These are, for individuals and organizations alike, anxious times. Chances are your organization has never seen anything like the coronavirus before.

In many ways, preparing for a pandemic is no different than having an emergency evacuation policy or a policy addressing a terrorist attack or active shooter.

The best practices from many of those situations apply to COVID-19 as well. For the health and safety of your employees, as well as doing everything possible to keep your organization operating, here’s what to do.

Leadership and Communications

Communication is key. If applicable policies and procedures exist, make sure they’re reviewed by all managers and communicated to all employees. Decisions should involve key players from every department, including IT, HR, legal and others. Yes, decisions need to be made quickly and decisively, but not driven by panic.

Communicate all CDC guidelines, as well as any state, county or local directives. Designate a person or task force to monitor and communicate information. Make sure information is available on internal websites, Slack channels, and other internal communication areas. Regular, consistent communications help keep everyone calm.

Anticipate questions about healthcare, quarantines, absenteeism, remote work, and other issues, and prepare and communicate answers. Remind employees of sick leave, disability leave, and other PTO benefits. Be especially sensitive when employees live or care for vulnerable populations, such as older parents.

Above all, your leaders need to avoid becoming so laser-focused on financial aspects that they lose sight of their employees.

Remote Work

If your organization does not already use collaboration software, now would be a good time to explore adopting this. Several options exist, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Webex, FreeConferenceCall, Dropbox, Google Hangouts, Google docs, and many others. Depending on the size of your organization and your needs, some of these services are free for limited usage.

In addition, your organization must provide written guidelines about remote work. Such guidance should address things such as daily work hours, maintaining security/privacy of company property, protocol for answering phones, setting up outgoing voicemail, office supplies/equipment, out-of-pocket expenses, check-ins with managers, and other criteria.

Consider potential implications for non-exempt workers (i.e., ensure proper breaks and timekeeping for wage/hour concerns).

Establish clear routines and expectations for remote workers, but don’t micro-manage. Regular communication between managers and employees will help mitigate potential pitfalls.

Involve IT, especially for employees who don’t normally work remotely. If there is a shortage of computer hardware, consider asking some employees to use their personal laptops (and reimburse them).

Identify which employees and managers are considered critical and need to be available to work, regardless of circumstances. If resources are limited, concentrate on supporting those employees and managers first.

What if some of your employees have jobs that don’t allow them to work from home? How will you treat this inequity and potential risks to their health? Again, this is a policy decision that needs to be spelled out for all employees. One option is to set up rotating schedules so fewer employees are close to each other at any given time.

Don’t forget your clients or members. Make sure you communicate to them how their information is being processed and safeguarded by remote staff. Set guidelines for employees working from home to ensure that sensitive information is protected.

Travel

If your organization’s operations include frequent travel, strongly consider canceling travel plans and moving to virtual meetings/appointments. If this isn’t possible, be prepared to respond to employees who wish to opt out, and honor those wishes. Travel is becoming more restricted by the day. Forcing anxious employees to travel, or insisting that employees travel and then self-quarantine when they return, sends a message to employees that they are not highly valued. If employees have recently traveled and quarantining is necessary, communicate a clear policy to all employees.

Policies and Procedures

This is a good time to reinforce the availability of EAP services. Some employees may struggle during the crisis, and having resources would be valuable.

Time-off policies may need to be expanded, especially if there are a limited number of sick days. People should be encouraged to stay home if they’re not feeling well, to not come to work if they’re sick because they can’t afford to stay home. They shouldn’t have to choose between their health and their purse.

Finally, understand that many employees will face additional pressures. Parents with children whose schools have just been closed, those caring for other family members, or those with compromised health are in even more difficult situations. Have compassion and understanding. This is a time for flexibility, not rigid adherence to rules and policies.

Remember that how your organization handles this pandemic and treats employees sends a message to your employees of how the organization values them.