The need to employ health services and measures that can effectively detect threats, mitigate risks and provide treatment to employees is increasingly vital
By Neeraj Balani
The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is the most lethal and wide-reaching public health crisis our country has faced in a long time. Direct and indirect impacts of the global pandemic on business operations in India for all industries and sectors have been extensive.
Businesses are facing unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts. While trying to ensure the sustainability of their business operations, organisations are looking for ways to protect their employees and guarantee their safety and wellbeing – all while complying with measures and advice from government and public health authorities.
As the Indian government-imposed prevention measure of lockdown is being phased out, organisations are planning to resume operations, and people are physically returning to the workplace. Every organisation in India is facing the following questions. Depending on local regulatory and logistical circumstances and implications, how can you help your workforce return to operations safely? How do you ensure that you are well-prepared, with a process that is smooth and fast, while minimizing risks facing employee health and wellbeing? How do you protect your workplace in case of a positive case in office or at your employee’s home? How do you enable your employee to play the role of a caregiver at home, in such challenging times? All the above scenarios are major risks which needs to be addressed for a robust Business Continuity Plan.
These questions are complicated further by the nature of our demographics in India and by the nature of the disease! Once infected by COVID-19 – while some individuals develop clear symptoms, others do not. The latter are thus unaware of their health status, do not report that they are unwell, are not tested for the disease, and are not informed of their immunity status. In such cases, truly non-infected individuals are at a higher risk of being infected in the workplace. Similarly, the status of medical facilities varies drastically by regions in India, putting your mobile workforce in sales, operations and supply chain at an increased risk when they perform their roles. For example, a professional based in Mumbai may find it difficult to find a good GP once he travels 100 kms away from city limits to tier two or tier 3 cities or villages!
Your return-to-operations phase takes place amidst the ‘new normal’ for daily activity, where significant changes in health-related monitoring and behavior become the norm. The need to employ health services and measures that can effectively detect threats, mitigate risks and provide treatment, therefore, is increasingly vital.
In my discussion with CXOs of various multinational organisations who we support on building return to workplace guidelines and put in medical and security safety measures for employees. We recommend a 5-pillar approach to be executed with the help of their existing IT platforms and a solid reporting and governance platform. The first pillar is to ensure that organisations recognise the questions relevant to their businesses and build a customized strategy and plan for processes and protocols ensuring inputs from the changing external environment. Eg: what customisations are needed for head office v/s retail store v/s manufacturing unit v/s branch office? The second pillar is providing for on ground medical facilities and support including mental wellness to your employees. This is a pandemic and the best person to guide you and your employees to comply in all situations is a medical expert. For example, access to a reliable doctor and hospital network is the biggest worry for your workforce, especially when they perform the role of a caregiver to their dependents such as children and parents. The third pillar is ensuring access to medical supplies such as PPE and test kits (as they become viable and available in India) for your workforce, especially when they live, commute or work in a densely populated environment. The fourth pillar is that of a medically led quality assurance.
Once the lockdown is relaxed we forecast that processes laid down for social distancing, screening, health checks will tend to get diluted. Hence it is imperative that a medical expert audits them and reports the quality and effectiveness of the processes to the CEO as the trusted advisor on the organisation’s resilience! The final pillar of-course is that of reporting and governance. Every organisation needs to build in resilience KPI’s which need to be monitored and reported so that corrective action and measures are timely. It will be important for all organisations to leverage their IT platforms to set the KPI’s and monitor their progress in an efficient manner.
We believe that the above approach will ensure organisations build resilience by ensuring they safeguard their employee wellbeing, boost their cost efficiencies and help protect the communities where they thrive. Our dream to reboot the “Make in India” dream starts with a “Healthy India”. The Indian business community will play a leading role in the coming days to move towards a “Healthy India” and reduce the COVID-19 aftermath.
The author is managing director, International SOS, India