By Tom Serio
The coronavirus, or COVID-19, is a pandemic that is likely to be around for a long time. Its impacts are far reaching, impacting how, where and when business owners can conduct business, including shutting it down for a length of time.
The COVID-19 virus easily transmits from person to person, and therein lies one of the issues. The other is that the scientists don’t fully understand the signature of this virus, as in a firm incubation period, community spread, mortality rates and more.
From the perspective of yacht captains and crew, the business continuity of their support vendors, shipyards and marinas are critical to keeping their vessels in seaworthy and operational form.
There are a number of things land-based business owners and employees can do — if not done already — and maybe some points to consider as we all move into the “new norm” of doing our best to continue business in an unbusiness-like environment.
Working in the office
- The open work environment does not bode well in a pandemic world. Open work areas as in multi-user kiosks, squatting work areas (where you may work at an open desk today but someone else works in that space tomorrow) or small low-walled cubes do not help. Open work and social areas should be off limits. Cubicles with low or no walls should be separated by removing the person in every other seat. Remember, keep some distance between people.
- Create staggered work hours. Instead of everyone working 9-5, create staggered shifts where a group comes in from 6 a.m.-noon, another group from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. and another shift from 4-10 p.m. This offers limited overlap time, reduces transmission possibilities and continues a level of business. Work areas should be wiped down at the end of each shift.
There is a real need as we shift into a quarantine world that workers will have to telecommute to continue business functions. Theoretically, that is a great idea, but in practicality, it may not be so easy.
- Connectivity. It’s easy to tell employees to work from home. But can employees even connect from home? Do they have wi-fi? Do they need to tether off their cell phone? Who pays for the connection?
- Accessibility. Can the telecom feeds in the company’s data center support the influx of connections each day? Is there sufficient network capacity back into the firewalls and systems?
- Security – On any given day, a company may only project that 20% of their staff will work remotely, so they purchase VPN (Virtual Private Network) licenses to cover them and, perhaps, a few extras. A VPN connection makes the connection more secure over the open internet, so it looks like a private connection directly to a website and keeps activity private. Any organization that needs secured access is likely to use VPN or other secure connections. Trouble is, when a company sends everyone home, it may not have enough VPN licenses to allow everyone to connect simultaneously. This is when to stagger network connectivity times.
- Home vs. work computers. Has the company issued company-imaged laptops for system access with the appropriate security software installed, or is it trusting employees to have Norton or other virus protection on their personal laptop? This may not be a big issue if using web-based apps or SaaS (“Software as a Service” that resides on the main systems) but if connecting directly into the mainframes or servers, this needs to be considered.
- Keep in touch. Establish a meeting schedule or open bridge for groups using services such as WebEx, GoToMeeting or other software-driven conference call tools.
- Don’t stay connected. Many apps such as work email can be used while off-line. Get on the network at the beginning of a shift, sync up email to download new emails, then get off. There are settings in Outlook and other systems that allow them to be used while offline. After a few hours, reconnect to the network so emails will sync up and be sent and received.
- Download movies and music during non-peak hours, which now would be between 10 p.m. and 8 a.m.
- Take a breather from the online world. Even if quarantined, go outside for a walk or spend time in the yard. Remember to practice social distancing and wash hands, but do spend some time outdoors to relieve the monotony.
Working from home is like working from the office, so set times, responsibilities, calls, meetings, etc. To support this and stay in a “business frame of mind”, incorporate some of the following:
- Get dressed each day as if going to work. Be aware that people on video conference calls can see each other.
- If on video conferences, check the space behind you. There’s nothing more distracting than seeing personal photos or disparaging posters on the wall behind someone in a meeting. Hang a nice picture or world map to make it feel more like a work environment.
- Keep the dog and kids out of workspace during calls. They can be very disruptive to others on the line.
- Minimize background noise such as a house phone (unplug it) or outside noises (close the window).
Stay up to date
- Create a “crisis team”, people assigned to track information and the progress of the pandemic. Assign a key person (not the top person) who can become the face of the company for internal and external audiences.
- Maintain a cash flow in case supplies or services are needed and credit may not be available.
- Understand the company’s supply-chain exposure. In these days of just-in-time deliveries, a prolonged outage in the supply chain can prevent the company from getting or shipping goods, potentially impacting the revenue stream.
- Keep key customers in the loop. Maintain communications with them so they understand the company’s situation. Make this a positive engagement to offer support and reinforce the company is doing everything possible to quickly support them when this event is over.
- Become part of the solution. Offer community support, donate services, and offer antidotal releases from the stresses of living through a pandemic, such as fun online videos, books or other non-business-related links.
- Help to reduce the anxiety and stress of employees and their families. Monitor their situations. Remind them of services that may be offered through the company’s health insurance or community services.
A few extras
- If the business is heavily reliant on telecom connectivity, engage the company’s carrier to understand how they are protecting the networks during this pandemic. Their staff may be impacted as well, so see how they are addressing work from home for their techs.
- Consider doing the same for the company’s electric service carrier and water provider. Have emergency phone numbers, official statements on how they are beefing up or protecting their infrastructure, or other information that could be useful during an outage.
We will get through this. And perhaps the best way to practice some social distancing is to go boating.
Tom Serio is a freelance marine photographer and writer with a 25-year career in disaster preparedness and risk management. Comments on this article are welcome below.
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