Responding to Coronavirus is a challenge for any business. A study from research firm Gallup provides an insight into the steps that 100 large companies are taking, WARC’s Stephen Whiteside reports.

Many companies have been left scrambling to craft the policies and strategies needed to protect their employees, clients and partners from COVID-19 – all while trying to minimize the impact of the pandemic on their businesses.

Marketing in the COVID-19 crisis

This article is part of a special WARC Snapshot focused on enabling brand marketers to re-strategise amid the unprecedented disruption caused by the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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To determine how the biggest enterprises are responding to this rapidly-evolving crisis, Larry Emond, managing director of analytics and advisory firm Gallup, assessed the Coronavirus-related responses being pursued by 100 major organizations.

Each company is a member of Gallup’s CHRO Roundtable, a group featuring the chief human resources officers of 650 large corporations. And, on average, the enterprises in the study boasted 80,000 employees and $27 billion in annual revenue.

Some of common actions they had taken in reaction to the spread of Coronavirus include:

Forming crisis management teams

“Most organizations have created crisis management teams, task forces or committees with a response tailored to specific geographic regions,” the study said.

These groups convene regularly to formulate policies and provide information to executives and front-line staff on topics like awareness, prevention and good hygiene.

Alongside immediate plans, these teams will seek to map out various future scenarios, covering issues like:

  • succession plans for senior executives;
  • protocols for remote working;
  • transferring key operations to less-affected geographies;
  • reducing business operations to critical functions only.

Developing diagnosis protocols

One vital set of stipulations involves when an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19.

An example of how these procedures may work in practice reads as follows:

  • asking staff to report possible or confirmed cases – pertaining to themselves or a relative – to the human-resources department;
  • requiring infected staff to remain at home for 14 days, or until a doctor clears their return to work;
  • isolating employees who are diagnosed at work; disinfecting objects they’ve touched; tracing contacts with other staff members, customers, and clients; and notifying any relevant individuals;
  • logging in-person contact between employees, and customer engagements, in case of infection, so all parties can be informed should a COVID-19 case arise.

Tightening travel requirements

Travel to many destinations (local and international) is limited by “soft bans”, which requests that, wherever possible, staff members avoid:

  • face-to-face meetings;
  • air travel;
  • public transport
  • large gatherings, like conferences and events.

For those individuals who do travel, especially overseas, a 14-day period of self-quarantine is a norm.

“Hard bans” are widely employed in relation to intercontinental trips (save for “mission-critical” journeys) or when visiting particular nations – with China, Italy, Japan, Iran and South Korea frequently on the prohibited list.

Monitoring business impact

Senior leaders hold dedicated meetings to “monitor business impact in efforts to protect or sustain business functions,” Gallup’s report explained. Their points of focus may involve closing down facilities in areas with high incidences of COVID-19, or transferring some business disciplines to geographies where Coronavirus is not as prevalent.

Human resources teams are also often:

  • analyzing/forecasting the prospective impact of COVID-19 going forwards;
  • monitoring supply chains and providers for potential challenges;
  • assessing supply chain and operational risk on an on-going basis;
  • looking for alternative suppliers;
  • supplying additional resources for staff or paid leave;
  • trimming or suspending bonuses at senior levels.

Encouraging wellbeing

When assisting in the wellbeing – both physical and financial – of employees, a few typical policies are:

  • setting up meeting rooms, break rooms and common areas to practice “social distancing”;
  • instructing staff to work remotely and/or from home;
  • closing on-site facilities like cafeterias and gyms;
  • granting paid time off for people with COVID-19 symptoms, or who must care for infected family members;
  • providing medical and travel services in select cases;
  • paying for time spent under quarantine;
  • communicating employer insurance (and similar) benefits.

Testing technology

Tech systems – that, say, facilitate remote working and emergency notifications – are being tested at many firms.

Zoom, Skype and Microsoft Teams are some tools that act as a virtual substitute for face-to-face meetings, while offering like Google Docs are enabling project collaboration.

Employees have also been advised to take laptops and other equipment home at night, and set up remote connections, in case they are required to work away from the office at short notice.

Leveraging communications

“Corporate leadership is communicating frequently – daily, weekly or as available – to address their organization's COVID-19 response, advice, policies and protocols,” the Gallup study said.

Along with distributing the answers to staff questions, these communications might provide links to updates from institutions like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and John Hopkins University.

The broader forms of information to disseminate could include:

  • reminding workers to look at information from credible sources;
  • offering reassurance as necessary;
  • encouraging employees to procure food, water, medicine and other essentials in case of emergency.

The mediums generally used to spread this messaging include:

  • social media for public messages;
  • email, SMS, hotlines and intranets;
  • on-site signage to encourage hygiene, screening and similar policies.

“Members of the CHRO Roundtable are conscious of the effects of their communication, particularly on customers,” the study added.

As such, it is common to:

  • have prepared responses from senior leaders for use when dealing with media enquiries;
  • appoint designated media-relations personnel who address incoming questions;
  • ask employees not to violate the privacy of diagnosed clients, customers and co-workers on social media;
  • use social media and marketing messages to raise awareness of customer policies and ecommerce services.

Using training

There has been a “rapid expansion” of training opportunities within enterprises, not least for managers who are leading corporate efforts to contain Coronavirus, fielding employee enquiries, and communicating company policies.

Bespoke training programs are also regularly being introduced for security, cleaning, maintenance and groundskeeping teams, Gallup revealed. “These protocols and responses, we're told, will be operational as long as is needed – the end of May is the current long-term projection – and all are subject to revision,” its study said.