The Chinese government and its authorities have tried at the beginning to undermine the significance of Coronavirus (Covid-19). Other governments were caught on surprise. Today (note: 26/02/2020) the events take turns in a way that no one can tell you what will be next. I live in Greece and in our neighboring country, Italy, people have lived a three-days frenzy situation, where cases and deaths were on news constantly impacting their lives.

Big market players like Apple and Samsung have already preempted markets for product shortages and slower deliveries. All customer-interaction types of business (ie. airlines, banks) and especially the retail chains that have a strong reliance on Chinese manufacturers (from a t-shirt to power banks …you name it) for its supply will have a definite impact if the outbreak continues.

Before we go further, a note to all company owners and management teams on being ethical: if you are importing luxury, fashion, electronics goods from the far East, you should treat the merchandise and all related operations as a very high-risk area…

News heavily report on Covide-19, but their advice is not to spread panic(!?)

I was thinking about it for days now if I should write a short piece as per the Crisis mitigation in cases where the Coronavirus outbreaks at country, geography, industry, company level. Without having any intention to add to any panicking, I’ve decided to go with it.

After all, it’s about people, employees, kids and high-risk patients anyhow. No matter if you are in Northern Europe, or around the Mediterranean, or in my home country, Greece -anywhere in the world- if the virus is reported, then people in wide geography should be proactively “covered”. And companies should activate.

Who are the first types of businesses to be attentive?

Every business that gets to welcome, serve, and transact with large numbers of people is in my mind, writing this blog post. You see in such types of businesses the sanitation protection, keeping health conditions and safe ways of working have to do with large numbers of customers and might be very risky. It can be any business among (indicative list) banks, telecoms, courier companies, supermarkets, pet shops, pharmacies, mobile stores, and major chain retailers.

What does it mean to be …attentive in such “public hazard risks” situations? It means that these companies implement or work very fast (A.S.A.P) on a crisis-ready plan activation …if, and when, and for who it might be fit for purpose. But for sure, they can’t stand still and simply watch the news.

Action-1: Internal health & safety measures go ‘live’ at all company levels

No matter if you have a crisis-ready action plan or not, if the virus is present in your “territories”, it is time to activate. The first step is to ensure that everybody among your people does follow through an internal Health & Safety structure. It can be driven by HR or Operations, but you should make sure that all employees, office staff, drivers, salespeople, stores and logistics are protecting themselves at best. Actions and sanitation tips can be found and replicated by all medical and state authorities.

I consider this as the first action because by protecting employees you are benefiting the wider society and hopefully, the self-protection and proper sanitation messaging will be shared among their peers, friends, and families.

Action-2: What do you do, if public spaces are closed, or a medical case is found in the company

In case that any public space like schools, universities, metro-transport, state offices around the company’s geography close for some days as a precaution measure, or in case a company’s employee is among the medical cases, then the company should also close down.

As all media report nowadays, it takes some time for the authorities to trace back the affected person’s previous days interactions, to make sure that no one else is infected. After all, maintaining a healthy and trusted environment means civil protection and ethical responsibility at best, especially in industries where products and service change so many hands (s/markets, food, financials, etc).

Action-3: Direct your customers to your digital touchpoints

People will protect themselves and possibly stay home, in cases where the outbreak expands. So, it is wise if your company is a bank, a food joint, a chain retailer to advise your customers to interact with your digital touchpoints, instead of the usual visit, shaking hands, coughing and you name it…

This is a proactive safety move that will help both fronts: a) employees and their interactions, and b) keep continuing doing business, but at the same time keeping customers safe. It is sure that there will be some kind of impact on your business, but at least do it the responsible way. There is always tomorrow, for being appreciated as a company.

If you drive your Customers to digital points, your only worry factor is to prepare your drivers/courier guys etc. for keeping the same health and safety rules, when they will deliver a product/order.

Action-4: Earn your Customers’ Trust with your actions

If you maintain a healthy and trusted environment for your customers, you have done the first step. If you constantly following authorities’ guidance and then you comply, you are doing the second right step. The third step is to communicate first, if there is a real need to communicate and inform responsibly customers about developments (medical cases, closed stores, transact with gloves, mouth masks etc).

By periodically updating people with necessary info pieces and announcements in all your company channels (website homepage, blog/announcement, social media posts), you show that you are trying your best to be a safe company and a responsible player.

What is the risk in this? It is the fact that usually companies lay-low and remain silent, so “not to create further panic” but the people out there expect more. We have seen similar company behaviours on the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) 2003 virus outbreak -although it was a lesser effect than today-, which in the first half of 2003, had 8.000 infected in 28 countries and killing 774 people. The same “lay-low” company tactic was followed at the ‘Mad cows’ outbreak. After all, communications in such cases are a direct action of civil protection and ethical responsibility at best.

Action-5: Be ready for a wide spectrum of sanitary protection

We can’t predict all kinds of companies’ operational model, but here’s what do I have in mind as a professional -although a random list- if I was in the shoes of a company:

  • Food areas’ (restaurant, warehouses, front-stores) safety tips activated
  • Safe process for product deliveries (example: no-touch approach)
  • Use facial masks and gloves
  • Protective measures at all in-company dining areas
  • Antiseptic sanitizers available for employees and customers
  • The in-house medical unit, ready to act
  • Temperature (fever) check-in wide retail chains (stores level)
  • In-office coordinator to communicate constantly with authorities for updates
  • Prepare virus-related tips communication materials (you can find many examples on the web) – HR and a medical doctor should educate employees on protective tips …a tip on this: don’t over-do it, it’s not advertising, so a simple e-mail note will do!

The prudent man sees difficulties in advance and prepares for those challenges.

It wasn’t my intention to make you feel, dear reader, like being in “Walking Dead”. It was only a reaction to the fact that the outbreak continues, and that makes it a true global Crisis (it’s no more an incident or an emergency) that impacts geographies, industries, companies, and people.

Can’t say for sure what on earth China is doing to the rest of the world! We used to read in the last years for their national pollution, waste management, and environmental impact and failures, but the viruses are too much!

So, tomorrow morning first thing, call a meeting of your Crisis Management Team; invest two hours in detailing your actions; use the above points as your skeleton and be Crisis-ready for good. Stay strong, protect yourselves and us, while keeping your optimism.