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Planning for Pandemic Recovery

Posted by on May 14, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has made 2020 a challenging year for organizations around the world. 

The rapid spread of the novel coronavirus between January and mid-March has resulted in nearly two months of government-imposed social distancing measures with the goal of reducing the spread of the virus. 

For both global and North American companies, social distancing requirements have meant transitioning employees to work-from-home status, laying off non-essential staff, or (in some instances) ceasing operations altogether. 

As a result, retail firms like Neiman Marcus Group and J.Crew have been pushed into bankruptcy, with others expected to follow. Stock markets have also taken a beating, with the NASDAQ index dropping nearly 30 percent in 30 days starting on February 19 and impacting the investments of millions around the world. 

Today, as several states have crested the peak of the infection curve, organizations of all sizes are developing action plans for bringing Americans back to offices and workspaces—but it won’t quite be business as usual. The threat of COVID-19 continues to loom, and the possibility of an even more disruptive second wave of infections is real. Companies that wish to bring employees back into the workplace must develop and implement effective strategies to limit the spread of infection between workers and prevent disease outbreaks in the work environment. 

To help organizations manage complex changes and protect worker safety during this difficult time, we’ve created this playbook on how to prepare your firm for pandemic recovery.

Pandemic Disaster Recovery Plan: What’s at Stake

Scientists have collected data from thousands of patients worldwide to understand the behavior of the virus, and business leaders can use this information to help inform the safety measures that they’ll implement as Americans return to the workplace.

Here are some of the most important data points:

  • The COVID-19 virus has an incubation period of three to 14 days with an average of around five days before an infected person starts showing symptoms.
  • After the incubation period, the infected person develops symptoms such as coughing, fever, and shortness of breath. In critical cases, ICU admission is usually required roughly 12 days after the initial onset of symptoms. 
  • Following a hospital admission, it can take three days or more to receive test results confirming viral load in the infected person.
  • A person infected with COVID-19 spreads the infection to an average of 2.28 other people.

Taken together, these data points highlight the stark reality of managing COVID-19 risks in the workplace. 

If an infected person comes into your workplace and there are no safety measures in place to mitigate the spread of infection, it might be 30 days before that person’s infection is detected at the hospital.

In that time, the employee could have spread COVID-19 to tens or hundreds of other staff members.

Due to the lack of widespread testing, scientists still aren’t sure what percentage of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, but it’s clear that an outbreak of this magnitude would cause a significant business disruption even if we can’t fully quantify the harm. 

The long delay between the onset and the discovery of infection means that organizations must take proactive steps to mitigate the spread of the virus in the workplace and develop a response plan. Simply having employees stay home when they’re feeling sick isn’t going far enough to protect your staff. Companies could even face liability issues under occupational safety and health regulations if they fail to provide a safe environment for their workers.

In this playbook, we highlight some of the business continuity planning that business leaders can take to adequately protect employees and help ensure a smooth operational recovery after the pandemic.

Pandemic Disaster Recovery Plan: How to Prepare

Managing IT Services

At the start of social distancing measures, we saw a distinct uptick in the demand for specific IT services, such as deploying laptops and mobile devices for employees transitioning to the home office. Now that employees are returning to offices, the IT organization will again play an important role in supporting members of the business through the transition period.

Anticipate High Request Volumes

IT organizations should anticipate an increased volume of requests as workers start returning to the office. If the facility is being reorganized to ensure six feet of distance between workstations, the IT organization will likely be involved in moving and reconfiguring computers and other office technology to meet the new requirements.

Adjust SLAs If Necessary

With some IT staff working from home, some remaining in the office, and some going between the two, IT organizations will have to find new ways to meet service level agreements or refine those SLAs to better reflect the current realities of work. For IT organizations dealing with staffing shortages or a partially remote workforce, IT agent enablement will be the key ingredient in meeting SLAs. Still, there’s never been a better time for IT managers to audit SLAs and make sure that resources are appropriately allocated to maintain the most business-critical services. 

Review Pandemic Clauses in Vendor Agreements

IT managers should review force majeure clauses in software vendor agreements to ensure that pandemics are adequately addressed. A force majeure clause frees both the firm and the vendor from obligation and liability when an extraordinary event like a pandemic prevents either one from delivering on the terms promised in the contract.

Investigate Contact Tracing Software Tools 

New contact tracing apps and software tools are being implemented around the world to help monitor the spread of infections and effectively trace the chain of COVID-19 infections from person-to-person. Apple and Google have both released contact-tracing tools for app developers, and consulting firm PwC has a proprietary contact tracing tool in the works as well. 

