By Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton

Covid-19 is taking the world by storm, bringing more panic and hysteria with each case that gets announced. Although some may argue that the situation is being over-dramatised, it is something that has and will affect everyone over the coming weeks and months.

Businesses have the worry of whether staff will remain healthy, whether they will be able to continue to work, and overall, whether the business can continue to operate. Since the first case hit Ireland just three weeks ago, businesses have had to consider contingency plans for the very likely scenario of their staff not being able to travel to work.

Firstly, it is vital for organisations to be communicating regularly and honestly with all employees. Nothing causes panic and confusion more than uncertainty and rumours. As more and more data on Covid-19 is published, and more rumours and stories are making the rounds, employees will need honest and reliable information from their employer.

This information should consistently be coming from a dependable and, if possible, an influential person within the company. Organisations should be providing advice and guidelines for employees to follow and make staff aware of the possible impact that Covid-19 may have on their business.

There are many trustworthy sources available for organisations to get reliable and true information from. Organisations should be checking websites such as the NHS, HSE and WHO, for updates and advice on best practice.

It is also critical for organisations to ensure they have up-to-date contact details for all staff, in the event that they have to send important information outside of working hours. It should be a priority at the moment to ensure that they can make instant contact with all staff if necessary. This may involve getting or confirming personal phone numbers of all employees.

Patrick Gallen

Technology will play a key role in the survival and success of businesses through this pandemic. With the correct measures in place, technology may allow for some business to operate ‘as normal’ from remote locations. Since before Covid-19 reached Northern Ireland, businesses should have already been putting contingency plans in place regarding technology.

A remote working policy should be put in place where feasible, which will outline standards and guidelines for employees, in the instance that they cannot travel to work. Software and networks should be tested from home before it becomes a necessity for employees.

Where practicable, staff should be given the opportunity to bring working equipment such as laptops home, to test whether working from home will be suitable for them in the case that it is necessary.

Although the majority of houses today have access to Wi-Fi, employers should consider providing dongles and network devices in order to ensure that employees are not interrupted and less productive due to poor connectivity.

Organisations should look to utilise collaboration software such as Microsoft Teams and Skype, in order for employees to stay connected with management and colleagues.

The weeks and months ahead create a lot of uncertainty for everyone, in particular businesses. The number of cases is rising rapidly, with no signs of it slowing, and the future is proving anxious.

Although business continuity is important, people are the most important resource that organisations have, and therefore their health and safety should be at the forefront of decisions made. Stay safe!