As we looked at COVID-19 move from Wuhan, China and spread across the world, we knew the region could also be affected. With our neighbors Guyana and St. Vincent confirming the presence of the virus, it is safe to conclude there is a strong possibility the virus now being labeled a pandemic can hit our shores here in Grenada.  

So, what is your HR plan?
Well, my first recommendation is that you do not panic. It’s time to implement your plan to address the virus in the workplace, and in the event, you do not have one, then it’s time to create one and do it quickly, too. Ignoring the virus or wishing it away will not stop it from affecting your staff and consequently your operations. Here are our recommendations -:  

Scale your response
Have a plan the enacts a scaled response on the management of the virus. Don’t go into a full shutdown of operation unless this is an absolute necessity and of course, avoid panicking. What is a scaled response? A scaled response may look like having staff avoid international work-related travel to affected areas, ramping up hygiene measures across the company, and enforcing a sick leave policy if the staff is presenting symptoms of the virus. If there is a local outbreak, then you can consider stepping up these actions to include working from home or temporarily suspending operations. Whatever the response, ensure that this plan is communicated to everyone in the organization.  

Consider the work from home option
If the virus arrives on our shores and becomes a serious concern on the island, working from home may be something companies will need to explore. Not everyone will be able to work from home, but it is a good alternative for those who are not well enough to come into work or suspect they be affected by the virus stay at home. Of course, the company can explore this option if it has the technical means and infrastructure to support it. If it is a viable option, try to be fair about who gets to work from home. You don’t want to appear discriminatory in who gets leave and who does not. If you don’t have a policy on working from home, it may be a good time to start exploring this. We can assist with this.  

Put international travel on pause, for now
It is perhaps the best move to postpone and perhaps cancel a business trip outside the island, especially to spots that have been affected by the virus. I know this may be a difficult prospect to consider, but since we do not know how our local health system may grapple with the virus, it may be best to limit potential exposure. Don’t put staff who may have been planning for an event, conference, meeting, or seminar in the difficult position of having to make that decision for themselves. As HR and management, it is your responsibility to have a conversation about suspending travel and ensuring all stick with it. Whenever possible, consider virtual meetings. Skype, WebEx, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts, and Zoom are options for consideration. If you need help coordinating this, please let us know.  

Support your employees in taking sick leaves
You can support your employees with a leave policy if they present symptoms of the disease. Many of the symptoms of COVID-19 mimic that of the common cold and the flu and it has been reported that 80% of those affected present minimal symptoms. Better be safe than sorry. Someone does not have to look sick in your opinion to be sick. Encourage staff who think they may be exposed to the virus to see their preferred health provider or the company’s provider. Your interest in their health will go miles in demonstrating you care about them and your commitment to creating a safer workplace.  

Empower and educate your employees
Information and a decisive action plan will go a long way to dispelling fears. Educate your staff on the coronavirus, how it manifests, and what they can do to prevent the spread of it. Keep in mind a lot of talk about the virus does not mean they are knowledgeable about the spread and of safety measures. Encourage washing of hands with an alcohol-based wash. Follow the WHO’s guideline on practicing good respiratory hygiene, such as coughing and sneezing into a flexed elbow, maintaining a three-foot distance from others, avoiding touching nose, mouth, and eyes. Companies can arm every worker with hand sanitizers, discourage handshakes and unnecessary touching. Keeping the communication channel open by creating a WhatsApp group to share updated information on the virus. Share updates as they are given from the  Ministry of Health. Place notices in the offices, washrooms, lunchrooms, lobbies, on doors, and waiting rooms. Make your response plain to all who enter your business as well and have measures to protect them, too.  

Keep your workplace clean
Use cleaning products that will help fight the virus. It has been reported that hydrogen peroxide with a dilution ratio of 7% or more will kill the virus. Disinfect spaces and allow the disinfectant time to take effect. Don’t just spray and immediately wipe. Encourage washing hands for no less than 30 seconds using both soap and water. Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers, with at least a 70% alcohol content,  and rub in the solution for no less than 30 seconds. Regularly clean down shared items such as door handles, coffee pots, phones, and office supplies.   

Keep calm and prepare
Being prepared alleviates the need to panic. Once you have a plan in place, you are providing your employees access to the supplies and information they need, and you have clearly communicated your response with all on staff, panic is unnecessary.  Each company and HR department must help alleviate staff concerns with a clear policy, and a uniform message about how it plans to address COVID-19. If you need assistance in putting together a plan or communicating your plan to your staff, feel free to get in touch with us.  

Advocate personal responsibility
Outside of the organization, we all need to take personal responsibility. HR and management should take lead on educating members from an organizational position, but they should also emphasize personal responsibility to all employees. Encourage staff to stock up on personal items like medicine, hand sanitizer, personal items, and foodstuff. Communicate the need to be proactive in getting tested if they believe they have been exposed to COVID-19. Those susceptible include the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, and compromised immune systems. We must look in on them. Yes, HR must function on a corporate level, but everyone must take personal responsibility. There is a list circulating with recommended supplies from CARICOM. We have not been able to verify the list was issued by them, but the recommendations seem practical. If they have indeed issued this list, please follow it.  

Educating your people will help address myths, misinformation, and fear about the disease. As the HR department or practitioner for your company, the onus is on you to provide advice and answers to employees. You must be informed about the disease and know where to access accurate information on it. Not all online articles are useful. Don’t contribute to noise and fake news. We recommend sources such as the  Government of Grenada, the  World Health Organization, and  CARPHA.  

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Paperclip Limited is a Grenada-based Human Resource Management and Training consultancy. We help organizations in Grenada and the Caribbean move their mission forward through the talent in their employ and by delivering strategies that enable them to grow, evolve and create successful, compliant, and high-performance workplaces.