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As of this writing (February 27, 2020), more than 82,000 people in nearly 40 locations internationally have been infected with the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and the disease it causes, “coronavirus disease 2019” or “COVID-19.” More than 2,700 people have died. While the outbreak is not (yet) considered a pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has declared the SARS-COV-2 a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

First detected in Wuhan City, China, COVID-19 infections prompted manufacturing plant shutdowns in multiple China locations, disrupting supply chains globally. International travel restrictions continue to rise. And Japan has announced the closure of schools nationwide to help control the spread of the virus. Not surprisingly, dozens of business leaders around the world have been warning investors of declining earnings – especially in the industrial, technology, travel and healthcare sectors.

In the U.S., experts predict that the outbreak will spread before it gets better. Does your business continuity plan include how to respond to pandemics? Are you prepared to use skills management to identify employees who can step in if their colleagues are unavailable? Using competency management for pandemic planning can help you respond and recover. Here’s how.

Using Competency Management for Pandemic Planning

Pandemics of any severity level affect a large portion of the population and require a sustained response across geographies and institutions. A pandemic plan is a living document which is reviewed and revised as conditions change. By using competency management for pandemic planning, you have continuous visibility into the availability of employees that have the skills and competencies you need to serve your customers and run your business. Whether you have a few employees out for a few days or many employees out for longer, your competency management program can help you track and manage essential skills.

In addition to providing a ready catalog of your employees’ skills and competencies, a robust competency management system like Avilar’s WebMentor Skills™ can support real-time status and insights so you can act quickly on your business continuity plan. Use your competency management system to:

  • Update your employee skills inventory with the work location of each employee. Then, if a factory, plant, or office is closed or quarantined, you will know exactly what skills have been taken offline, and where other employees with those skills are located. Then you can intelligently relocate either the work or the employees to fill the gaps.
  • Consider adding an “I’m healthy today” field to employee skill profiles. Employees can update their status daily, giving you instant visibility into which skills are “online” and “offline” on any given day.
  • Add inoculation information to employee records. Then you will know exactly which employees are eligible to be deployed to areas that present specific exposure risks.

Monitor the Coronavirus Outbreak

Be sure your company leaders understand what’s happening globally and in your community. You may want to designate a person or persons as your official COVID-19 monitor, to brief leaders with daily email updates – and in-person briefings, should the outbreak start to impact your company directly.

Information – and misinformation — is plentiful in a pandemic. Here are two credible resources for up-to-date information:

  • WHO Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak: An online information hub with daily updates on the coronavirus situation, tips to protect yourself, travel advice, and easy-to-understand videos to educate people on the coronavirus and what to do.
  • U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Situation Summary: Also updated daily, the CDC resource provides both a global and a U.S. snapshot of the outbreak, including CDC-specific international travel warnings.

Update and Implement Your Pandemic Plan

Your employees are reading the same headlines you are – with a range of reactions. Those employees who travel for work, meet with customers, participate in trade shows, or who know someone close to the outbreak will have the most heightened awareness of this event. In times of uncertainty, employees will look to their managers and senior leaders for information and guidance.

  1. Assess your risk. Emergency preparedness starts with assessing your risk. How likely is it that your organization will be affected by this pandemic? As you monitor the spread of coronavirus, use your competency management system to assess whether you have employees in or near concentrated outbreaks. Also, check your customer locations, trade show locations, and other planned events so you’re aware of when and where employees could be put at risk. Use these findings to define your plan.
  2. Update your HR and travel policies. With your HR, legal, and business continuity team, review best practices for managing a pandemic. Then, using what you learned from assessing your risk, review and update your HR and travel policies. Do you have any travel restrictions, now? What circumstances would prompt you to change that stance? What if an employee is hesitant to attend a client meeting or event due to COVID-19 concerns? What precautions do you want employees to take at work to limit the spread of germs and prevent infection? When should sick employees stay home? Are they permitted (or required) to work from home if a household member is ill? Must employees notify you if they or a household member contracts the coronavirus? Do you need to report cases to local authorities? To your workforce? How and when will you identify employees who can take on new responsibilities if a colleague is unavailable? Update your policies to ensure that you are fulfilling your obligation to provide a safe and secure work environment for employees.
  3. Educate and train your managers. Once your policies are updated, train your leaders on any policy changes. Provide speaking points for anticipated questions, so they feel confident fielding front-line questions. Be sure they understand what they should (and should not) say and do. What must they do, in certain circumstances? Use your competency management system to keep a current skills inventory of their employees, in case some people need to be temporarily redeployed while colleagues are not able to work. Prepare your managers to handle emotional conversations with respect, without putting the company at risk. Identify resources (your HR team, legal advisors and/or your business continuity team) for managers and employees.
  4. Communicate your policies and plans with your workforce. Employees are already talking about this coronavirus. They will appreciate your leadership team being proactive rather than reactive, outlining policies and practices to follow in the unfolding situation. Let them know you’re monitoring the situation, planning, and ready to act if the situation changes. Employees also need to understand their rights, roles, and responsibilities to help manage a potential outbreak at work.
  5. Prepare to act quickly. The COVID-19 threat to your organization could change quickly. Identify those triggers that would prompt a change in policy or practice, so if that situation happens, you can act quickly. Prepare those who will need to act by sharing information and plans. Consider a “drill” exercise to practice difficult conversations, employee redeployment, quarantine implementations, and coordination with authorities.

If you’re wondering how to use skills management for your business continuity planning, read our Before Disaster Strikes: Building Your Crisis Management Plan From Your Skills Inventory white paper. Or contact us to discuss how WebMentor Skills can help you prepare for and manage through a measles outbreak.


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