Coronavirus and the Mobility-Minded Response
As concerns about the 2019 Coronavirus outbreak intensify, mobility managers are evaluating best-practice approaches to respond to an escalating situation with the focus of safeguarding the health and wellness of their global workforces. This Insights explores some of those approaches and their applicability to broader business continuity risks that can impact mobility programs.
When health emergencies, geopolitical, or climatic events emerge that can threaten companies’ business continuity and global workforces, mobility managers quickly shift into response and risk management roles for their organization and talent. The 2019 Coronavirus outbreak is an example of how and when Mobility and Human Resources can be called upon to implement best-practice solutions for their companies, and how vital their role is in protecting the health and wellness of their global workforces.
Coronavirus first came to the attention of the public on December 31, 2019, when authorities in China informed the World Health Organization (WHO) of a unique strain of pneumonia emerging in Wuhan City, a small market town in the Hubei Province of China. By January 7, 2020, the virus was identified as a novel (new) strain of coronavirus, a family of viruses that range from more severe diseases, such as Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), to the common cold.
By mid-January, public health authorities confirmed that the novel coronavirus can spread via human-to-human transmission, and on January 30, the WHO declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. With that declaration, health authorities across the globe began placing additional emphasis on reducing human infection, and prevention of secondary transmission and international spread. While they are not currently recommending any travel or trade restrictions, the global business community continues evaluating potential impacts to commerce as countries tighten vigilance and screening, airlines reduce or temporarily hold flights, and other temporary closures of businesses and factories cause disruptions in global supply chains.
Much is still not known about the novel Coronavirus, including how quickly the illness is spreading, how easily the virus spreads among people, and at what point someone infected is infectious to others; due to these unknowns, even current estimates of illnesses and fatalities are unreliable. As of mid-February, the WHO reported there are more than 40,000 cases worldwide with approximately 900 fatalities.
As with other major public health occurrences, such as MERS and SARS, mobility managers are evaluating the best actions to protect their workforces and support the broader effort to contain the virus’ spread.
To gain further understanding of how organizations with mobile employees operating in China are responding, BGRS has spoken with many of our clients to explore current considerations and implementations of a broad range of potential actions, including:
Proactive Outreach and Communication
Proactive employee communication is being provided by many companies for their employees, especially those in areas of primary impact. Outreach is typically focused on confirming employee travel plans and soliciting their concerns. Many companies, however, are developing proactive communication plans that include up-to-date advice from governments and public health authorities, as well as best day-to-day health and sanitation practices. This business continuity practice is vital in any developing health situation where companies can ensure that information distributed to employees comes from reputable sources and contains up-to-date company policies.
Another best practice is for companies to update their employee contact lists to ensure they have accurate information on employee locations and alternate contacts in the event that a situation changes quickly.
Travel Reimbursement or Travel Allowances
In lieu of home leave, we are seeing additional reimbursement or allowance options being offered to mobile employees who feel they want to travel out of impacted areas or for employees who are already out of China and want to delay their return.
Alternative Work Arrangements
Virtual, remote, or other alternative work arrangements — including paid time off — are being offered by many companies so that their employees have options to avoid going into offices or traveling on public transportation or through congested areas. With this temporary adjustment, companies can extend and amend alternative work arrangements as needed to appropriately respond to outbreak developments.
Delayed Assignment Starts
Postponing assignment initiations is also becoming an active management option, as some companies push back or put temporary hold on inbound assignments to China. In conjunction with delaying assignments, postponing home or school search or settling-in trips is recommended as landlords, schools, and other key area contacts may not be operating on typical schedules, or offices may be temporarily closed.
Business Travel Restrictions
This is a common management approach being taken as a result of the spread of the Coronavirus outbreak. More specifically, travel to or within the critical centers of Wuhan City, and neighboring cities, has been cancelled by many companies, with others stopping or restricting all business travel into and within China, and requiring that any travel plans receive management approval. In-person events are also being postponed, and the use of virtual tools and technology to drive digital exchanges are being encouraged to continue conducting business activities.
Some organizations with China-based mobile employees are also considering evacuation of their talent if the situation further declines. Related issues in the event of evacuation include how to address staffing and project needs if the stay is protracted, and how to handle family, home belongings, and temporary housing for an undetermined length of time. There may also be challenges with getting money out of China and dealing with school schedules and potential cancellation fees.
Professional Cleaning and Disinfection Services
Some companies are considering office site deep cleans to reassure employees and control disease spread.
Future Business Continuity Planning Considerations
When public health emergencies arise, situations can last several weeks or months and evolve almost daily. For HR and mobility managers, best practices for business continuity planning to consider, include:
- Developing an evacuation plan with specific identification of the threshold that will trigger it.
- Forecasting financial impacts of extending coverage for travel and delayed assignments, etc.
- Establishing a process for managing financial funding (of payments) for suppliers in impacted regions, where businesses may be temporarily closed.
- Preparing for transitioning back to standard business operations once health authorities release holds or reduce threat levels. This could include considering how an impacted region can respond to the return of people, as well as an influx of financial activity ranging from releasing payments to reimbursing associated expenses.
As cross-border population flow increases worldwide, public health emergencies like Coronavirus may see an increase, making it imperative for HR and mobility managers to have best-practice toolkits that minimize the effect on their workforces and support business outcomes.
BGRS’s Business Continuity Planning team continues to closely monitor and assess developments surrounding this outbreak to determine the best approach to support our employees, clients and their mobile employees. For questions on how we can provide support, please contact your BGRS representative.