It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, you cannot escape the public health emergency gripping the world. Coronavirus (or, more accurately, Novel Coronavirus COVID-19) from Wuhan now has everyone’s full attention: from classrooms full of children learning about handwashing to CEOs facing a complexity of virus-related issues.
There was a step change late last week as those boardroom complexities became an operational and financial reality. We witnessed the worst stock market performance since 2008, and heard from new countries and continents reporting their first cases from people who had not travelled to affected areas. The UK changed its risk level from low to moderate, triggering a ‘call to action’ for many leaders and decision-makers.
Whatever your responsibilities are, why and how your organisation responds to this crisis can have far-reaching outcomes on a number of levels. If you don’t have a robust crisis response or business continuity plan, a risk assessment is the first place to start addressing the ‘why’ and ‘how’ to answer questions. This should be comprehensive and should consider both what is compliant and what represents good citizenship – individual or corporate. These considerations will be contingent on each individual employee, organisation or business circumstances. However, there is common ground for all three:
- Public safety is the number one consideration for any decisions and advice under deliberation. Everyone has a civic duty to mitigate the risks to themselves and the wider public. For leaders, that means considering how their organisation can prevent the spread of Coronavirus. Communications is the number one item on the to-do list, and most urgent is to give employees, contractors, suppliers, customers and wider stakeholders basic health information, guidance and organisational policy. This might be to allow employees to work from home, introduce a travel ban and restrict access to some sites. This list is not exhaustive. I am already seeing these restrictions in place with my own clients and business networks. No one knows the full extent of this crisis so a precautionary approach is prudent and mitigates the risk of a human and communications crisis .
- Business continuity closely follows this. We are already seeing the commercial impact of the crisis on the stock markets. The most negatively impacted sectors are travel, fashion and any manufacturing operation that has China as part of their global supply chain. Larger businesses will have business disruption insurance. Check insurance policies, contact insurance providers and establish if cover can help cushion the cost of the disruption. Many insurers now also offer specialist risk consulting services. Smaller businesses should consider emergency decisions and support available to help manage the challenges presented by this Coronavirus.
- Recovery for many of the victims and everyone else impacted is inevitable, so it is never too early to plan for this. There may also be emerging opportunities, so a creative and observant view should be taken. Keep a record of how the crisis is managed. Flag what is going well and what isn’t. Evaluate the communications and their impact. Then adjust (or create) the crisis plan and identify any required resources. Use the experience of this event to ensure you and your organisation are resilient and prepared for the next crisis.
World Health Organisation provides latest updates, news, statistics and developments
Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (USA) offers useful guidance and information on the disease, as well as specific guidance for employers
UK Government guidance for businesses and employers has a useful guide on what you need to know about the disease, including basic symptoms and preventing the spread of infection
For Risk and Operational Managers:
IRM Guidance for Risk Managers advising their boards and leadership
Guidance from Clifford Chance (UK legal firm) on managing business insurance claims linked to Coronavirus. Disclaimer - Conduit Associates is not affiliated to Clifford Chance
For Communications professionals:
PR thought leader Stephen Waddington’s blog is packed with very practical tools and information for use in communications and public information.
Queen Mary’s University has an excellent text-book approach to this page containing both useful facts, as well as FAQs.