As of March 12, confirmed cases of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) stand at 125,000 across 118 countries. Although efforts to slow the spread of the virus are still ongoing, many countries are now facing the possibility that the virus will take hold. Like any virus, there is a very real human cost to Coronavirus. The elderly, those with existing health complications, people with compromised immunity, and people who suffer from chronic respiratory conditions are most vulnerable to complications. However, the impact of coronavirus will almost certainly be felt beyond these groups.
The long term economic impact of the virus is yet to be decided but current data and data from previous viral outbreaks can give us some indication. The 2003 outbreak of SARS is estimated to have cost the global economy around $40 billion. SARS, like CORVID-19, originated in China and shaved 0.5-1% off China’s growth. The latest estimates for Coronvirus expect China’s growth to be 0.8% lower this year than previously projected. Global economic growth is expected to be 2.4% in 2020, down from the 2.9% projected before the outbreak. China’s manufacturing sector has been hit hard and significant consequences on supply chains are expected. Of course, these numbers do little to reflect the real impact this will have on our workplaces, our businesses, and our day to day lives. How will Coronavirus impact small businesses? What impact will be felt across our workplaces? How can companies prepare for Coronavirus?
What Is COVID-19?
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably heard of Coronavirus. The purpose of this section is simply to act as a reminder or fact sheet about what is currently known about the virus. There are undeniable benefits to living in a country with a (mostly) free press and a country where anyone can hop onto social media and share their opinions. However, the downside of this is that misinformation can spread fast and cause unintended harm.
- COVID-19 is the name of the Coronavirus that is currently spreading across the world and causing much concern.
- Coronaviruses are a type of virus and their name comes from the location of the spikes on the surface. The spikes resemble a crown (corona in Spanish/Italian). SARS was also a Coronavirus.
- Coronaviruses are zoonotic, which means they can be transmitted from animals to humans. It has not yet been confirmed exactly how COVID-19 transmitted to humans or from which animal, although there are some theories. It’s thought that the source of the outbreak may have been a market in Wuhan, China. The market sold both live and dead animals. Bats have been presented as a likely culprit because they are host to various zoonotic diseases including rabies, Ebola, Salmonella, HIV, as well as fungal diseases. It’s believed (but not categorically confirmed) that SARS also originated in bats, before being passed to Civets (a small mammal), and then to humans. Snakes and pangolins have also been suggested.
- Symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure, although longer incubation periods have been reported. Typical symptoms are fever, coughing, and shortness of breath.
- Children aged 0-9 are very unlikely to experience complications. At present, there have been no fatalities in this age group according to official data.
- The virus disproportionately affects those over the age of 50, with those over the age of 80 being most vulnerable.
- The overall fatality rate is thought to be between 1-4% based on current data. Please be aware that this figure is skewed by the high death rate of over 20% for over 80s.
- 80% of the cases are mild or asymptomatic.
- It is thought that the virus spreads through droplets.
Dispelling the Myths
- Coronavirus can spread in both hot and cold climates.
- Hot baths, hand dryers, and UV lamps will not kill the virus.
- Alcohol hand-gels are not a replacement for washing your hands regularly. A hand sanitizer with 60-80% alcohol content should be sufficient to kill the virus.
It’s important to note that it will likely be some time before we have accurate information on the virus, including exactly how it is spread, typical incubation periods, and fatality rate. Testing varies wildly between countries. For example, South Korea has performed over 210,000 tests, whereas the US has performed under 10,000. The high death rate seen in certain countries (such as Iran) may be due to only severe cases being tested.
How Can Your Company Prepare For Coronavirus?
Building a Hostile Environment
Coronavirus is spreading fast, but there are still areas with very few cases where more drastic measures may not seem appropriate. The best thing you can do if you live in one of these areas is to make your workplace a hostile environment for the virus. This means encouraging employees to wash their hands regularly, and providing hand sanitizing stations next to doors or other entry and exit points. Remind workers that touching your face (particularly with unclean hands) can dramatically increase your chances of exposure.
You can spread this information through posters, internal newsletters, emails, and so on. In the marketing industry, there’s something called “The Marketing Rule of 7”. It states that people need to hear a message 7 times before they take action. This rule normally applies to selling products, but we think it’s a good general rule. We’re not saying you should spam your employee’s inboxes, but rather use a varied approach at spreading in the message.
It’s not known exactly how long COVID-19 can live on surfaces since tests are still in their infancy. However, scientists do have some indication. One study found that it can live in the air for up to 3 hours, copper for 4 hours, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to 3 days on stainless steel. This paper has not yet been peer-reviewed so it shouldn’t be taken as fact. Whatever the exact numbers are, it’s better to air on the side of caution for now. Cleaners should be instructed to clean surfaces thoroughly. Keyboards, mice, laptops, and screens should be cleaned regularly.
Working From Home
The key to minimizing the impact of the virus is planning. Businesses should ideally do planned working from home trials before a widespread roll-out is required. This means making sure all employees have access to the tools they need to work from home, including laptops, dedicated software, and so on. Tech companies have a distinct advantage in this area since this infrastructure is usually already in place.
It’s also important to offer some guidelines for working from home. The goal here should be to give your employees helpful advice to make the transition easier and maintain efficiency. There seems to be this long held idea that working from home might mean employees are essentially just putting their feet up and moving the mouse every 10 minutes. This toxic idea has led to many businesses heavily restricting home-working and treating employees who do it with suspicion. It’s time to let go of these ideas. Remember that morale can have a huge effect on the productivity of your workforce and that morale will likely take a hit during times of crisis. Your employees may know someone who is suffering from the virus or may be worried about their loved ones.
Here are a few examples of helpful guidelines or advice:
- Set expected work hours and a schedule. Let your employees know when you expect them to be available to communicate. Set expectations for breaks. Just because your employees are working from home doesn’t mean they don’t need to eat lunch.
- Encourage the use of messaging based communication tools over email.
- Hold a morning conference call to discuss the expectations for the day.
Benefits to Home Working
- Besides protecting yourself from the virus, there are other benefits to working from home.
- Reduced stress which can lead to higher productivity levels.
- Higher morale and better work culture.
- Access to a varied set of skilled labor that reside outside your area.
How Tech Can Support Home Working
- Use Multi-factor authentication to ensure only authorized users can access company devices.
- Provide strong antivirus and firewall protection on company devices. You can also create secure environments with Virtual Desktop Interfaces (VDIs) or virtual machines (VMs).
- Use end to end encryption for all communications between the device and your network.
- Limit what data can be shared by labelling and restricting the movement of sensitive documents.
Employees who suspect they have contracted the virus, people who have returned from exposed areas, or those displaying symptoms, should be encouraged to self-isolate. This means they stay away from the office for 1-2 weeks.
Consider the Implications of Your Policies
If you don’t offer sick leave or have very limited vacation leave, consider that employees may try to mask their illness to continue working. It’s not for us to dictate your company policies, but you should brainstorm all possibilities and consider whether you need to implement changes, even if they are temporary.
Consider Banning Large Gatherings
One of the key areas of focus for stopping or delaying the spread of the virus is social distancing. Even if some amount of socializing is expected in an office environment, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to apply limitations. It would be a good idea to cancel all gatherings of people over a certain number (say 50). You can also cancel work socials, parties, meals, and other events.
Where possible, you should limit the travel of employees to other areas. Planes, trains, buses, and coaches remain high-risk areas for spreading infection. Obviously, people can’t be teleported into work, but unnecessary travel should be restricted. There’s also the possibility that an employee might carry the virus from an infected area back into the workplace.
Stay safe, stay positive, and please wash your hands!
Still have questions?
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