- Businesses must test home-working technology and review and prepare policies relating to remote working and sick pay;
- How and what employers communicate to their employees about coronavirus is critical;
- Global epidemic preparedness and response is underfunded – the business world needs to help fill this gap.
Last week, my whole team had a work-from-home day. With potential disruption from the coronavirus epidemic a real prospect, our business continuity planners had strongly encouraged every department to test its capacity to work remotely.
The evening before our test, I received a text message from my child’s school: “Immediate school closure: please check your email for details.” Pupils had returned to school after half-term holidays in Italy and were now unwell. It would close as a precaution.
For me, this was going to be more than a drill.
It’s an experience that very personally brought home how far-reaching the social impact of epidemics can be. Without any coronavirus infection confirmed, several hundred families had to make sudden arrangements to look after their kids. That will have meant cancelled meetings and business trips, projects delayed and lost earnings. Our school closed for just two days in the end, but extend that across a country for weeks – Japan is closing its schools until April – and the societal effects become systemic.
The role that employers play in the response to coronavirus is therefore critical. In my own case, I’ve been fortunate that Wellcome, the charitable foundation for which I work, was already thinking about how to support employees through school closures, self-isolation or quarantine.