In early March 2020, there have been nearly 3,100 deaths and more than 90,000 people infected with the respiratory disease known as COVID-19 across the globe. After months of watching this take place in other countries, the previous few cases in the United States have begun to rise – including one here in Fort Lee, NJ.
For now, the Centers for Disease Control recommends several common-sense and very reasonable precautions. These include regular hand washing or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer, covering coughs and sneezes (with your elbow or several tissues), and staying home and avoiding public spaces if you are feeling sick. I’d like to point out that these are inherently smart things to do during flu season anyway, but I realize that most people don’t fear the flu despite the number of people who die from that disease each year.
So what should you do if local health officials declare a quarantine? You should have a ready supply of your prescription medicine, tissues, pain-relieving medication (Tylenol or Advil), hand sanitizer (if you can find it), and face masks. Don’t forget to keep your phone charged so that you can call someone for help if you develop symptoms (or they worsen). There is significantly more information available by conducting an internet search (or using the Resources listed below).
But I want to shift this discussion to businesses – either the one you own or one for which you work. How do you handle something completely different than your everyday normal?
Try to Prevent Further Infection
If your business has many employees or if it serves the public, you must think about ways that you can reduce the chance of spreading infection. Some options include providing hand sanitizer dispensers, wiping down frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners, and a more frequent cleaning schedule for common areas and restrooms.
If your business has delivery or service vehicles, you should clean the steering wheel, commonly touched dashboard or smart-drive appliances, door handles (both inside and out), and the key fob.
Given the current circumstances, you might begin to avoid shaking hands with customers and colleagues. Touching elbows should suffice in a pinch or even a distinct nod of your head as a way of greeting.
If public health officials discourage people from attending large gatherings, you should begin to think about how your company will communicate with staff members who are forced to stay at home. Many businesses allow that kind of flexibility anyway, so you probably already have some informal communication channels via phone and email.
You should start to formalize those mechanisms now so that you are not scrambling at the last minute. Make sure you have an updated list of contact information (phone numbers and email addresses), so everyone can contact co-workers quickly. If your business uses VOIP, make sure that everyone understands how to use soft-phones, and provide a quick reference guide to configure an office phone at home.
Have your staff check to see if they can access their email at home from a web browser to ensure that all remote access rules are in place and that the staff members know their passwords. If you have not yet implemented multi-function authentication (MFA) for your email, now is the perfect opportunity to do so. Similarly, it’s worth making sure everyone has email access from their smartphones or tablets.
For some businesses, chat systems like Slack or Microsoft Teams can be effective mechanisms for your staff to remain in touch with one another in real-time. Another alternative, if you need to conduct meetings frequently is Zoom. If you don’t use this kind of technology now and are interested in investigating whether you should, please contact me for a discussion.
Remote Access to Your Business
Make sure your staff has access to your remote desktop access software and knows how to use it so that they can connect to their office computers. (Don’t have remote access to your office? Again, contact me to discuss how your needs can be met.)
Do you have specific business resources, like your accounting system, that has unique security requirements? If so, think about what additional provisions are necessary for someone working from home.
Your Office on Empty
If most or all your staff are working from home, what does that mean for your office? Do your physical security systems or climate settings need to be adjusted? Do you want to set up video cameras or other remote monitoring hardware? Heck, who’s going to water the plants? On a more serious note, if you have an on-premises server, you want to make sure it can be administered entirely remotely, including power cycling.
It’s also worth determining who will have responsibility for the office in the event of any problems, which could still occur even if no one is there. What if a water pipe in the building breaks, or there’s a burglary? Make sure it’s clear who will respond.
Everyday Business Functions
Think about the regularly scheduled aspects of running your business, with an eye toward those tasks that assume the presence of certain people. Can they run payroll, accounts receivable, and accounts payable from a remote location? Try to ensure that every key position has at least one backup, so if one person falls ill, your business’ ability to function won’t be compromised.
If international travel is a significant part of your business, you’re already figuring out how to compensate through videoconferencing and similar technologies. But if you regularly travel only within the country or your area, think about which trips are essential and which you can replace by using online conferencing tools.
Finally, consider how your clients and customers will react to this new situation. It’s unfortunately likely that there may be less work taking place so that you might see a decrease in your revenue stream; on the other hand, some businesses may see an increased workload. For instance, if the number of patients in hospitals skyrockets, those business owners who support healthcare systems may struggle under the load alongside the doctors and nurses.
I hope and pray that all these preparations prove unnecessary, but they’re worthwhile to consider and implement just the same. Too many businesses have failed after a fire, hurricane, or earthquake renders an office uninhabitable, and such natural disasters are all too common. Others have closed their doors because a ransomware attack caused too much disruption to their day-to-day activities. Planning for a better outcome now – while there is time to think clearly about what must take place – will ensure your continued business success.
US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
New Jersey Department of Health