To ease employee concerns during the novel coronavirus outbreak, businesses should encourage sick employees to stay home, improve office hygiene and cleanliness, reduce business travel, let employees work remotely if possible, and expand their sick leave policy.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people live and work, at least temporarily.
Clutch surveyed 512 U.S. workers between March 13 and March 16, 2020, and found that 88% of American workers are concerned about COVID-19.
This includes 29% of workers who are very concerned about the virus.
“We need to do what we can to contain it and stop it in its course,” said Sara Spector-Brown, director of operations of 3 Media Web, a digital agency in Boston. “Even if it may seem too cautionary, you can never be too careful, and we are seeing some pretty tragic results from other countries, which could very well happen here. It’s a reality.”
Although the U.S. coronavirus spread hasn’t reached the scales of the pandemic in parts of Europe or Asia, businesses are taking steps to reduce the spread and ease employee concerns.
In response to the spread of COVID-19, U.S. businesses are:
- Encouraging sick employees to stay home (61%)
- Improving office hygiene and cleanliness (52%)
- Reducing business travel (36%)
- Asking employees to work remotely (26%)
- Expanding sick leave policy (13%)
“The best thing you can do is make the best out of [the situation] and focus on the things you can control rather than the things you can’t and make something positive out of that,” Spector-Brown said.
The novel coronavirus will eventually pass, and normal life will resume. In the meantime, though, businesses can and must take some steps to keep employees and the people they interact with healthy.
1. Encourage Sick Employees to Stay Home
One of the easiest steps businesses can take to reduce the potential spread of COVID-19 in their office space is to encourage sick employees to stay home — whether or not they have been tested for the coronavirus.
As of last week, 61% of U.S. businesses asked that sick employees don’t come to work.
BizLibrary, an online employee training company based in Town and Country, Mo., is letting sick employees take time off work without penalties.
“If anyone is sick, they can communicate with their manager that they need time off,” said SEO Strategist Krista Brubaker. “[BizLibrary has] been transparent and thorough in communicating to employees how to stay safe, connected, productive, and positive.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has always had “stay at home when you are sick” guidelines, but this is even more important during the COVID-19 outbreak.
If an employee is sick — whether with COVID-19 or not — a business should do its part by encouraging the employee to stay home until their symptoms subside. This will reduce the spread of the virus to other employees or people they encounter on their commute.
2. Improve Office Hygiene and Cleanliness
The novel coronavirus has spread in communities among people who don’t show symptoms, which is part of the reason it has become a pandemic — you don’t have to be sick to infect others. This makes it important to have a clean office environment and encourage employees to practice good hygiene habits.
More than half of U.S. businesses (52%) have improved their office cleanliness as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
Businesses have improved their office hygiene by:
- Cleaning their office more often
- Offering hand sanitizer
- Providing disinfectant wipes
- Hanging instructions on washing hands
CFR Rinkens, a commercial cargo shipping company based in Los Angeles, now has all surfaces, door handles, and equipment disinfected at the end of each workday at its offices around the world. It also provides lunch to employees so they don’t have to leave the office for meals and increase their chances of contracting the virus.
“We haven’t experienced any cases of the virus affecting our staff directly, [but] certain procedures have been implemented to ensure that remains the case,” Director of Commercial Relations Joseph Giranda said.
Implementing better hygiene practices among employees helps keep an office — and its workers — safe.
3. Reduce Business Travel
On March 15, President Donald Trump recommended Americans avoid “discretionary travel.” There are no nationwide domestic travel restrictions as of publishing date, but there are restrictions traveling to both Europe and China. Some San Francisco Bay Area counties have also issued shelter-in-place orders, and other cities will likely follow. As a result, some companies have restricted business travel, as well.
More than one-third of U.S. companies (36%) have reduced business travel as a result of the COVID-19 spread.
The novel coronavirus affected business travel for employees of The Corporate Con/noisseur, an Atlanta-based company that provides advice on job search techniques, resumes, and retirement planning.
Both full- and part-time employees usually travel about once a quarter between offices in Atlanta, New York City, and Raleigh, N.C. The company suspended all non-essential travel at the beginning of March as a result of the outbreak.
“We came to a business decision to suspend travel and avoid any risks that may impact our business and staff,” Founder Robert Moses said.
“We came to a business decision to ... avoid any risks that may impact our business and staff.”
Reducing business travel keeps employees safe.
4. Ask Employees to Work Remotely, If Possible
One of the best ways to avoid the spread of coronavirus among employees is to encourage them to stay home and away from other people.
More than one-fourth of businesses (26%) are asking employees to work remotely until the outbreak subsides — a number that is likely to increase as the outbreak continues.
Working remotely isn’t possible for every business, especially service-based ones, but technology makes it easy for employees to still be productive from home.
encite branding + marketing + creative, a marketing agency in Denver, asked all employees to start working from home on March 16.
“We work in an open plan office, and every other company in that space is doing the same,” Vice President of Strategy Sophie Mann said. “Meetings are being moved to video conferences, [and] appointments are being pushed back.”
Employees can still communicate easily with one another, even if it’s over video rather than in-person. Mann appreciates encite’s proactive approach of keeping employees safe.
“I definitely feel better knowing that I won’t be expected to be in an office of 25-50 people on any given day,” Mann said. “It’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry.”
"It’s absolutely better to be safe than sorry."
Businesses that can have employees work remotely are increasingly doing so.
5. Expand the Sick Leave Policy
Just 10 states and Washington, D.C., along with many cities and counties, have laws in place that require businesses to offer employees paid sick time off. This is not a national law, however, and many businesses don’t offer any paid sick leave.
Expanding your sick leave policy can ensure employees can take time off to get healthy. In addition, if employees receive paid sick leave, they are less likely to come into work sick — and spread the virus to other employees.
Thirteen percent (13%) of U.S. businesses have expanded their sick leave policy as a result of the novel coronavirus.
Community Health Charities, in Alexandria, Va., which empowers people to take action to improve their health and wellbeing, is letting employees take extra sick days as needed.
“It lets employees know they can take care of themselves if they are sick, either personally or caring for a family member who is sick,” Chief Operating Officer Molly Gravholt said. “The policies and procedures put in place ... let people know we hear you, we care about you.”
“It lets employees know they can take care of themselves if they are sick."
Businesses need to be flexible if employees become sick — and not punish them for taking additional time off to get better.
Ease Employee Concerns About the Coronavirus
Nearly every U.S. worker is concerned about the novel coronavirus, but businesses can do their part to keep employees healthy.
Businesses should let employees work remotely, if possible, during this time. If a business is unable to support remote work, it should let sick employees stay home without penalty.
Improved hygiene and cleanliness is essential for any office during the outbreak, and businesses should reduce all non-essential business travel to prevent employees from catching or spreading the virus.
The coronavirus pandemic will eventually end, though we don’t know when. In the meantime, businesses can and must do their part to keep employees safe and healthy.
Clutch surveyed 512 full-time and part-time employees across the U.S. between March 13 and March 16, 2020.
Forty-eight percent (48%) of respondents are female; 32% are male; 20% are unknown.
Respondents are 18-24 (7%); 25-34 (16%); 35-44 (17%); 45-54 (15%); 55-64 (14%); 65 and older (8%); and unknown (23%).