With COVID-19 recently declared as a pandemic, workplaces need to think long and hard about their strategies for the foreseeable future. 

Roberta Witty, VP analyst at Gartner who specialises in security and privacy said there are a number of things businesses can do, beginning with establishing an emergency or crisis management team. 

Witty said, “Every part of a business has to be involved and the reason for that is that the key factor for organisations is that there could be a high absenteeism rate. 

“Whether you know people are sick themselves or they’re staying home to take care of their kids because schools are closed, or they have someone sick at home and they need to take care of them, or they’re just afraid to you know to be in a social setting.”

Secondly, brands need to understand their supply chain and find out if their suppliers are in the impacted areas. “If you are [using impacted suppliers] what does that mean for getting the supplies and raw materials?

“Understanding what those vendors and third parties are doing to prepare for staffing, extra production or just maintaining some level of production is important. Especially now with China because there’s so many products, raw materials, supplies coming out of the country, all kinds of industries are impacted.”

Looking at the people side, Witty said businesses have to decide how to pay their staff if they are told to go home or temporarily stop working. There is also a personal hygiene and environmental cleansing issue too. 

Addressing working from home, Witty said organisations might have to create a program so their employees are able to work away from their desks. 

There is a whole group of organisations whose employees are unable to work from home said Witty whether it be retail, industrial or warehouse workers. She said this is when technology solutions come into play. “We see that in China, an easy example is food delivery. 

“From the restaurants, many of them are setting up mobile device apps where you can order online and then there’s a ‘protective delivery mode’ but you know there’s a delivery guy who comes in sanitising packages and delivers it to your apartment building or outside your home.”

While these solutions are helpful not everyone can use them, Witty said. 

“You really have to understand your business processes, what can be done remotely, what can be done or that requires in-person, physical proximity, you know anything, a factory floor right, you’re not going to be able to do that at home.”

To be prepared, companies will have to spend money, Witty said. Brands might have to go and put different kinds of companies on retainer. 

For example, hiring a cleaner or asking a cleaner to come in more times than they normally do. Organisations may also have to put temporary staff on retainer. 

“It’s going to be dependent on the size of the organisation. If you’re a large organisation with multiple data centres, you’re more easily able to move application support and application processing from one data centre that might be in the hot zone to another data centre that isn’t in the hot zone,” she said. 

What not to do

The first thing businesses should not be doing is panicking, Witty said. However, businesses need to have a measured response to the coronavirus. 

She said, “Make sure that you actually have somebody in charge, and that you are taking the steps you need to take and that you’re not ignoring it.”

She believes many organisations that are in areas that haven’t really been impacted yet may not be paying as much attention to the need for pandemic preparedness, as they should be in public health organisations. 

“Even in China, businesses were not prepared. The government overnight declared an extended Lunar New Year holiday and companies weren’t prepared for this type of workforce absenteeism as people left their home to go travel for the new year.”

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