The coronavirus pandemic is creating drastic responses from governments. Entire regions in China and Italy are under lockdown and quarantines are becoming common. Business is starting to be affected and efforts to minimize the damage are everywhere. For example, the United States is prohibiting people coming from Europe for 30 days, but that is only people and not goods.
The pandemic will eventually run its course. Nevertheless, medical emergencies will not go away, and how a business operates in a global economy will change. Allowing foreign workers could be an invitation to active disease carriers. Health issues are just one part of the equation. An additional concern can arise from whether to trust confidential business information and patents far from the home office. Nevertheless, the benefits outweigh the risks and directing work at a distance cannot be ignored. Managing employees who are not physically in the office, but many miles away, is a business issue that companies must address.
Substantial Benefits on Remote Working
There is an advantage gained from remote work. It can be a valuable recruiting tool. The quality of life has become something that more people care about. Remote work that includes being able to work from home is desirable for many prospective employees. A survey by Buffer.com discovered that almost all of the interviewees wanted to be able to work off-site at least once in their careers.
It can be a reason why a highly skilled tech person ultimately accepts a job offer. This is one of the conclusions of the report issued by Zapper.com, which noted that nearly three-fourths of the American knowledge workforce would be willing to quit a job for the chance to work remotely. The wishes of these essential workers can be a critical part of any job offer.
There are benefits for the employer, the employee, and the community. Employers can get needed work at a reduced cost and employees can have a better work-life balance. Traffic congestion is a fact of life in most metropolitan areas. Work from a distance can sharply reduce traffic problems and pollution coming from automobile emissions. Remote work on paper is a win-win-win proposition.
Management should accept the realities of remote assignments. It can be efficient, but it also can be frustrating because supervising employees from a distance means a new set of tools must be used. Barking orders in office space does no good when the employee is far away and being abusive doesn’t create trust. Small inefficiencies that can be quickly fixed in the office can be significant problems in another country. Managers and supervisors must read from a different textbook to supervise distant employees.
Emotional Intelligence Matters
Trust is a necessary part of effective remote management. Subordinates must feel that they are essential, and their needs are met. Empathy is a critical quality to develop because it shows a manager cares about an employee’s well-being. It is a soft skill that many technical people have difficulty expressing. However, it is a trait that can be learned and improves with use.
Communication is going to be important. Transparency will be necessary, and the choice of words must be careful. A good idea would be to learn the business language where the distance workers are stationed. That way, an unintentional slur will not happen.
Some mediums can be used for distant communication. Skype and Yammer come to mind immediately as ways of connecting to associates far away. Ground rules need to be established for any meetings, which would include not texting or trying to multitask while the conference is in session.
It is advised to make use of videoconferencing. People are better able to connect if they see the person as opposed to just hearing the voices. While the purpose of the meeting is business, the informal communication that happens in an office can be easily replicated. It only requires taking some time to ask everybody in the meeting how they’re doing and perhaps ask them to share some of their personal experiences. A joke or two is excellent as long as the humor is in good taste.
Remote managers cannot stop by cubicles to see how associates are doing. It is going to be critical to keep people focused on the goals and objectives. This can be a little daunting, but it is not impossible to have remote subordinates striving to achieve results
Setting clear expectations and establishing deadlines help. A manager can then schedule appropriate times during the week to touch base with every one of the team members. Distance work is going to require the right set of tools to be productive. There are platforms such as Base Camp that can be used for project management. Companies who are going to be assigning work at a distance must have those tools available. A cloud-based project management apparatus, permitting access to information by everyone on the team, is a definite plus.
Knowing the Basics of Continuity Planning
HR can access various strategies for continuity planning as it relates to healthcare and possible disease crisis. The activity must center around three distinct phases:
- Planning and prevention (resolve)
- Disaster response (respond).
- Returning to normal (rebuild)
What is essential in going through all these phases is to think of what could disrupt the steady pace of business. Obviously, with healthcare, attendance can be an issue if an outbreak such as coronavirus impacts the entire workforce. We can look at each one of these phases and suggest what a business can do to be ready, to respond, and to go back to normal behavior once the danger has passed.
