COVID-19: How we're ensuring employees are alert but not alarmed

HR has a critical role to play in coronavirus contingency planning

COVID-19: How we're ensuring employees are alert but not alarmed

by Karina Mounivong and Jacqueline Anderson, HR leaders at Nintex

It’s shaping up to be the biggest disruption to business in a decade, here in Australia and around the world. It’s hard to believe it’s only three months since news broke of an outbreak of a novel coronavirus in the previously little-known city of Wuhan, in Hubei province, Central China.

The global pandemic that’s ensued has seen cities and countries locked down, and sent governments, health authorities and businesses into crisis mode, as they formulate and evolve plans to manage the extraordinary array of risks the disease has generated.

At Nintex, we’re far from immune from the effects of the contagion. As the Asia Pacific arm of a global process management and automation software company, we face the same dangers to employee and economic health as our counterparts, at home and abroad.

These aren’t easy times, but we have a number of things in place to ensure our team remains alert but not alarmed, as we navigate many uncertainties together.

Here are a few of them.

Exhaustive continuity planning
In times of immense uncertainty, there’s one thing guaranteed to unsettle employees yet further: seeing their employer react in a panicked, knee-jerk way. Exhaustive business continuity planning is the best way to prevent this occurring and the earlier it begins, the better.

Analysing the practical and economic effects likely to result from disruption to our supply chain and considering the range of responses open to us – extended leave provision, work-from-home scenarios, restricted travel guidelines and the like – has provided us with a solid basis for measured decision making. That’s enabling us to keep the team calm, as well as placing the enterprise in a better position to regain momentum, when the crisis passes.

A cross-disciplinary response team
Who’s involved in the continuity planning effort? At Nintex, we’re drawing on the expertise of leaders from across the enterprise, including operations, legal, IT and human resources. A global threat calls for complex provisioning and having multiple stakeholders involved in the process ensures all contingencies and consequences are considered.

Emergency response templates
While they may only occur occasionally, emergencies are part and parcel of business life. For us, having detailed templates which outline how we’ll deal with them in a timely and effective way is a must.

Whether it’s an employee affected by a natural disaster, such as a volcanic eruption, earthquake or bushfire, or a COVID-19 outbreak in one of our buildings, the same principles apply: swiftly determining who’s in charge of our response effort and communicating with and supporting our workforce are critical.

Open channels of communication
Fear is productivity’s greatest enemy: it stands to reason that when employees are anxious and distracted, they’ll get less done at work. We know the antidote to panic is information – obtained from trusted sources and delivered clearly, concisely and regularly.

We’re doing that via regular bulletins on our Slack channel. Our aim is to ensure our employees have current COVID-19-related information on everything from the latest no-travel zones to our company’s self-quarantine policy and our strategies for servicing customers who are located in virus hotspots.

We’re also educating our frontline managers, to enable them to provide their direct reports with accurate information, as questions arise.

Over-communication? At a time like this, we believe there can be no such thing. In fact, the reverse. Keeping every member of the team in the loop and showing them practical efforts are being made to manage and minimise the coronavirus threat encourages them to focus on ensuring it’s ‘business as usual’, extraordinary circumstances notwithstanding.

A work-from-home policy that’s already effective
Asking employees to work from home is an excellent and obvious way to minimise the risk of an office-wide outbreak. Having adequate collaboration tools, mobile technology and well-entrenched work-from-home guidelines makes this modus operandi easier to enact at short notice, without the danger that productivity will plummet.

As a global technology company with a dispersed workforce, we have this covered off. Our processes include making yourself available to colleagues and management via all the usual communication channels – Skype, Slack, Microsoft Teams – and taking (virtual) part in daily stand-up meetings to ensure that even though we’re apart, we all remain on the same page and are motivated to achieve shared goals. This is where video-conferencing tools like Zoom are very helpful.

Looking ahead to a brighter future
‘This too will pass’ is a truism that’s likely to apply in the case of the COVID-19 pandemic. After that will come the recovery phase, when businesses like ours take stock, regather and continue on our growth journeys. Engaging with employees productively and respectfully as the crisis unfolds makes coming out at the other end with a loyal and committed workforce a much more likely proposition. That’s something to strive for.

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