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How to take care of your people and your operations in the COVID-19 outbreak

4 minutes, 43 seconds read

With COVID-19 categorized as a global pandemic, drastic measures were rolled out across the world. In the San Francisco Bay Area (where I live), a Shelter-In-Place ordinance has been enacted in six counties so that only essential businesses will be able to run until April 7th. In the Detroit area, most automakers are suspending operations until the end of the month (at least). Spain, like many other countries in Europe, is under absolute quarantine and is only allowing trips to buy food, medication, and essential products.

These safety measures are essential in minimizing the effect and spread of COVID-19 as we are past the point of containment.

If you lead industrial or supply chain operations, and you are still allowed to operate, you might be wondering about the risks for your people and how to ensure continuity of your business.

Over the last couple of days, we’ve reached out to dozens of experts in multiple areas: contagious diseases, occupational health and safety, and manufacturing leaders in Italy who have experienced the impact of COVID-19.

We noted multiple lessons on how they’re dealing with the current situation, what they’ve learned from it, and what they would advise to operations leaders in regions that will soon undergo through the same circumstances.

As you might expect, there were a lot of recommendations, which I would summarize as three primary directives, in the following order of importance:

1. Protect your people
2. Secure your operations
3. Motivate your team

1. Protect your people
Prohibit (or minimize) all forms of physical gatherings. All meetings should be conducted virtually, even if all participants are in the same building. Stagger break times and do not allow the use of common areas.
Design for Social Distancing. Reduce the number of workers per shift to leave a safe distance of more than one meter (about 3 feet) between people. Identify processes were people currently work together and separate them if possible. Additionally, you must ensure that there is no contact between shift changes by enacting measures such as early arrival and early exit of teams.
Reduce all unnecessary activities. You will have to prioritize ruthlessly. Only allow the most critical operations to continue that are essential for the present and future of the company.

2. Secure your Operations
Buffer your supply chain. Increased border controls will generate several delays in procurement and dispatching of materials. You may have to stock raw materials or finished products. List all your foreign suppliers and find an alternative local supplier who can source you to build an emergency stock.
Assume at least 20% absenteeism. Determine what will be absolutely necessary production. Plan to use interim workers for jobs that don’t require much training.
Protect critical roles. Plan a “buddy system” where everyone knows who will replace key people if they are absent. Certain people with critical positions should be allowed to continue their job and roles in separate offices.

3. Motivate your Team
Stand in the shoes of your employees. Be extremely empathetic. They will be terrified when things get worse. Your people will be frustrated to have to work and being in proximity to others. They will fear for the health of their family. Adapt your tone accordingly.
Prepare for conflicting outside information. The World Health Organization might provide some guidelines, and your local government might provide others that are different (e.g., should I wear a mask?). This might generate a sense of distrust in management. Be ready to give a clear position from your company.
Communicate, communicate, communicate. People will be paralyzed by indecision, so the management team must be extremely present. Create a committee for this crisis that can be ready to provide quick answers to the many questions your team members will have.

These are only the top 3 points for each directive. There are many more ideas that we present in our free webinar on this subject: Taking care of your People and your Operations during COVID-19. In this webinar, you’ll get more tips on Logistical Preparedness, Team Motivation, Managing Emotions, and a few Legal perspectives to consider. Watch the webinar here.

From a business standpoint, there is only so much that we can do. Remember that your team consists of individuals who are experiencing a lot of uncertainty and anxiety during this time. Stay calm and stay up to date with the latest news from the World Health Organization. They have excellent health and safety tips that you can share with your employees.

Take care of your frontline employees. They, in turn, and in due time, will take care of their company.

About the author:
Errette Dunn is the Co-Founder and CEO of Rever, the Frontline Innovation platform that helps industrial companies to overcome their operational challenges by engaging frontline employees in daily improvement. You can connect with him on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.

P.S.: To learn more about how to mitigate the impact of coronavirus in your people, factory, or warehouse, watch our free webinar recording on Taking care of your People and your Operations during COVID-19. Come out from this webinar with an action plan proposal so your Frontline employees can be part of your contingency plan.

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