The Planning and Prevention
This is a combination of the right policies and knowing what your resources are in the event of an emergency. Medical disasters like coronavirus can come suddenly. Moreover, with an incubation period of up to 14 days, employees may be active carriers and not know that they are infected. HR must be able to move quickly to prevent business disruption and employee anxiety.
- Know your insurance coverage. Testing has been recommended as a way of preventing the spread of coronavirus. Unfortunately, many people are concerned about the finances of testing and are not sure if medical insurance will cover it. The current medical emergency has resulted in proactive responses from health insurance companies. The American Health Insurance Plans, for example, has announced that member plans are going to cover any doctor ordered testing. Cigna intends to waive copayments and other cost-sharing for coronavirus testing that is prescribed by health practitioners. HR should ask the insurance companies if they would waive copayments and deductibles in the event of a severe outbreak.
What Will the Government Do?
- China has been criticized for its initial response to COVID-19, but since then, it has pursued an aggressive program of identifying active carriers and ordering quarantines. Other nations have canceled international flights and temporarily closed public facilities. HR can find out what the government is going to do when an outbreak occurs and how public health officials will respond. If HR anticipates the likelihood of the quarantine, it can create policies that address the possibility.
Panic and rumourmongering are not the way to deal with a pandemic. Management needs to respond maturely and deliberately, reassuring employees that the employer is there to assist in this emergency.
Business continuity plans often concern themselves with natural disasters such as hurricanes or human-made problems such as arson. Healthcare planning must consider what to do when there is evidence of disease.
- Cancel travel plans. This involves any travel to areas where there is evidence of high infection. Delays are part of working in a global environment and there are business tools such as Skype to be used for long-distance business. Anyone who has returned from an area of the outbreak should be tested immediately.
- Designate a testing space. It can be an office or a supply room that is not in use. This area can be set aside as a place where employees can be tested to see if they have the disease. HR can coordinate with the local health care facility and let it be known that the office is available or testing of nonemployees.
- Respond constructively to quarantine. The use of quarantine is a traditional way of containing disease and is not meant to harm business intentionally. It is relatively easy for any service industry related company to let people work from home. Investment in software such as Evernote or Base Camp is intended to help managers maintain business continuity even if the team members may not be in the office.
- Communicate effectively with employees. There will be tales and rumours flying around during a health crisis. HR must be a source of sanity in a storm. Maintaining contact with public health agencies and seeking updates is the first step. Communicating this to employees either by emails, interoffice memos, or information on the corporate website can help people stay calm and respond to the emergency appropriately.
Returning to Normal
This phase of continuity planning happens when the danger has passed. HR can play a role in this by monitoring absence for some time after public health officials have announced the crisis has passed. Reaching out to those who are reporting in sick to see how they are doing is a positive way of bringing closure to an emergency.
HR also should interact with public health agencies and the health insurance company to make sure all paperwork has been properly completed and that employees do not face any lingering administrative issues.
It is imperative to have a plan in mind to respond to medical emergencies. The coronavirus issue is going to be repeated in the future with some other disease or medical crisis. It often helps to have outside help in the planning.
We are insurance brokers who work with small and medium-sized enterprises. We have experience with health planning, and we can guide management in developing continuity strategies that will keep business moving. If you are interested in receiving help with the necessary HR continuity planning, please feel free to contact us at your convenience. We welcome the opportunity to explain how we can help you get ready for any medical emergency.
Embrace the Challenge
While the coronavirus is causing employers to look closely at existing supply chains, and possibly move work back to the home office, remote work is not going to go away. There will still be a demand, and a valuable opportunity, in managing work from a distance.
Remote worker management is a different type of leadership, but it is an opportunity for a decision-maker to grow. New supervisory skills can be learned and perfected while guiding the work of others. Think of this as part of a lifelong learning process for any professional.