Self-isolating and working from home
Our last article ‘It never rains but it pours’ looked at one aspect of continuity planning; focusing on the aftermath of flooding. Whilst those floods still seem to be prevalent across swathes of the country, this time we are looking at another scenario; the potential requirement to work from home in response to the outbreak of COVID-19.
Let’s start with a concerning statistic. Research by Robert Half UK released in February 2020 concluded that 71% of UK businesses had experienced presenteeism in the previous year. That figure rose to 83% in London. Presenteeism, coming in to work whilst suffering from physical illness or stress, can occur as a result of a range of factors including workplace pressure as a result of the business culture, a personal perception of what is required, or a worry about losing income whilst off sick.
The danger is that presenteeism can lead to illness spreading across the business; something which is certainly not recommended when it comes to a pandemic. With that in mind what are the options for employers, particularly as Professor Paul Cosford from Public Health England commented on 2 March that widespread transmission of the virus was “highly likely.” Well for a start businesses may wish to review the Public Health England  website alongside the Government’s COVID-19 advice page for employers .
If the virus spreads widely across the UK there is the chance that employees may have to ‘self-isolate’ as a precaution. In those instances employees may feel fine but be confined to their homes. Employers may therefore want to review existing working from home options if appropriate. Considerations here will include the question of security of data, the robustness of any broadband connection and whether the employee’s home environment is conducive to home working.
It is also worth investigating and identifying the optimum method for sharing, taking and making telephone calls should employees be working from home. Internal hunt groups may need to be temporarily expanded to include mobile or home phone numbers and work phones may need to be diverted. Employees who are set up on the same VoIP provider as the business should be able to make calls to the office without cost but others may need to come to some arrangement with the business in respect of costs should their telephone package not support the type of calls which they are likely to make.
Another consideration is that of call conferencing. Just because employees aren’t in the office that doesn’t mean that they should be excluded from meetings, provided that they are not ill. By opting for a private access conference call, employers can assign a call number which employees can use without charge. Not only will this help employees to stay in touch with the business, it could also help them to feel less isolated.
Finally, should the business be directly affected either with employees falling ill or perhaps because of a problem in the supply chain then it is important to keep employees and customers informed of the situation. A company information line may be appropriate here, perhaps supported by SMS text messages as required.