Information about the coronavirus changes daily. Yahoo now has an entire tab dedicated to the topic in their navigation. Fears of the spread of the virus shut down the Louvre Museum. Communicating coronavirus precautions to your employees will help manage their fears so they can take preventive actions to be safe and give them peace of mind.
Editor's note: this post was last updated on March 16, 2020.
Coronaviruses aren’t new. There are different types that can present with respiratory or gastrointestinal symptoms. COVID-19 is the infectious disease currently in the daily news. It is caused by the most recently discovered coronavirus when the outbreak began in Wuhan, China, in December 2019. In just three months it has progressed.
Similar to training employees to keep them safe from harassment in the workplace or working safely with forklifts and ladders, employers should be concerned with keeping employees safe from the coronavirus.
Put Things into Perspective
One way to manage fear is to be realistic about the threat. The first US death was recently reported in Washington State. Rhode Island confirmed its first case. It is still a new virus with no vaccine and no specific antiviral treatment. A new report says researchers suspect the virus has spread in the US for weeks undetected.
There are also misleading myths about the virus so it’s important to be informed. The coronavirus is being called a global crisis and you see governments, health organizations, business and community leaders all working on the rapid response to diagnose and treat those affected and keep our communities safe. On March 11, WHO officially declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.
Training on Flu Prevention
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, there are similarities in the symptoms of the flu and the coronavirus since they are both infectious respiratory illnesses. It is a good idea to provide employees with some additional training on common flu prevention. Our series on fighting the flu consists of five videos in our health and wellness topic. The courses explain the symptoms, ways it’s spread, the different types of flu, prevention tips, when you should stay home, and the benefits of the flu shot.
To be clear, the coronavirus isn't "just like the flu." Some of the precautions we all take to avoid spreading the seasonal flu are very similar to what is recommended to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Things like stop touching your face or washing your hands.
Take Precautions for Prevention
Coronavirus precautions are generally the same for the flu or any workplace illness. They are common sense behaviors that should already be part of our daily habits.
According to the CDC, the best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed. Things like avoiding close contact with people who are sick; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; covering your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash and wash your hands or use hand sanitizer gel.
Wash Your Hands
Another thing that should be a basic habit of personal hygiene and also a CDC recommendation is to wash your hands. They say to wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
If you don’t have access to soap and water, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. I’ve made it a habit to carry this and disinfecting wipes with me in my backpack.
Clean and Disinfect
Another everyday habit that can help prevent the spread of several viruses is to clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces. Use a regular household cleaning spray or disinfecting wipe on surfaces like doorknobs, refrigerator handles, coffee makers, and meeting tables.
At ej4, all employees take a week of kitchen duty and this is one of their responsibilities. We also randomly send a message out on Slack (our instant messaging tool) for everyone to take a break and wipe down their desks, phones, keyboards, etc.
Be Flexible with Working from Home
The CDC also recommends you stay home when you are sick. If the work allows, offer your employees more flexibility to work from home if they feel they are sick and contagious with a cold, flu, etc. Again, this is a normal best-practice to limit the circulation of the common cold, flu, and coronavirus and can be reinforced by managers.
You may also need to create a plan for an emergency plan to work remotely that can apply to situations beyond the virus like natural disasters and dangerous weather. We have had several days of extreme winter weather this year. We communicate through a corporate-wide Slack channel to alert employees of a late start or a work-from-home day. Luckily, this is already part of our culture and we have the needed technology and IT support to make this available to everyone.
We also offer a course on working remotely that may be helpful for employees new to this environment. We offer tips on creating an ergonomic workplace in your home, for managing interruptions, and general tips on communication and productivity.
Crisis Management Training
This may be the time to revisit your crisis management plan and training and make sure all employees are aware of your plans and processes. What is the process if one of your employees leading a major project is affected by a quarantine? Or one of your plants in Asia is shut down due to the virus in the community?
Coronavirus and pandemic planning training topics should be added to your crisis management plan. COVID-19 precautions on workplace operations may include limiting or restricting travel, not allowing visitors at work, adding a hiring freeze, conducting interviews over the phone or web, instead of face-to-face. Pandemic planning should cover internal and external communications, handling illness in the office and business continuity.
As the CEO of ej4, my approach in this situation is to stay informed, keep calm, communicate with my employees, and create contingency plans. In addition, ej4 has created new videos to help you train your employees on COVID-19 preparedness. These are part of a new "Coronavirus and Pandemic Planning Bundle" that include soft skills related to managing and planning for these emergencies.
- Pandemic Planning and Training for Employees
- Watch and download full courses from our Coronavirus Precautions and Prevention, and Planning for a Pandemic series.
- Empower Your Employees with Crisis Management Training
- Watch full courses on fighting the flu, working remotely and crisis management.