Sanitizers and Zoom : Coping with Covid-19

March 17, 2020
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On Friday 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic. As a global organisation with 53 offices and over 350 partners across 31 countries on five continents, AltoPartners has joined the movement to put the brakes on the spread of this highly contagious virus.

While it is impossible to predict what will happen next, we do know that there are steps that we can take to help slow this disease down, and in the process, save lives.

Says Stephen Dallamore, chairman of the alliance: “Our first responsibility is to our employees and our clients, and their families. Each of our members is monitoring the situation across their cities on a daily bases, and learning from countries that have been hardest hit. In addition to strictly observing local and international travel bans and encouraging self-quarantine for employees returning from holiday or business travel, the larger alliance members have established a COVID-19 task force and our members have revised protocols for their teams, regardless of the number of cases reported in their region.”

“We are acutely aware that business leaders and business owners are under severe stress as they grapple with the impact of the virus on their organisations and take the necessary steps to limit the effect of the pandemic on lives and livelihoods.”

“While we have seen recruitment freezes in companies on the front line of the pandemic – most notably the travel, leisure and luxury goods industries, for the most part, we continue to partner with our clients to help them secure the right people to navigate the crisis. With travel bans in place and many executives working from home, our clients have more time to devote to strategic planning, and we are increasingly being called on to assist them with these planning sessions. While active executive search may be slowing down in certain regions, our role as strategic advisors is increasing as clients look to us to provide best-practice learnings and next steps solutions.”

Going beyond the hand sanitizers and levels of cleaning that verge on obsessive-compulsive, here are some of the good business practices that AltoPartners alliance members have adopted to help slow the virus and ensure that our clients’ leadership needs are met during the critical days and weeks ahead:

1. Practice empathy. This pandemic is going to forever alter the way people engage with each other. Kindness, care and flexibility will protect employees and ensure post-pandemic levels of commitment and loyalty that it is impossible to put a value on.

Top tip: Regular, consistent communication is key to staying in touch with employees that have self-isolated, or have been diagnosed with COVID-19. Feelings of isolation can be warded off with regular electronic check-ins and making sure that employees have mechanisms for receiving food and medication.

2. Go big and go home. The math is unambiguous - mass early self-isolation is the only thing that can slow this virus down long enough for health systems to cope. As a global alliance, much of our interaction is already video-based, and employees are routinely interacting from their home offices via video link with other team members, clients and candidates. While our business partners have video conferencing facilities in place, for many of our candidates, it is a learning curve.

Top tip: Do a practice run (or two!) to ensure that candidates are comfortable using unfamiliar VC technology, especially if they are dialing in from home. In the absence of a PA or an IT department on speed dial, many executives don’t know how to operate Skype, much less Zoom or Team Viewer, adding significantly to pre-interview nerves. It’s also worth briefing people about being aware of the POV of the interviewer. One candidate reported being mortified at having conducted a successful video interview only to realize at the end of it that her potential new team mates had got an eyeful of her underwear drying on a laundry rack in the background.

3. Communication is key. We are committed to ensuring that all employees know that they are not to come to work if they feel unwell. This is especially critical in countries where the disease is only starting to emerge, and where employees and candidates might not want to be seen to be over-reacting.

Top tip: There is nothing like a crisis to stress-test your communications capacity. Review your communications strategy for all stakeholders, specifically internally and ensure sufficient resources are committed toward combating rumour, fear, panic and unbridled-optimism with a regular stream of credible, accurate-as-possible company-specific updates. It is very likely that new policies and protocols will need to be written, and existing ones amended (especially where employees are required to present a doctor’s certificate in the event that they take sick leave). These changes need to be communicated to employees, and a feedback loop established to allow employees to sense-check information and clarify issues such as leave pay, symptoms etc.

4. Establish a protocol in the event that candidates are exposed to the virus. Diversified Search in New York / AltoPartners USA, emphasize the importance of counselling candidates to be candid about their exposure levels: “A candidate alerted us to that fact that he had been exposed prior to an important interview with key leadership. The client was highly appreciative of the heads up, saying that this was exactly the level of collegiality and candour they were looking for in their next leader.”

Top tip: Candidates may be tempted to ignore exposure or symptoms for fear of seeming unprofessional and out of concern that it may put them out of the race. It is our role to encourage them to be candid, and to facilitate alternative interview and introduction channels. Sheffield Search / AltoPartners New Zealand have updated their candidate consent forms as well as emails to candidates and visitor forms to ensure the safety of visitors and staff.

5. Centralise data. Our alliance members regularly review new workplace and CRM software to ensure that crucial information is stored centrally and securely for authorised team members to access it remotely in the event that the ‘owner’ of a document or a relationship is hospitalised or incapacitated.

Top tip: Establish a network of teams and a protocol for staying connected and sharing information remotely and set aside time to train people on how to get the most out of these platforms.

6. Draw up an infectious disease policy. This includes identifying ‘at risk’ employees and keeping track of employees with non-cohabiting loved one’s who are in quarantine or who have been hospitalised.**

Top tip: Keep a detailed record of employees’ travel plans – both business and leisure so that strict quarantines may be observed, especially where new cases are reported. Accord Group Czech Republic / AltoPartners Czech Republic have imposed mandatory quarantine periods on all employees who have travelled to Italy recently.

7. Be proactive: Make it clear that visitors are not expected to shake hands. The Inzito Partnership / AltoPartners UK advises that “volunteering’’ not to shake hands with candidates or clients puts them at ease as many people are reluctant to cause offence by refusing the traditional greeting. Meanwhile in countries such as Argentina, where a kiss on the cheek is normal in business circles, shaking hands is seen as an acceptable alternative. This could change if the disease spreads in South America.

Top tip: We love the solution put forward by Accord India / AltoPartners India who have reverted to the traditional Indian greeting of two palms pressed together. Namaste.

8. Heed travel bans and review all non-essential travel. Before the now almost universal travel lockdown, the vast majority of our clients had already placed international and non-essential work travel bans, particularly for senior executives and leadership teams.

Top tip: Offices can become very crowded when people normally on the road or in the air are grounded. This could have the unintended consequence of creating a gathering of potentially asymptomatic people in a confined space. Travel bans should be accompanied by a clear work from home policy.

9. Respect confidentiality. In South Africa, where travelling to Europe on a battered local currency is reserved for the elite, the first local person to test positive for COVID-19 after returning from a business trip to Italy, was the subject of a Twitter feeding frenzy as trolls sought to out him for his ‘selfishness’.

Top tip: Remind everyone of the confidentiality clauses in their contracts, and take employees through company protocol when dealing with media queries and posting private updates on social media.

10. Declare war on fake news. AltoPartners is committed to only sharing reliable, factual information with employees and stakeholders and discouraging talk of panic or fear-mongering. We are equally committed to helping the overly-optimistic take the necessary precautions to protect themselves and their peers.

Top tip: Address fake news on popular social media sites and direct employees to credible sources. Summarise them in daily updates and if in doubt, direct them to Snopes.

Namaste. Stay Safe. Stay Healthy.

Stephen W. Dallamore
AltoPartners Global Chairman AltoPartners Johannesburg