Corporate Governance In the Days of the Coronavirus: Employee & Global Welfare

by Gabriela Troncoso Alarcón and Kim Stefanski 22 Apr. 2020

Globally, we’re now in the fourth month of watching the Covid-19 pandemic play out. Countries in Asia are working toward recovering, while other parts of the world are experiencing a peak in cases or are planning for and trying to flatten the curve. We’ve all had to accept changes to our lives that we never anticipated. Companies have had to respond to ever changing social distancing government orders  and may have operations that have shifted to teleworking, essential operations that must continue with in-person work, operations that have had to shut down or all of the above. Companies may face tough decisions about how to keep operations going or what to do when they’ve been ordered to close doors for an unknown length of time.

While predictions are plentiful and certainly have an important role in planning and strategy, no one really knows what all of the impacts will be, how they will be felt or how long their echoes will sound. However, what we do know is that there are a range of things that companies are doing and can do in the future to play a positive role in not only employee welfare, but also community and global welfare. Whether it’s a small corporate action or a large one, everyone can do something. That something will likely look different for every company since each is impacted differently by this pandemic.

In this blog we have included  actions companies can take internally  to protect employee welfare and  beyond its own doors for global welfare. Lastly, we also provide key points on what companies can learn from these exceptional times.

I. Inside the Company: Employee Welfare

Communicate

Praise for clear communication is sung by many even in good times, and the importance of good communication is even more pronounced during these uncertain times when we must limit being physically together. Companies and their management teams can consider making communication more frequent about company- or facility- specific impacts and how they are being managed, especially during particularly uncertain times or events where the pace of change is fast. Employees may be worried about what happens with their job if they get sick, whether they will get paid if they can’t work, how to best continue to do their job if they are working remotely long term and other issues depending on the situation at the company and the employee’s personal situation.

There are plenty of ways the Covid-19 situation can be stressful to employees, but frequent updates about any changes (or even a lack of changes) can reduce employee anxiety. If a company can do one thing, clear communication to employees during uncertain times should probably be at the top of the list. To provide just a few examples, companies might consider communications like regular and frequent email updates, recurring meetings to explain the latest updates, virtual check ins in smaller groups to help maintain social connections and reminders about benefits that may be available to help support employees.

Be Flexible

Flexibility with employees during this time can also go a long way. We’re all now in situations that we never anticipated. Employees may get sick and take weeks to recover or could require hospital care. They may have additional parenting responsibilities from a lack of their usual childcare or additional caretaking duties if they have a sick family member. And on the milder side, some may just be unsure of how to handle the new reality of having the sounds of barking dogs, children, doorbells and other noises on the background of every conference call.

Allowing more flexible work hours, long breaks in the middle of the day or part-time hours mare a few ways that companies can provide relief to employees. Often a little bit of flexibility is all an employee may need to be able to be as efficient as usual. Additionally, while some employees’ personal situations may have left them with an emptier schedule than they had pre-Coronavirus, employees shouldn’t be expected to work or be available 24/7. These boundaries may be especially difficult for some employees when teleworking has removed the physical line between home and office but are important to encourage for employee wellbeing especially during an already stressful time.

When Operations Can’t Be Virtual

Employees who must be on-site for essential operations should also have special considerations. Good communication here can make the difference for physical safety. Employers should develop and provide clear guidance, rules and company expectations for employees on how to implement social distancing in their operations. Companies may also want to provide supplies like hand sanitizer, masks and gloves while adjusting schedules to minimize the number of employees in a building at one time to help reduce the risk of exposure.

Facilities may also be required to close by governing authorities if they’ve been deemed non-essential , if they experience cases of Covid-19 or for other reasons. Facility closures can be one of the toughest situations a company might face. Clear communication will again be very important to help employees understand what their options are and what the company is doing to navigate the situation. This is particularly important because the options and course of action may be different for each company and  each jurisdiction. Companies may be able to obtain government assistance in some jurisdictions, explore creative ways that employees could still be paid  while they can’t work or  adjust aspects of the facility’s operations that employees could do at home. Companies can also see this crisis as an opportunity  prepare  their employees with skills needed in the immediate future.   Whatever the course of action, it’s important to communicate plans and options to employees as they emerge and evolve.  

 

 

II. Beyond the Company: Big Opportunities for Big Impacts

Beyond the ways companies manage the direct impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on employee welfare, there may also be big opportunities for making a positive impact and being an even better corporate citizen. Times of crisis bring hardship but also highlight where we can improve and can bring out the best from each of us including big corporations. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, we see that leaders from big corporations have started to put together efforts to provide support to their communities – where they operate or have headquarters, to governments and to international organizations to fight against the pandemic.

Corporations may implement these initiatives alone or in collaboration with other international organizations. For example, the World Economic Forum has partnered with the World Health Organization to create a platform to enable global businesses to come together and collaborate to minimize the impact of this pandemic.