Contact tracing apps run in the background on your mobile phone throughout the day, broadcasting a signal that detects other devices with the app installed. The app keeps track of how close the user’s mobile phone is to other devices and for how long. When someone receives a positive diagnosis for COVID-19, anyone they’ve been in close contact with will receive an automatic notification that they’re at risk and should either quarantine themselves or get tested. 

Empower IT Staff 

To be productive while working from home, IT staff need the same level of access to your ITSM platform, diagnostic tools, and communication channels as they would have in the office. Providing IT agents with these tools in the home office ensures that they can provide users with the same great standard of service while working from home

Implement Live Chat and Self-Service

For IT organizations operating with the traditional call-center model, implementing new service channels for users can reduce agent workloads and drive down ticket resolution costs while offering customers more convenient service. Live chat offers an additional, potentially more convenient channel for users seeking help from IT agents. A self-service portal allows users to investigate and resolve their own technical issues using your company knowledge base and without ever contacting an IT agent. 

Managing Facilities

In addition to changing how labor is managed, companies will need to develop new facilities management protocols to help identify possible COVID-19 cases and mitigate new infections.

Increase Distance Between Workstations

The social distancing guidelines recommended by governments across the world indicate that individuals should stay at least six feet apart to avoid spreading disease. Extending this requirement to the workplace means that workstations will have to be at least six feet apart, and it’s also best if workers don’t directly face each other while seated at their desks. 

Review Your Cleaning Schedule

While employees will be required to maintain higher personal hygiene standards in a post-pandemic workplace, facilities managers should beef up the existing cleaning protocols, especially in common areas that are shared by employees. Entry and exit doors, elevators, break rooms, conference rooms, meeting rooms, and workstations should be cleaned and disinfected daily.

Implement Health Testing & Verification

One of the best proactive measures that facilities managers can implement is health testing and verification for both employees and visitors to your business. Organizations should implement new risk assessment screening processes that include:

  • Asking whether a visitor has been feeling unwell prior to their visit
  • Verifying whether the visitor recently traveled to another country
  • Checking the visitor’s temperature to assess whether they have a fever and refusing entry to individuals who appear sick
  • Asking visitors to present a time-bound negative test result for COVID-19 infection before entering the facility

Audit Your Supply Chain

Organizations will need to ensure that vendors can meet their elevated demands for cleaning products, PPE, paper products, and additional resources that will be necessary to implement their operational recovery strategies. Now is the time to reconnect with vendors and secure the needed supplies.

Managing Employees

Managing the safety of employees returning to work will become a priority for companies in pandemic recovery mode.

Provide Employees with PPE

As businesses begin returning to work after COVID-19, personal protective equipment (PPE) will play a lifesaving role in limiting the spread of infection in the workplace. This includes face masks, gloves, and eye protection. If your firm wants to encourage or require workers to wear PPE while at work, you should make those supplies available. Employees may require training on the effectiveness of PPE, and how to properly wear and remove the equipment to prevent infections. You'll be able to find the latest guidance on what PPE to provide through the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and, if you're in the United States, through your state's Department of Health. 

Update Business Travel Policies

Airlines are continuing to book flights, but business travel can bring your employees into close contact with lots of other people traveling from different locations, increasing the risk of infection. To mitigate risk, limit business travel as much as possible and impose a mandatory work-from-home or quarantine policy for workers returning from business travel.

Update Cleanliness Policies

Employees may have already adjusted their own behaviors as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, but businesses still need to ensure that workers are following the appropriate hygienic procedures to prevent the spread of infection. For business leaders, that means encouraging thorough handwashing with informational posters and by providing the right supplies (soap, disinfectant, and hand sanitizer) that make it easy for employees to comply. 

Leave Non-Essential or At-Risk Workers at Home

During the social distancing phase of this pandemic, many business leaders discovered that workers were more productive and generated fewer costs to the business while working from home. As a result, many companies are choosing to maintain part of their remote work force as they work to recover operations. With the help of the human resources department, organizations should identify workers who are at elevated risk of negative COVID-19 outcomes, and those whose presence in the office is non-essential. These individuals should be encouraged to continue working from home.

Schedule Alternate Shifts to Reduce Crowding

Business leaders may want to schedule alternate shifts and allow workers to report for work at different times to reduce crowding in the office. If flexible schedules are possible, let employees volunteer to work a night shift with fewer people in the office.

Implement a Staggered Return to Work

Employees returning to the office may not need to physically present themselves every single day to perform their jobs. Employees may be able to come to the office once or twice per week to conduct team meetings while working from home the rest of the time. This approach helps reduce the number of employees in the office at any given time and limit the spread of infection.

