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COVID-19 Strategies and Policies of the World’s Largest Companies Can Help Churches

While there is much being written about how churches can best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, these best practices from the business world have many potentially relevant applications to the local church as well. Gallup Managing Director Larry Emond gathered the strategies and policies of 100 members of the CHRO Roundtable, an organization that includes the Chief Human Resource Officers of more than 650 of the world’s largest companies, for their responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The companies in this sampling average $27 billion in revenue with 80,000 employees and most are global organizations. This is what Emond found.

Crisis Management Teams

Most organizations have created crisis management teams, task forces or committees with a response tailored to specific geographic regions. These task forces meet regularly to develop policies and provide information to leaders, managers and front-line employees regarding COVID-19 awareness, prevention, management and hygiene practices.

These teams are also focused on management protocols and business continuity plans to guide current actions and forecast possible responses to future events. In general, their protocols and plans include:

  • developing succession contingencies for all major executives
  • conducting business using virtual, video or audio capabilities
  • restricting travel
  • reducing to business-critical operations only
  • moving critical operations to unaffected regions
  • cross-training team members to perform critical functions in the event of an unexpected absence or quarantine of another team member
  • documenting business-critical functions, processes or procedures in the event of an unexpected absence or quarantine of a team member
  • distributing call center scripts and agent communications

If an employee is diagnosed with COVID-19, many companies have established protocols like these:

  • Require employees to report confirmed cases — either of self or family member — of COVID-19 to HR or management. The affected are typically required to stay home for 14 days and/or until cleared by a doctor to return to work with confirmation that there is no diagnosis of COVID-19.
  • Isolate employees diagnosed at work; immediately disinfect objects they’ve touched; trace their contact with other employees, customers, and clients; and notify those who may have been exposed without releasing the diagnosed employee’s name.
  • Ask employees to log all contact with other employees or visitors in case they become symptomatic so that others can be informed of potential exposure.

Travel Requirements

Most companies have recommended limiting personal and professional travel, and some have assured workers they could decline professional invitations without penalty. Generally called soft bans, these partial travel restrictions have been issued with requests to inform HR of travel and avoid air travel, public transportation and large gatherings, as well as 14-day self-quarantines following travel to affected areas.

However, hard bans are in effect in many companies, and travel to China, Italy, South Korea, Iran, Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan has been prohibited. Indeed, most intercontinental travel — and, more recently, even travel in general — has stopped for the time being, unless it’s mission-critical.

Business Impact

Leaders are holding additional meetings to monitor business impact in efforts to protect or sustain business functions. Many companies with facilities in affected areas have closed them and are canceling their own — or their employees’ presence at — conferences, events and face-to-face meetings. Some have been able to move operations to unaffected locations.

Simultaneously, CHROs are:

  • monitoring supply chains or providers for potential impacts
  • conducting ongoing supply chain risk assessment and operation impact assessment
  • considering alternative suppliers
  • preparing for shortages, transportation delays or communication delays
  • approving additional budget for supplies or additional paid time off
  • reducing or suspending bonuses for top earners
  • analyzing and forecasting potential market impacts

Wellbeing

Companies are also assessing risks to their employees’ physical and financial wellbeing. Their mitigation efforts include:

  • instituting mandatory work-from-home or remote work policies where possible
  • closing on-site facilities such as gyms, cafeterias and common areas
  • making revisions to employee compensation and benefits policies
  • granting paid time off for symptomatic employees, employees who must care for family members who are diagnosed with COVID-19, and/or employees with diagnosed cases of COVID-19
  • using standing sick leave, extended sick leave, vacation time, paid time off or flex-time policies
  • increasing sick leave or paid time off for all or on a case-by-case basis
  • utilizing short-term disability, family leave (FMLA) or other existing benefits
  • recommending available Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs)
  • reminding employees about mental health services for stress management
  • using back-up care programs, childcare subsidies or other dependent care benefits
  • refraining from penalizing time off of any kind
  • permitting unlimited unpaid time off without penalty
  • providing travel/international SOS (medical and travel security) services
  • paying for time spent under quarantine
  • offering work-from-home options or adjusting schedules due to school closures
  • communicating employer-sponsored insurance and other relevant benefits
  • advising employees to avoid public transportation
  • staggering shifts to help employees avoid busy commutes
  • advising employees to avoid visiting high-traffic events or locations on personal time
  • reconfiguring meeting rooms, break rooms and other common areas to promote social distancing
  • expanding the time of meal service to avoid congestion, and asking employees to consider alternate meal times to reduce crowds

Technology

These companies are testing technological (e.g., remote work) capabilities, emergency notification systems and updating employee contact information. They’re advising employees to take their laptops or other portable equipment home each night, and they are devoting IT staff to help employees set up remote connections at home, sometimes on employees’ personal computers.

Many companies have required or are encouraging video or audio-conferencing meetings (e.g., Skype, Zoom, Microsoft Teams) or phone calls in lieu of face-to-face meetings. They also recommend conducting collaborative projects by video or audio-conferencing, Google Docs, emails or other online channels.

Communications

Corporate leadership is communicating frequently — daily, weekly or as available — to address their organization’s COVID-19 response, advice, policies and protocols. Many are issuing FAQ guides, and many are including links to authorities and external organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), The World Health Organization (WHO), Johns Hopkins University, local governments and outbreak maps.

Along with expert advice, these messages often include a genuinely personal element, i.e., reminding workers to get information from credible organizations, assuring them that none of their fellow employees have tested positive for the virus (where applicable) and urging employees not to panic or spread rumors. They will also often encourage employees to obtain enough food, water, medicines and other essentials for their families in case of quarantine or scarcity.

Communications are usually tailored to the recipients — whether leaders, managers, employees or clients/customers, respectively — and methods include:

  • social media for public messages
  • email, mail, text messages, hotlines and internal systems (i.e., intranet) to propagate pertinent information
  • signage to reinforce hygiene, screening and other organizational policies

Members of the CHRO Roundtable are conscious of the effects of their communication, particularly on customers. To that end, many have:

  • Proscribed responses from managers/leaders if contacted by the media. Many have designated media relations personnel who address all questions from the media.
  • Asked employees not to violate the privacy of diagnosed employees or clients/customers in social media messages.
  • Deployed social media and marketing messaging about customer policies and alternative commerce/services.

    Training

    Businesses are rapidly expanding training opportunities. Much of it concerns managers, who are being tasked with assisting in coronavirus containment, responding to employee needs or concerns, and communicating disease-management policies and preventative measures, such as hygiene practices. But CHROs are also creating COVID-19-specific training programs for security professionals, cleaning crews, maintenance and groundskeeping staff.

    These protocols and responses, we’re told, will be operational as long as is needed — the end of May is the current long-term projection — and all are subject to revision. Gallup will continue to report on our findings as the situation evolves.


Posted on March 18, 2020
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Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5