Fight back Coronavirus: How global companies are supporting their employees from the affected region


By Tim Nicolle

The new strain of coronavirus, or COVID-19 as it is now known, could create a significant impact on business and on the welfare of employees. Employers have a duty of care to their employees and need to ensure that a safe working environment is provided.

It is still too early to say how COVID-19 will evolve. This kind of influenza strain has the potential to mutate. 100 years ago, the “Spanish flu” spread around the world, and the mortality rates varied considerably based upon (a) which strains of the flu spread through the population, as some strains were mild but others more deadly (b) how well individual populations were able to respond to the threat of the virus and (c) the extent to which medical facilities became overwhelmed. History has a lot to teach us here.

Our first priority is for the welfare of our employees. We have offices in China although not in the most affected areas. Nevertheless, we have instructed our staff in China to work from home and to avoid client meetings. It is quite possible for us to work on this basis because of the nature of our business and the fact that we provide laptops to employees, all of whom also have access to the internet at home. This means that it is quite possible to conduct our regional business efficiently even without physical attendance at the office.

Dealing with staff in China is easy – it is pretty clear what needs to be done. The difficult question for us is what to do more widely. We have 13 offices around the world, including 5 offices now in India. Our business, trade finance, is global and, of course, naturally involves considerable travel and interactions with business people who travel.

News emerges every day, so our first priority has to been to monitor the news actively, particularly in respect of the potential emergence of any new strains and information about transmission. We have installed hand-sanitisation facilities in every office and we have asked our staff in all offices to wash their hands regularly. We have now banned inter-continental travel across the company, but we are still permitting regional travel. We have reminded staff regularly on the importance of being careful. At some point, we may stop all travel.

All of our regional offices are capable of being remotely supported by staff working from home – again, we use laptops and mobile telephones extensively, plus Microsoft Teams, Yammer and Skype, WeChat and WhatsApp. We have not yet decided to shut our regional offices – but this remains a possibility – and we have prepared for it.

Our head office is in the UK. A likely policy response of the UK authorities to the emergence of any virus outbreak is to shut offices and place individuals and potentially entire groups of people into house quarantine. We have, in the past practiced a contingency scenario where our business ran entirely from employees working from home – and we are planning a test of this process again next week. So for one day next week, no one will physically come to our head office, telephones will be diverted, and all staff will work remotely.

Our systems environment is entirely cloud-based, all employees have laptops and mobiles; and our systems also enforce our business controls over payments and documents so we remain in full control of our daily flows of documents and payments even if people are not physically present in the same location. We believe that we can operate to full capacity even if our head office is closed, but we will conduct a full contingency test to remind everyone of the procedures.

Looking ahead – we have to remain vigilant. At this stage, apart from practical steps to ensure that our employees have a safe working environment and reducing travel and meetings in and to the affected areas – we are doing very little. But on the other hand, we are also preparing for the worst, which will involve closing offices and ensuring that remote working can support our business going forward, potentially for some considerable period of time.

The author is the Founder and CEO of PrimaDollar.



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