Health and safety

Batten Down the Hatches: Keeping Your Business Going During the Coronavirus Outbreak

March 05, 2020

The world’s medical establishment is struggling to contain the COVID-19 virus, a novel strain of coronavirus. When a significant outbreak like this occurs, governments tighten travel and impose quarantines, and healthcare professionals begin researching effective treatments and countermeasures.

Organizations outside of the medical establishment and government are also reacting as the virus begins to affect employee attendance, international business travel, and supply chain management. Organizations must have well-defined and effective business continuity plans in order to reduce the repercussions of COVID-19 on their operations.

Your organization might not have the practice of the World Health Organization or the resources of Health Canada for addressing this disease, but the current outbreak reminds us that disasters and emergencies can happen at any time, with little warning.

Even if this outbreak never affects your business, use this opportunity as a reminder that you need a plan for business continuity,

and you need it sooner than later. When an emergency arises, you and your employees need to already know what to do and how to respond. Every business will have unique solutions to questions that emergencies pose, but the questions themselves are generally universal.

More than anything else, you need a way to contact employees in case of emergency, and employees need a way to contact you. Information is the cornerstone of any emergency response plan, and confusion the bane of it, so clarify to your employees how you’ll inform them if you need to close suddenly or if circumstances rapidly change. Don’t presume employees already know; remind them, and test the system every so often to verify it works and find ways to improve upon it.



One of the key response measures to a widespread medical emergency like COVID-19 is quarantine, but other emergencies and disasters might necessitate employees staying away from work for a time. Roads might be out of service, flights might be cancelled, or damage might make the workplace unsafe. Having a general protocol for remote work, where possible, is useful in a wide array of potential emergencies. Develop a policy that establishes which positions can work remotely and what equipment or services employees need in order to remotely perform their jobs.

Where remote work is impossible or impractical, your continuity plan might need to be more creative, perhaps cutting back shifts or reducing service levels—sacrificing some business in the short term to retain it in the long term. The last thing you want is to force employees to attend work while sick and spread the infection to colleagues, customers, and fellow commuters. This is where hygiene comes in.


Healthcare facilities have strict protocols for how and how often employees must wash hands or sanitize equipment, and food service has similarly strict rules. You don’t necessarily need to have disease control protocols on par with a hospital’s, but you should have hand sanitizer at doorways, and post signs in bathrooms reminding employees to wash their hands before returning to work. If employees interact with the public, especially handling money or merchandise the public has touched, hygiene is even more important. Bear in mind that some employees or customers might have health conditions like a compromised immune system that make them more susceptible to infections—these people depend on others to make good choices regarding hygiene.

From an HR perspective, how you relate to employees in a crisis will generally take priority, but for small businesses especially, this kind of compartmentalization isn’t practical, and you need to think about how you’ll maintain relationships with customers during the emergency, too. Just like employees might suddenly call in sick, customers might have to cancel or reschedule in unusual volumes; waiving cancellation fees and being accommodating of the uncertainty everyone faces in an emergency helps preserve goodwill for the long term. Expanding your online presence, if applicable, can likewise help business continue as usual while COVID-19 makes in-person interactions more fraught.


Coronavirus has many people concerned, and even though we as individuals can’t decide when emergencies occur or how, we can prepare to face them. It’s not too late to develop and implement plans for emergencies in general, or this one in particular.

Think ahead, communicate clearly, and you can keep your business going strong throughout the uncertainty.

And if you’re still not sure where to start, or just want a little push to get going, HRdownloads has you covered. Contact us below to receive a copy of our Pandemic Preparedness Checklist, which outlines steps your organization can take to mitigate the effects of a pandemic or other major outbreak like COVID-19.

Download checklist

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