April 29, 2020 All Industries
When the world began to realize the true potential of Covid-19, businesses, governments and municipalities reacted slowly. The notion of sending the entire workforce home, sheltering in place and waiting out the virus seemed blusterous in early February. If a company didn’t have plans for such a widespread pandemic, as coronavirus would become, it wasn’t alone.
Now, as politicians lift the shelter in place orders in certain areas across the U.S., companies are trying to get back to business, attempting to stem the deep losses from the past two months. Yet, even as the U.S. restarts, health experts have warned that a second wave of coronavirus outbreaks could hit.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield has gone as far as warning that a reoccurrence of coronavirus in the winter, during flu season, could lead to an even worse outcome than what the U.S. has experienced in the first quarter of 2020. As businesses start to reopen, boards must plan for the potential of a second wave. This time around, however, they’ll have less leeway from investors, employees and the public.
It’s like a cyberattack, says Mike Sheehan, a partner at McDermott, Will and Emery.
Organization should learn from their mistakes after the first attack. But if changes aren’t made, it becomes “negligent,” he adds.
The time to prepare for a second wave is now. Here’s what to think about, as you do.
Make A Plan To Protect Employees
Companies need to provide clear guidance on how it will keep employees safe, before workers return to the job. The inability to show an effort to protect and track employee illnesses could leave directors liable under recent case law in Delaware Supreme Court.
“Directors will be expected to have exercised their oversight responsibilities by making sure that the company has a reasonable system of controls to monitor and address risks,” says Anna Erickson White, a partner at Morrison & Foerster.
Plus, Sheehan adds, you don’t want to ignore protecting employees and become the “face of the bad employer.”
The strategies for protecting workers depend on the type of organization. Manufacturing and retail businesses will have to implement health checks, and plans for maintaining social distancing efforts, even while factories hum.
Until testing becomes more readily available, it’s on company leaders to create a plan for when a worker comes into work symptomatic and procedures for how to prevent the spread internally. The Occupational Safety and Health Act has guidance on how to prepare workplaces where employees must be present for the company to operate.
Revise Your Plan For A Return To Shelter In Place
In the virus’ first wave, companies that had never used online meeting tools or telecommuting strategies were thrust into operating from home. In the process, many companies — and employees — have found they can operate without a central office.
For organizations that telecommuted without much of a hiccup, forcing employees back early could prove disastrous. A board should question management if they want people to return, says Sheehan. Until there’s a vaccine, this could expose the organization to potential litigation if they force office employees back that don’t feel safe, without demonstrating a need.
Meanwhile, use the break from peak coronavirus fear to gauge the effectiveness of your businesses’ work from home tools. What needs fixed? What needs investment? What needs honed?
Questioning management on this aspect of employee oversight delves into the company’s ability to respond to another shelter-in-place order. In this new normal, it’s a prerequisite for proper oversight in certain businesses.
Evaluate Your CEO
Crisis can bring out the best in people. It can also highlight serious deficits. In the build-up of the coronavirus fallout, many companies fell back on their CEO, showing the executive all the support he or she needed to manage the unprecedented moment. But as businesses come out of the depth of the crisis, “boards will quickly need to assess whether changes are required,” says Justus O’Brien, co-leader of executive search firm Russell Reynold’s Board and CEO Advisory Partners.
Use the window of time between restarting and the potential second wave to assess leadership. If certain leaders shined while your CEO struggled, then discuss a shift in oversight. If a change needs to occur, do it quickly.
If you don’t, and are stuck with the wrong leader as another rash of virus cases hits, then it could “prove fatal” to the business, O’Brien says.