Manage Absenteeism

Businesses will notice increased absenteeism among workers, between those caring for sick family members and those taking time off due to possible symptoms of COVID-19. Absences from work will become more common in 2020 as employers aggressively encourage workers to stay home if they feel unwell to avoid spreading COVID-19 to colleagues. Organizations should be aware that workers will require extra, often unanticipated time off to deal with issues related to this public health crisis. 

Get Employee Buy-in

Getting buy-in from employees is critical when it comes to enforcing compliance with your operational recovery strategy following COVID-19. Individuals may have different views about this infectious disease and the dangers it causes, so it’s up to business leaders to convey a clear message about what the risks are, what is being done to mitigate those risks, and why it is vital that all staff members comply with the new directives that are designed to keep everyone safe.

Managing Expectations

Employees

For employees, the additional safety measures necessitated by pandemic recovery will become part of a “new normal,” at least for the foreseeable future and until it is generally agreed that the health emergency has passed. Thankfully, there are over 60 potential COVID-19 vaccines in pre-clinical evaluation with several preparing to enter clinical trials in humans. Employees should focus on performing effectively in their roles while developing self-care habits (hygiene, wearing PPE, etc.) that help protect them from infection.

Leadership

Business leaders will face new challenges in the pandemic recovery phase, including the management of working teams that are divided between their homes and the office. Business leaders will spend more of their time maintaining accountability and engagement with remote workers and coordinating activities between geographically separated working teams.

Customers

Consumers have already seen disruptions to some of their favorite businesses because of the coronavirus pandemic. To manage expectations with your customers, it is important that you communicate with them clearly about your strategies to maintain service levels while safeguarding your employees and business against the health and financial risks of second wave infections. Showing that you’re taking the right steps to move forward will earn you the benefit of the doubt if you experience setbacks that negatively impact customer experience.

Shareholders

Between February 20 and March 20, the Dow Jones Industrial Average plummeted from 29,219.98 to 19,173.98, losing nearly a full third of its value. Although the stock market partially rebounded from that low, it remains turbulent. Shareholders have been hit hard by the financial consequences of the pandemic and organizations of all sizes have suffered major disruptions that have led to value drops. 

The message to investors needs to be that your firm is taking the appropriate steps to resume operations and restore profitability while taking the necessary steps to limit the serious business and financial risks of second-wave infections. While these steps may require short-term expenses, they are necessary to ensure that your firm stays in business for the long term and comes out ahead as we move towards vaccination and the eventual eradication of COVID-19.

Cherwell Software: Your Competitive Advantage for Pandemic Recovery

Cherwell software helps IT and business leaders manage and orchestrate cross-departmental workflows that support a safe pandemic recovery process for global organizations.

With Cherwell IT Service Management, IT organizations can streamline the review process for vendor agreements and SLAs, customize an incident management workflow to address elevated request volumes and maintain effective oversight of IT assets and security as workers move between the office and their remote working locations (and back). Features like live chat and self-service capabilities ensure that IT organizations can continue to deliver effective support to users.

Cherwell Facilities Service Management empowers organizations with high-level oversight and orchestration of facilities management activities. Business leaders can take full control over how work spaces are organized and allocated to specific working groups, manage work orders, and schedule additional cleaning and maintenance—all with the goal of minimizing infection spread as workers move in and out of the office environment. Cherwell Asset Management can also help organizations track physical equipment and IT assets as they are relocated to meet changing organizational needs.

With Cherwell HR Service Management, firms can rapidly make their updated policies accessible to all members of the organization, maintain a single source of truth for company policies, and encourage compliance across all levels of the business. Business leaders can use the platform to track the status of employees as they transition from remote working back into the office, or to coordinate employee onboarding and offboarding activities such as hardware and software provisioning, building security clearance and user access.

Power Your Pandemic Recovery with New Cherwell mApps

We’re committed to supporting our customers throughout the crisis, including the process of bringing employees back into the workplace. 

We’ve released two new mergeable applications that provide  our platform users with critical capabilities  for managing employees during the initial transition.

  • Cherwell’s Remote Employee Management mApp Solution helps streamline the process of transitioning employees to remote work. HR managers can automate workflows for equipment provisioning and broadcast the most current policies and announcements to remote workers.
  • Cherwell’s Crisis Management mApp helps business leaders monitor employee status and deliver direct communications in real time when it matters most. Employees can self-report their status and location to verify their safety in an emergency and business leaders can send group notifications with timely information to safeguard team members in a crisis. This mApp is helpful for an organization's pandemic preparedness strategy—or any emergency response. 

We will also be working closely with customers as they begin the process of reopening their workplaces, and are currently mapping out the best ways to equip them for this upcoming challenge. 

Want to see how Cherwell helps you orchestrate services across departments to effectively manage your firm’s pandemic recovery?

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