Developing a Business COVID-19 Response Plan

Covid-19 response plan

To stop the spread and flatten the curve business must develop a COVID-19 Response Plan. As the coronavirus emergency has escalated around the world, Australia has taken significant steps to close international borders, interstate borders and to shut businesses that have direct contact with their clients, e.g. massage parlours and beauticians.

The Federal Government has also put in place strict social-distancing requirements to ensure people remain a minimum of 1.5 metres apart. Australians have also been asked to refrain from all non-essential travel and to stay at home.

Businesses have a significant part to play in reducing the impact of coronavirus and should develop a COVID-19 Response Plan. This article provides some handy tips on what a response plan should include.

COVID-19 Response Plan

A well-prepared and straightforward COVID-19 Response Plan helps to ensure that your workplace understands what to do to prevent the spread of coronavirus and if an employee develops any symptoms. Your COVID-19 Response Plan should involve:

  1. Closing your workplace to all non-essential staff and visitors. You should determine who can work from home and who must work at your workplace.
  2. Supplying hand sanitiser, wipes and other sanitisation tools at entrances and other key locations within your workplace.
  3. Adapting your office to accommodate for more distance between team members and ensure proper social distancing. If you are working in a shared office or gathering in a meeting room, you must have 2 metres apart from others in all directions.  For example, if the work area you are in is 100 square metres (10m x 10m), you can only have 25 people in that room. 
  4.  Setting up dedicated primary and secondary Response Contacts who employees can contact if they are feeling unwell.
  5. Nominating a point person to collect employee feedback, to monitor the local situation and report their analysis to the management team. You must empower the point person with the necessary authority to make quick decisions that can save lives. You should regularly review any ideas and concerns submitted by the company management team for implementation.

Tips For Your Employees

Ensure all employees at your workplace follow some simple guidelines, including:

    • Avoiding travel on public transportation, especially during peak times. You may need to consider staggering employee’s start and finish times. 
    • Washing their hands immediately after arriving at your workplace for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. It’s a good idea to have employees regularly wash their hands or use hand sanitiser as they move through the workplace and before consuming food and after using the bathroom.
    • Avoiding touching their face, mouth or eyes. Wearing PPE can help to reduce this type of contact.
    • That they do not shake hands, hug, kiss or touch another co-worker.  They must maintain a minimum of 1.5 metres between themselves and another worker. 

See our article, Coronavirus Impacts Mental Health and Safety.

Sickness and Absences

If one of your employees is feeling unwell, they must report to the Response Contact and/or their manager or supervisor who will arrange for them to leave work immediately and go home. If they experience  COVID-19 symptoms or develop a fever and cough and have been to an area with an outbreak or have been in close contact with an infected person, they must advise the Response Contact and contact the health authorities for further advice.

Unwell employees must take any time off to recover from an illness during this period. If your employee tests positive to COVID-19 they will be under a strict 14-day isolation period in their own home. They do not need a note from their doctor about an illness to take leave. Any absence due to illness is automatically approved, and the governing company guidelines should compensate for the resulting period of sick leave.

Working Remotely From Home

Many organisations are setting up their employees to work from home as part of their COVID-19 Response Plan. Technology is critical to the success of working from home.

  1. Cloud-hosted and VPN intranet access needs to be established so that employees can access the systems they need to do their work.
  2. You need to invest in reliable virtual communication tools such as Zoom and Slack.
  3. You must ensure that your employees understand how to use your communication tools and which tool should be prioritised for specific use cases. For example, what you will use for inter-office messaging and what you will use for conference calls and virtual team meetings.
  4. You need to establish working at home guidelines including:
    • Encouraging your employees to communicate about what they are working on regularly.  You should also ensure that they use online notifications respectfully.
    • Starting from a place of tolerance where they assume the best of intentions of a written message because they may lack tone and meaning. 
    • Establishing availability around family obligations. You will need to be flexible and allow work to be completed at odd hours during the day or evening as employees negotiate around children at home.  Some team members may have family members at home to care for. 
    • Developing daily work scheduling to divide the working day into times when employees need to be left and not disturbed, and other times when they are available to communicate with other co-workers.

See our article, COVID-19: Safely Working From Home.

Establish Regular Meetings to Monitor Your Workplace

In your COVID-19 Response Plan, you should establish regular meetings with managers and a task force to keep track of the developments in your community so that you can adapt your response. Movement restrictions, business operations, suppliers, etc. are changing on an almost daily basis with new Federal and State Government restrictions. Consider:

  1. Scheduling regular weekly meetings with all team members to ensure that everyone is involved and engaged.
  2. Regularly checking-in with your task force to update your company response based on any recent developments.
  3. Anticipating a loss in productivity from your team members due to the stressful situation and them adjusting to working from home. However, you may find that productivity actually improves because working from home can lead to fewer interruptions and more focussed work.

Monitor Mental Wellbeing

During this COVID-19 pandemic, your employee’s anxiety is skyrocketing. They are worried about losing their job, many are isolated working from home, and they are incredibly concerned that they will catch the coronavirus. Your employees must think about their mental wellbeing. These simple tips can help your employees to manage their mental health and should be included in your COVID-19 Response Plan and provided to them.

  • Increased anxiety and anxious feelings  – Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that may increase distress. It is less stressful to set aside specific times in the day to review news bulletins and social media, rather than consuming a continuous stream. Look for the positives where you can.
  • Rising stress levels – Take a break and do something relaxing, for example, sitting outside and getting some fresh air, reading a book or watching a television show.
  • Be aware of how others are feeling  – If you’re upset, others are also likely to be having similar feelings. Be empathetic to the others around.
  • Watch the language that you use – Think before you speak or type a message about how it will be interpreted. Avoid inflammatory and discriminatory language and labels.

See our article, COVID-19 and Mental Health Support.

Preserve Capital and Continue Operations

Your COVID-19 Response Plan should include measures that you can take to preserve capital and how best to continue operations. You should:

  1. Examine any possible effects of lost productivity due to working remotely.
  2. Record any lost revenues due to a business slowdown and delayed supply chains.
  3. Project a challenging economic climate for operations and financing that will last 90 days or more, depending on the strength of the local response to your goods or services.
  4. Conserve the necessary operating capital to operate through the impacted period and recovery, planning business alterations now to preserve the required capital.
  5. Take advantage of any Federal and State Government support to help support your business and to keep your employees.

See the Australian Federal Government business support packages.

To Conclude

Businesses should develop a COVID-19 Response Plan as soon as they can to ensure that they reduce the spread of coronavirus. The Response Plan should include closing your workplace to non-essential employees and visitors and setting up your employees to work from home. You should establish with your employees who are working from home, expectations around work output, communication, and managing around family obligations.

There should also be an established communication flow between managers and response teams to keep up-to-date with changes and to ensure employees remain engaged. You also need to preserve capital and plan for the next few months on how best to continue operations. Finally, monitoring and supporting your employee’s mental health is critical during this stressful time.

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