How to Prepare Your Workplace for a Pandemic: Preparedness Plan Best Practices

Woman on laptop

As the coronavirus spread across the globe, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified COVID-19 as a pandemic in March 2020 (“pan” is the Greek prefix for “all” or “everything”).1

We are still in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, with many of the effects still unknown.

The question is – how do you prepare your business, operations, and employees for a health crisis of this magnitude?

Keep reading to learn more.

Pandemic Planning for Business Continuity (and Worker Safety)

The most important consideration during any pandemic is to keep people safe and stop the spread of the virus. If your business requires on-site staff to function, begin practicing interoffice hygiene to help reduce the spread of coronavirus.

These steps can include:

  • Wearing a cloth mask that covers the mouth and nose when around colleagues, while continuing to maintain social distancing (at least six feet apart)
  • Spacing employees farther apart – and discouraging unnecessary contact (such as handshaking)
  • Mandatory (and frequent) handwashing with soap and water – for at least 20 seconds each time
  • Placing hand sanitizer, tissues, and no-touch trash bins throughout the office
  • Regularly disinfecting any surfaces that employees touch – including elevator buttons, doorknobs, coffeemakers, and even keyboards and computer mouses
  • Replacing, servicing, or cleaning air-conditioning and ventilation systems throughout the office

The CDC coordinated a library of free resources available for download. Simply print them out on any standard printer and post around the office.

These steps can help reduce the transmission of coronavirus, but the most efficient way to limit exposure is to encourage your employees to work remotely.

Unfortunately, many businesses aren’t automatically set up for this type of flexible working arrangement. If your company falls into this category, keep reading.

Pandemic Plans for Businesses

Every business is unique, making it difficult to outline a workplace pandemic preparedness plan that applies in every situation. Below are some best practices that health experts recommend companies follow.

1. Set Up a Response Team

The first step involves choosing a pandemic coordinator and team responsible for:

  • Analyzing your operations to identify essential roles and functions necessary for business continuity
  • Designing workarounds and redundancies in the event of major supply chain disruptions or a sudden spike in employee absenteeism
  • Deciding when to shut down, how to contact fellow employees, and what steps everyone should take (while in isolation)

It’s also a good idea to regularly follow trusted sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) workplace preparedness page.

2. Migrate More of Your Operations Online

Moving more of your business into the cloud will allow employees to telecommute from the safety of their homes.

Again, such a migration isn’t possible for every business. That said, you’d be surprised how many tasks can be done remotely using computers, smartphones, and other connected devices. It’s worth carefully examining your operations to see which aspects truly need an on-site presence – and which ones don’t.

3. Diversify Your Supply Chain

If you’re sourcing all the materials you need from one country, you’re unnecessarily putting operations at risk. The current pandemic is a good example of this.2

Building redundancy into your supply chain will allow you to weather this and future storms with greater resilience.

4. Diversify Employee Responsibilities

If, for example, there is only one person in your company who can balance the books, this could cause some disruption if that person needs to take time off.

The same is true for all essential tasks and responsibilities. That’s why you should have multiple people assigned to the same roles – complete with templates, checklists, and instructions to help newcomers get up to speed as quickly as possible.

With employee absenteeism on the rise, being able to run your business with a skeleton crew is imperative.

These redundancies should also extend to resources such as servers, files, and anything else you need to operate your business. Storing this information in the cloud provides your teams with anytime, anywhere access – even if the main office is officially closed.

5. Make Sick Leave Preparations

It’s more important than ever to offer paid sick leave to employees. That’s because many infected team members might still come to work if they don’t have a financial safety net in place. This increases the risk of everyone else becoming infected.

Paid leave should also be extended to those who need to stay home and take care of sick family members or children who don’t have school during the pandemic.

6. Prepare for a Major Contraction

Even if you follow the pandemic planning business continuity guidelines above, it’s possible you won’t be able to generate any sales for the foreseeable future. Restaurants, movie theaters, and cruise ships are all learning this the hard way, with many venues potentially closing indefinitely.

It’s important your pandemic coordination team factors this into planning. More specifically, you need to know how long your business can continue meeting costs if all income sources suddenly diminish.

7. Share Your Workplace Pandemic Preparedness Plan

For any pandemic preparedness plan to work, everyone on your team must be on the same page. It’s a good idea to run through the steps, complete with tests and drills, to ensure all employees understand their roles.

All suppliers, vendors, and other external stakeholders should also be brought into the loop. Doing so is essential for pandemic planning business continuity.

What does a good pandemic preparedness plan look like?

Pandemic Business Continuity Plan Example

The challenges facing a restaurant owner are worlds apart from those that an at-home freelancer might experience. This makes it difficult to provide universally applicable advice.

However, the CDC already has an expansive checklist of do’s and don’ts for pandemics in general. It has since updated its guidelines specifically for COVID-19 preparedness in the workplace.

Moving forward, employers across the country should regularly visit these resources for the latest best practices and adjust these recommendations to their unique needs.

Need Business Support Throughout the Coronavirus Pandemic?

First Data is here to provide ongoing support for any businesses struggling with the current coronavirus pandemic. If you need help or advice during these difficult times, please visit:

COVID-19 Small Business Resource Center

Online Frontline: Enterprise Solutions for COVID-19

Disclaimer: This information is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal, financial, or tax advice. Readers should contact their attorneys, financial advisors, or tax professionals to obtain advice with respect to any particular matter.

The external references were provided for informational purposes only. Please contact each company directly to obtain additional information, as First Data does not assume any responsibility or liability for any information and communications shown here and on any third party web links.

1 “Coronavirus: COVID-19 Is Now Officially A Pandemic, WHO Says,” NPR, 11 March 2020

2 “These are the top 10 manufacturing countries in the world,” World Economic Forum, 25 February 2020