The coronavirus is beginning to have a significant impact on businesses in the United States. For any company, planning for such an unexpected and unprecedented occurrence is challenging. That's why we want to share what Old National is doing and the considerations we believe are important, in case it is helpful for other regional businesses as they face unexpected situations like the trials that confront us today.
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to evolve, the response is changing rapidly. First and foremost, we find it important to keep employees informed with the facts and tips on what they can do to remain healthy and safe. Many employers are even taking drastic measures with changes to policies and business processes — and that's one more reason to establish multiple communication channels to keep your employees up-to-date. At Old National, we communicate with our team members through various methods, including an Intranet resource page that was created specifically for COVID-19, frequent emails and audio messages, and an internal social media site that associates can access with their mobile devices.
Considering the pace at which this virus appears to spread, companies across the country have implemented new policies that help protect the health and safety of their employees. You may want to consider adjustments to your paid-time-off and leave policies to ensure associates that are ill, with coronavirus or flu-like symptoms, are encouraged to stay at home. For the protection of all team members, you certainly don't want an employee attempting to work through an illness because she or he is concerned about losing vacation time and not being paid.
Specific to COVID-19, a very important group of employees are those with underlying health conditions (especially those with heart disease, diabetes and lung disease) as well as older employees. Individuals in these categories are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, so you may want to consider policies that encourage these employees to either work from home or take time off.
In the spirit of associate protection and mitigating the spread of COVID-19, many companies have restricted travel — internal, domestic and especially international — and have also adopted policies that restrict employees from attending large gatherings, such as conferences and conventions. Related to personal travel by employees, consider positions on asking employees to quarantine and not return to work for 14 days in the event the employee travels to a high-risk location.
One of the primary risks to businesses related to COVID-19 is experiencing a reduction in the number of employees that can work. At Old National, we have business continuity plans that are frequently being tested and evaluated. As this virus began to spread outside of China, we quickly determined it was necessary to review and refresh those plans considering the challenges COVID-19 may create. We conducted tabletop exercises with business units and quickly worked to develop detailed plans on how we would handle reductions in staffing by 25%, 50% and 75%.
To the extent possible, temporary employee work-from-home arrangements are a good measure to help keep a business running while also protecting associates. In order to effectively implement a work-from-home strategy, employees likely must be equipped with a device and the ability to access the company’s network in order to productively work from home. Ensuring associates are properly equipped is an obvious important task. And, if possible, conducting a test of numerous employees working from home helps stress-test the virtual private network.
Another strategy to consider is to utilize split sites for employees that work in critical functions. If an employee within a business function tests positive for COVID-19, you will likely need associates exposed to the infected employee to be quarantined for 14 days. By splitting key functions into separate groups at multiple locations, this helps prevent a scenario where one infected employee requires all your employees in that area to go home.
Businesses also need to contemplate whether visitor restrictions should be implemented to only include essential in-person meetings. In addition, it is recommended to enhance regular cleaning services to include disinfecting frequently used areas.
What will you do if there is a confirmed positive case in your building? Vacate a portion of your facility or the entire facility? Having these discussions now can help prepare and result in better, thoughtful results in the event such a situation occurs. Activities that may need to occur if someone tests positive in your location include, special sanitized cleaning and tracing work to determine who is safe to bring back to work.
There continue to be so many unknowns to COVID-19. It is important that we take care of ourselves, each other and our communities.
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