ensure the emergency contact details for your employees are up-to-date, particularly for key employees.
- Issue anti-bacterial hand gel to employees, and have large bottles in communal areas, kitchens, rest rooms, etc.
- Make sure your cleaners are doing a thorough job! For offices in infected areas, instruct them to do regular deep-cleans. For example, we have shut our Beijing office until further notice and done a deep-clean.
- Enforcing a clean-desk policy to reduce any infection risk and aid cleaning.
- May seem trivial, this, but perhaps think about refraining from what would ordinarily be culturally acceptable hugs, handshakes, kisses, etc. depending on the country.
- Who would have thought that something as huge and significant as the Mobile World Conference in Barcelona would get cancelled? Bring this back to your own company, and consider postponing any significant company events and conferences, particularly in affected areas or where people from affected areas may be traveling to attend.
Hope the above makes sense. Clearly it depends on the nature, size and culture of your business as to what may be appropriate or proportionate. It may all come to nothing, but why take the risk?
As my sister-in-law regularly says, normally over a glass of white, “if you fail to plan, you plan to fail”.
Hello, and welcome to my first blog of 2020!
I am pleased to say that over the holiday period I was able to complete the construction of my virtual lounge, made of the finest materials and furnishings, by way of having some comfortable digs to spend with new-found friends on Twitter.
First to sample the new surroundings was Steve Browne, @sbrownehr, who quickly made himself at home, put his feet up, joined me with a good old fashioned cup of "builders tea", and got to talking about his thoughts and perspectives on HR.
So, Steve, welcome to my virtual lounge, it's great to have you along. First things first, what actually got you in to the world of HR?
While I was attending college, I was failing in the field I originally had been pursuing – Chemistry. I went into the sciences because I was good at them, and it was supposed to pay the most when you graduated. However, I was spending far more time with the people around me than the numbers and various experiments. One break while I was a home, my mom talked to me about failing and encouraged me to find a field where I could be working directly with people. I changed my major from Chemistry to Interpersonal Communications. One class I took was Interviewing, and at the end of the class my fellow classmates voted on who was the best interviewer and interviewee. They voted that I should interview myself. That was the sign I needed so I sought to find a role in recruiting. I found one and have been in HR ever since over the past 34 years!!
Amazing how many stories you hear of people starting off in one field only to find that their strengths lie elsewhere... And so 34 years in, what keeps you in HR?
The same thing that my mom saw in me. People. I am wired and driven to be around people. In fact, I’m rarely alone which may not be the most balanced approach to life. People fascinate me. It doesn’t matter if they’re amazing or challenging. I learn from every encounter that I have with every person. Fortunately, I’ve also been in roles where companies allowed me to have a “people first” approach. I believe that companies today, and in the years to come, need to be people-centric in order to remain relevant. I just have to be on the leading edge of that movement!!
Yes, "people first" is absolutely key. Do you feel that the wider profession embraces this? For example, at the beginning of each year it is traditional for thought-leaders to review trends. What do you think the future world of work looks like? What should we be keeping an eye out for as we enter 2020?
The standard answers most give is the inevitable onslaught of AI mixed with the reality of a labor shortage. Those are important trends, but I believe it’s more basic than that. I believe the main trend to work on is “retention and development of our people.” You can substitute the word “talent” for people if you really practice in a way that values the talent of your employees and it’s more than an HR catchphrase. As mentioned earlier, companies must be consistently focused on people. I use the phrase “people matter” at the company where I work. This has to be encompassed by behavior and not words. Development is key in giving retention a chance to occur. Development, like the work experience, needs to be personalized because that is how people experience live in general. HR will succeed by practicing individually versus collectively. It works.
Love the "People Matter" mantra - I use People Matter[s] on the home page of my blog. Totally agree with your philosophy. Since I joined Twitter last July it is clear that with nearly 44,000 followers, not to mention you regularly appearing in the top HR influencer lists that occasionally appear, and also the HR Net that you curate, and all the broader speaking and writing you do in the broader HR community, you are clearly passionate about this field. But how do you manage to juggle your day-job with such an active on-line presence?
I don’t know if I have a great answer for this. I mentioned earlier that I’m an over the top people person. It’s not a schtick. It’s who I am all the time. So, I don’t see social media as a time suck or something that gets in the way. I also don’t believe that it should be something where I cast some false persona in order to be seen.
I see social media as a communication platform where I can connect with and talk to people. Honestly, I wish everyone would see it that way. If they did, you’d have more interactions and conversations instead of self-focused diatribes.
I also think people need to know they’re valued. I don’t want to sound presumptuous or arrogant in that people have to be connected to me. However, I want to be at least one person who notices others and lets them know that who they are is important to me, and hopefully to others. It’s a bit Utopian and naïve if you ask others, but I’m good with it. I like being a contrarian by being positive.
That’s a long answer to say that connecting on line is worth my time. Therefore, I make time to insert tweets and posts in the midst of my day. It’s just in my DNA and my fabric. I don’t view being on-line as something “separate” from my day.
Well, if you do manage to get any spare time, how do you like to spend it?
First and foremost is time with my amazing wife, Debbie. She is my rock and supports all of my crazy involvement with speaking, writing and connecting with the global HR community. We go see movies regularly in the theater and we also go to the local theater to take in musicals and plays. I also see things a bit differently. I don’t have “spare time”. I just have time. In fact, even though I’m very involved in a multitude of ways and places, I actually have more time to do what I’d like. Rarely do I feel that I’m so pressed to not have time. It is more how I choose to use time. I don’t get overwhelmed by it. I join in and see where things go. I know this is a bit unnerving for others, but I’m sure they have their methods of using time.
I read a ton, listen to music on a constant basis and make sure to check in with my friends and family around the planet. I guess I should build in some “down time”, but I don’t know if that will ever happen because once I relax, my attention is drawn to something new which makes life exciting most of the time.
Interesting distinction between not having "spare time", but just having "time". Speaking of which, we have sadly ran out of time, but thanks for being the first guest in my virtual lounge, I hope the decor was to your liking, and that you enjoyed the brew. Huge thanks also for taking time out of your schedule to sharing a little bit about who you are, and what makes you tick. Keep up the amazing work that you do in our HR community!