The continued spread of coronavirus (Covid-19) around the world does not just pose a risk to individuals’ health.
The virus also threatens to seriously disrupt workplaces, as colleagues worry about falling ill and are forced to adjust to new policies such as working from home. In procurement, those whose jobs are directly affected by the outbreak may also succumb to work-related stress.
Procurement Leaders has compiled several examples of ways companies are responding to the disruption to ensure their teams continue to fire on all cylinders.
Failing to keep staff updated on what is happening will inevitably create uncertainty and encourage unhelpful speculation.
“Keeping communication constant with employees has been important,” says one C-suite executive. “We’ve done a video town hall with our CEO and some of the members of our steering committee. We’ve also encouraged our leaders to pick up the phone or do video calls instead of just sending emails.”
“We are recording short videos of senior leaders sending encouraging messages to employees in China – especially in Hubei province,” adds a procurement director.
Take actions to combat the risk of the virus spreading in your office and make life easier for those forced to work from home.
"We’re installing a rotation system and dividing our population on site into two teams, ensuring certain teams are not allowed in the office on certain weeks," says the CPO of a pharmeceutical company. "We’ve increased the social spacing within the organisation and also limit the risk of cross contamination with individuals interacting with different people on a regular basis."
If employees are forced to work remotely, offer them advice on setting up a home office space and encourage staff to share tips on staying motivated and productive while working from home.
Disinformation and unclear advice about how the virus spreads has become commonplace, so workers will be grateful for information from trustworthy professionals.
“In terms of employee education, we conducted several phone briefings with doctors from Johns Hopkins [University School of Medicine], regionally, for employees to ask questions about prevention and dispel myths – this helped greatly,” says one executive in the manufacturing sector.
“We have an anonymous mailbox for employees that is manned by three physicians,” adds a pharmaceuticals executive.
Working from home should not mean the end of office chit-chat. Encouraging remote workers to stay sociable - albeit via virtual means - will help foster a sense of belonging and benefit employees’ mental wellbeing. Some procurement teams have implemented virtual happy hours or coffee tasting to keep the conversation flowing.
"Twice a week with the sub-teams we do a ’breakfast huddle’ where we talk about everything except the business." says the CPO of an electricals business. "People sit in front of their computer eating breakfast, it’s quite funny but it creates a sense of belonging."
Staff who show symptoms but go into the office regardless represent one of the biggest risks to the workforce. Reassure employees that they won’t be frowned upon if they need to self-isolate and offer them support as needed. Assuming the organisation offers sick pay, remind staff that they will not lose out if they need to take time off.
Empathising with those who have to deal with the problem and sharing their success will help foster a sense of community.
“We’ve tried to celebrate company-wide the places where there have been amazingly heroic efforts managing their personal lives and the business during this really tough time,” says one consumer goods professional.
“We created a board resolution from our board of directors to the teams in China who have done such an amazing job. Just an open dialogue has been super powerful.”
If workers feel they cannot raise concerns, key information that needs to be communicated within the organisation will stay in silos.
Jackson Tai, who led the Development Bank of Singapore during the 2002-2003 Sars outbreak, says: “Organisations have to encourage independent thinking and challenge. We have to facilitate the escalation of bad news. And we need to encourage good governance with independent board members asking good questions.”
While most office workers on regular contracts will be able to continue their work from home, others will not be so lucky. Some procurement leaders feel they have a responsibility to outsource contingent labour, such as cleaning and catering staff, and are stepping into help.
"With employees of third parties, especially in the area of facilities management, we are asking that they will be treated in the same way as our employees," says the CPO of a pharmaceuticals business. "If our offices close, we expect that their employees will keep on getting paid and treated the same way. We’re monitoring that very closely in terms of social responsibility."
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