In an earlier post, I talked about the importance of open communications, which I consider to be the key lesson that we can learn from the current flu pandemic.
Based on my observations and various measures enacted over in my city of Singapore, which implemented a "containment" strategy for a few months, I suggest a few tips that you might want to implement for your small or medium-sized business.
Importance of a high-level team to handle pandemic matters
At the local college where I teach a few times a week, it was determined that a few students back from overseas trips were infected with swine flu. As a precaution, a number of classes in the vicinity were immediately asked to stay home.
Two days later, it was apparent that the infection cluster has already spread beyond those few classes. Once that was established, the decision was made -- on the same day -- for a few thousands students in the surrounding blocks to stay at home. This proved to be the right decision, as the number of infections in this group of students swelled to many dozens over the next few days. Without the swift and decisive response, this cluster would surely have spiked exponentially to hundreds, or even thousands, of students, leading to the possible shutdown of the entire school of more than 10,000.
In the context of businesses, SMBs must empower a high-level team that is empowered and prepared to decide if certain employees should be asked to stay home. The team will also determine policies and responses that are both clear and fair to staffers and contractors who are asked to stay away or to take leave.
Enforcement of policies
It would be folly to assume that policies would be followed just because someone drafted them. While there will be employees who will attempt to take advantage of stay-at-home-if-sick policies, there will also be a segment of workers who will nevertheless attempt to go to the office despite being sick.
It is imperative that managers and supervisors are engaged to actively monitor and enforce the policies drawn up by the high-level team mentioned earlier. Only when everyone understands the seriousness of the situation, and that no exceptions will be tolerated, will the measures created to protect the continued business operation of the company will be effective.
The need for a long term strategy
The current flu pandemic exposes the vulnerability of most business continuity plans -- few have contingencies for when large number of employees are not be able to return to the office for a prolonged period of time. Where swine flu is concerned, it might be many months before a vaccine is developed, or when the current string of infection fizzles out.
As such, even if swine flu has proven to be mild -- for now -- it makes sense to comprehensively test one's telecommuting strategy today. Other long-term strategies could be preventive measures such as mandating that all front-line staff will need to wear protective masks, or for crucial departments such as the IT help desk be divided into smaller teams so that an infection cluster does cripple IT support.
In a nutshell, beyond traditional IT plans such as business continuity and disaster recovery, it is imperative that businesses are prepared for pandemic continuity as well. In the meantime, feel free to check out my SMB guide to business continuity and disaster recovery, where links to a number of articles I have written on business continuity and disaster recovery.