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Coronavirus and the workplace: How companies can keep their employees safe

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In response to the coronavirus (Covid-19), several companies like Apple and Microsoft have taken steps to safeguard the health of their employees by encouraging remote work and cutting all non-essential travel, just to name a few measures. 

Similarly, countless other businesses are now faced with the challenge of protecting the well-being of their employees without drastically disrupting day-to-day operations.

In this article, we’ve outlined the ways in which some employers have already adapted to the spread of the coronavirus, and suggestions on what others can do to ensure the safety of their workforces.

Massive employer responses to coronavirus 

Large employers are making protections against coronavirus a matter of policy. Companies like Google and LinkedIn have decided to indefinitely make interviews virtual to limit the outbreak and value applicants’ health. Interviews will be conducted via Hangouts or Skype for the foreseeable future. 

Others like Amazon, IBM, and Ford have instituted restrictions on travel. But, the response to coronavirus does not end with limited travel and virtual interviews. Facebook, for example, has asked that all employees who are able to work from home in Seattle do so through at least the end of the month.

Despite all their best intentions, coronavirus cases continue to spring up in headquarters around the world. AT&T, HSBC, and Facebook have confirmed cases of employee and contractor infection. The question for smaller businesses becomes “What can we do to protect our employees from Covid-19?”

Practical advice for keeping employees safe

Unfortunately, the exact mechanism of infection from coronavirus is unknown even to the Centers for Disease Control, but they still offer concrete advice on how to respond to the public health crisis. Employers everywhere are advised to follow their official instructions for limiting the spread of Covid-19. 

  1. Keep sick employees at home. Any employee who shows a fever or signs of respiratory illness should notify their superiors and not come to work. This may involve changing policies surrounding appropriate leave to waive doctor’s notes and reduce punitive action.
  2. Promote coughing etiquette and hand hygiene. Advertising the importance of coughing and sneezing etiquette can improve the safety of the workplace. Providing tissues and no-touch receptacles can also reduce the likelihood of spreading infection. 
  3. Perform workplace sanitization and cleaning. Workplaces, especially those that face the public, should be routinely cleaned and all surfaces sanitized. Providing disposable wipes to employees can help maintain an infection-free zone. 
  4. Limit travel and recommend caution. Employers should observe the CDC’s Health Notices before traveling and recommend evaluating themselves for signs of illness before, during, and after travel. Traveling employees who show symptoms should be encouraged to seek medical care. 

Additionally, the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has released industry-specific guidelines on control and prevention for employers in the following sectors: health care, death care, laboratories, airline operations, border protection, and waste management.

A more exhaustive list of non-workplace resources on the coronavirus can be found on the World Health Organization’s website.

How can my company protect its employees’ well-being?

If you want to protect your employees and promote awareness in your company, certain steps must be taken to limit contact with exposed and potentially sick employees. Following the movements of large employers like Microsoft, Amazon, and LinkedIn, you can encourage remote work, and conduct interviews and meetings via video when possible. 

Encourage remote work

Working from home has many attractive benefits for your employees. Some companies even find that remote workers are more productive than their in-office counterparts. You can encourage off-site work by pointing out these benefits and offering the option to all your employees. Among other things, over-communicating and scheduling regular check-ins are helpful in ensuring the productivity of employees who are working remotely.

Conduct virtual interviews

While many people like to meet employers face-to-face, virtual interviews can still be instructive and helpful for both applicants and employers by using the best screen sharing and conferencing tools. You may find your interviews are more efficient and focused as a result. 

Hold online meetings

You might be surprised at how effective virtual meetings can be. So long as you have the right video conferencing software (see below) and can coordinate disparate schedules, conducting meetings online is a fairly straightforward process.

Luckily, the folks at Slack put together a detailed guide on holding remote meetings that will help you make the most of your virtual morning stand-ups, one-on-ones, strategy syncs, and weekly check-ins. Additionally, they regularly hold webinars on how to use Slack to facilitate remote work—the next one is just days away on March 12th.

Lean on your tech stack

Many applications are available to help make remote work as easy as possible. You may already use some collaboration tools like Google Docs and Slack. Zoom and Skype can help you coordinate video meetings. Sparkhire is specifically designed for video interviewing, and vidREACH can improve many aspects of your business by engaging employees through dynamic video. 

Final thoughts

At the end of the day, your most important asset as a company is your employees. They are your lifeblood and should be cared for accordingly. In order to do so, you may need to be more flexible in terms of company policy.

Start by implementing and encouraging a liberal remote work policy, if possible. Furthermore, it’s imperative that employees who are exhibiting symptoms stay home from work— without consequence—and call their healthcare provider immediately. In addition, it’s advisable to limit company-related travel altogether or promote the CDC’s safety practices while abroad. 

For businesses that can’t observe this advice because of the nature of their work, it’s recommended to keep workplaces as clean and sanitized as possible and develop a thorough outbreak response plan.

In general, the best thing businesses can do to protect employees is to take the CDC’s advice and stay informed of official guidance. A copy of the CDC’s official guidance for businesses is available here for reference. 

Sarah Wilson

Sarah Wilson is the Head of People at SmartRecruiters.