Planning for Coronavirus

6th March, 2020

The emergence of coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the global marketplace and international travel, and potentially impacting supply chains. But how serious is the threat? And what precautions should your business take in preparation for its arrival?

For a start, the threat is real. Although world markets are stabilising, banks and assets managers are forecasting that coronavirus will reduce global gross domestic product by 0.2 to 0.3 percentage points. Certainly, the impact of the virus will affect China’s economy and global trade capability for months to come, and will have a direct or indirect effect on many companies.

JCB, one of Britain’s largest manufacturers, is cutting down production at its factories and reducing worker hours in an effort to mitigate supply chain shortages. As well as shortages, your business may experience absenteeism and even death among the workforce, along with reduced customer spending and panic buying. In turn, the economy may slow, causing a bad market reaction, investment portfolios to devalue and exchange rates to be affected.

You need to ask yourself:

  • What levels of absenteeism will cause problems for your business?
  • What if key departments suffer higher absenteeism?
  • Do you have contingency arrangements to manage supply shortages?
  • Do you have a clear HR policy to manage absenteeism in a pandemic?
  • Do have a communication strategy for customers, shareholders and key stakeholders?

To help cope with the impact of a coronavirus pandemic, here are a few guidelines:

  • Have a pandemic response group with defined roles and responsibilities
  • Identify critical activities that need to continue and the employees responsible
  • Discuss with suppliers/subcontractors whether they have a business continuity plan
  • Expect absenteeism and prepare for understaffed departments
  • Have a pool of workers to undertake key tasks & provide training where appropriate
  • Nominate deputies for key employees in case of absence
  • Determine the impact on business-related travel (should you curtail travel in certain countries?)
  • Establish flexible working hours and working from home
  • Promote respiratory hygiene etiquette and ask workers with symptoms to stay at home
  • Determine when a previously ill person can return to work (see Government advice)
  • Have video or tele conferencing rather than face to face meetings
  • Establish a chain of communication with employees, suppliers and customers
  • Meet customers’ needs through enhanced mail ordering or internet shopping
  • Consider your duty of care for overseas employees requiring medical treatment

We cannot ignore the risk of COVID-19 and its effect on the economy. But preparing and being able to respond in a timely fashion will help to manage the consequences, mitigate health risks and damage to reputation, operations and profits. Remember, you are only as good as the suppliers and workforce on which you depend.

Source: Willis Towers Watson - Covid-19 Thinking through the impact

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