13/03/2020 - 10:11

Businesses prepare for COVID-19

13/03/2020 - 10:11

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As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic worsen, businesses are making sure they are prepared for disruption, with many trialing work from home arrangements.

Anthony Hasluck in his empty office while staff worked from home. Photo: Gabriel Oliveira

As the effects of the coronavirus pandemic worsen, businesses are making sure they are prepared for disruption, with many trialing work from home arrangements.

Anthony Hasluck has been grappling with the same questions facing most business owners this month: what will the effect of COVID-19 be and how does he need to adapt his business?

His public relations firm, Clarity Communications, and its partner agency Firefly360 went on the front foot early this month by testing the ability of all 22 staff to work from home.

“We are doing a test of our ability to work remotely in a seamless way and we have decided to do it now while there is still plenty of time to test and address any challenges we might find,” Mr Hasluck told Business News.

“Because we work in this crisis communications space, we are quite highly attuned to the need to prepare, but I think more and more businesses as they work out what they need to do for the coronavirus will also reach this sort of test.”

While most business functions could already be completed remotely, Mr Hasluck said the organisation needed to check all employees had the same internet speed and hardware to work from home.

“We effectively now need all our employees to get to the same level of data and WiFi capability and we need to make sure that everyone’s got modern computer equipment,” he said.

“Some people have laptops and other people have their computers at home, and we will be doing some upgrades just so we know we are consistent across the board.”

Firefly360 has employees in India and was ensuring they also could work from home.

Mr Hasluck said the test would be considered a success if the team could undertake a day of work without any disruption.

“Essentially, if we can conduct a completely normal day’s business and not lose any of the files and the data that we have created through the day, then to us that will be a successful test,” he said.

“Our clients have been very supportive because it means we are one more part of their supply chain they don’t have to worry about.”

One of the things Mr Hasluck was most worried about was social isolation.

“We are a very team-based, creative and collaborative business, and so people are used to working together,” he said.

“That’s one of the tests today, making sure people aren’t just texting and emailing each other, that they are ringing each other up, they are jumping on Zoom and seeing each other so you start to reduce any sense of isolation, because I think that’s really going to be the most important thing.”

Lavan partner Charmaine Tsang said her phone had been ringing hot as clients became more concerned and focused on COVID-19.

She said employers were generally aware of their obligation to provide a safe workplace but needed to check what this meant in practice.

For instance, many employers were checking their leave obligations if employees are required to self-quarantine.

Another common concern was the health and safety obligations on employers if staff were required to work from home.

“Employers want to provide a safe workplace but they don’t want to over-reach or infringe on the rights of their employees, particularly in relation to their personal travel” Ms Tsang said.

She said employers were also asking what they could do now in case they had to deal with an extended period of time where it was not business as usual. 

Cannings Purple chief innovation officer Ruth Callaghan said lots of businesses had been contacting the firm for advice on how to communicate with employees and customers.

“The key thing we are seeing is lots of businesses are getting their planning in now,” Ms Callaghan told Business News.

“They are figuring out what they are going to say and how they are going to say it.”

Ms Callaghan said a lot of businesses wanted to run tests on working from home but didn’t want to scare their staff.

“They certainly should have a plan in the works and they should be thinking about not just a day from home, but what prolonged working from home might look like,” she said.

“How do they keep employees engaged if it’s a week, if it’s two weeks?

“How do you make sure the office they are working from at home is safe?”

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