Regulations and Big Corporate Actions

It is not always easy to jump from one activity to another so even if companies wanted to help in certain cases the regulatory landscape can affect what can be done during the pandemic although some governments understand that easing  requirements in this time is beneficial to the community as a whole. For example, in France a decree was issued to allow cosmetic companies to produce hydro-alcoholic gels, an activity that is typically reserved to other types of industries.

Creative Corporate Actions to Fight Against COVID-19

Companies can decide to contribute in different ways. With as many problems as the pandemic has created, there are even more creative solutions that can be found.

Some companies have shifted their production from garments to medical gowns or face masks, or from beauty products and perfumes to hydro-alcoholic gels. Others have donated the products they produce, such as soap and cleaning products.

Other companies are making use of their infrastructure to share it with their community. They are lending their internal or private paramedics and ambulances or putting the logistics and supply chain resources at disposal of the community. Similarly, others like automobile makers and hardware companies are using their 3-D printing machines to design and produce equipment or parts that are essential for hospitals, such as face masks clasps, ventilators and interestingly, door handle adapters to make it easy to open doors with the elbow.

Other companies are taking a different approach to contributing to fighting the pandemic by giving grants for research and development, grants for advertising or even using their social media channels to disseminate information to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and other important information.

Lastly, a classic way that companies are helping is by donating funds directly to the World Health Organization Fund dedicated to the coronavirus called “COVID-19 Solidarity Response Fund” or donating it directly to other international organizations (for example, the International Federation of Red Cross), local organizations or to foundations of their own.

It is also remarkable to say that even banks have been playing their part by providing funds and loans to companies adjusting their production to help fight COVID-19.

Who Companies Are Targeting With Their Efforts

Actions can be targeted to a global, local or specific audience. For example, some companies have targeted kids and families since schools are closed in many countries to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The most common audiences are caregivers, hospitals, governments, non-profit organizations and international organizations such as the United Nations.

Regarding the geographical impact of the actions, some restrict their actions or donations by putting resources at the disposal of only a certain jurisdiction such as the US or a US State, European Union (EU), a Member State of the EU or a specific community, whereas other might act more globally and prioritize those more in need.

Some other actions are targeted to small and medium enterprises that are being heavily hit by COVID-19.

 

III. A Look Forward: WhaT Companies Can Learn From Covid-19 Pandemic

Companies can take the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to consider not only what actions they can take during the current pandemic, but also  how this experience will  shape their future actions and plans. Research suggests that virus infections will appear more often than they have in the past because of a number of factors, including the rise in temperatures due to climate change. This might be the first time we’ve experienced a pandemic with such globally expansive impacts, but it probably won’t be the last. While some parts of the world  have felt insulated from infectious illnesses like SARS and MERS, we know that we can’t count on being isolated in the future.

Companies should consider ways they can bolster supply chains, make more of their operations  easy to transitioned to work from an employee’s home, or look at any areas of their operations or planning that the COVID-19 situation highlighted as potential weaknesses if a similar situation were to happen again.

Simpler changes can be implemented as of now as well, such as taking hygiene and cleanliness more serious. Although this is a requirement in most jurisdictions, it is something that can be  improved. For example, in Australia a Guidance has been released in April 2020 explaining how to clean and disinfect workplaces and stresses the importance of cleaning before disinfecting. Also, the requirement of providing sanitary facilities with soap can be overlooked sometimes and can be better managed  by ensuring workplaces are provided with hand sanitizer in different locations within the facility.  

It might also be worth considering how to invest in research and public health and other ways to contribute to global welfare. Companies can also consider ways they could provide additional support to employees in the future with  advanced planning for another similar situation.

The key take-away from what the entire world is experiencing now is that companies can have a big impact in fighting against the current threat. No matter how little or big  the action is,  it is crucial that companies are proactive and respond to the needs of their employees and communities in whatever way they can based on their specific situation.

 

Check out how Enhesa is helping companies understand the regulatory landscape during this pandemic by visiting the COVID-19 Regulatory Updates page.

View Here >>

 

 


Sources

Clift, K. and Court A. (2020, March 23). World Economic Forum. How are companies responding to the corona virus crises?  Retrieved from https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/03/how-are-companies-responding-to-the-coronavirus-crisis-d15bed6137/

Security Boulevard (2020, March). Companies use COVID-19 Downtime to Educate their Workforce Online. Retrieved from https://securityboulevard.com/2020/03/companies-use-covid-19-downtime-to-educate-their-workforce-online/

World Economic Forum and Willis Towers Watson (2020, March). World Economic forum.  Workforce Principles for the COVID-19 Pandemic Stakeholder Capitalism in a Time of Crisis. Retrieved from http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_NES_COVID_19_Pandemic_Workforce_Principles_2020.pdf