This is what businesses must consider for their coronavirus contingency plans

As employers ponder the best way to reduce the risk of coronavirus in the workplace, experts say managing staff mental health and parenting duties are crucial to a successful contingency plan.

Staff wearing protective masks work in an office at Creality 3D in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China.

Staff wearing protective masks work in an office at Creality 3D in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China. Source: EPA

As governments across the world review their coronavirus response plans, businesses are also taking a look at the steps they can take to minimise the spread of Covid-19.

Workplaces are now readily assessing how alternative workflows can be used to keep staff safe, with working from home an increasingly popular option for businesses that can afford such measures.

The home office

Just last week communications outfit Vodafone, tech giant CISCO and legal service Clayton Utz were all forced to temporarily shut up offices after employees underwent testing for Covid-19.

Clayton closed its Sydney premises late on 5 March with staff returning just one day later.

In that time, 500 employees were able to work remotely from home.

A spokesperson from Clayton Utz said the business was able to see out the short-term disruption as it had “stockpiled” equipment for serious health issues.

“We realised quite a few of our secretaries did not have access (to work technology) at home, so we’re working on how to assist them in the event it happens again," a company spokesperson said.

“This will mean providing them with equipment and paying for any extra bandwidth they need."

One size does not fit all

While office work is traditionally easy to shift remotely, some roles are more difficult to institute a contingency plan.

Zoologists are among those workers who now find themselves in a tricky situation as the spread of coronavirus presents greater challenges.

A Palestinian municipality worker disinfects the enclosures at Rafah Zoo in the southern Gaza Strip on March 11, 2020 amid the spread of coronavirus.
Source: AFP

At Sydney's Taronga Zoo, staff continue their work looking after some of the world's most rare and exotic creatures.

“If a quarantine period was implemented, we’d have to shrink our staff down to a skeleton team,” a spokesman told SBS News.

Achieving the right balance

For managers looking to take their operations offsite, a number of issues must be considered.

Bond Business School's Assistant Professor of Organisational Behaviour Dr Libby Sandler tells SBS News that mental health and the demands of parenthood play a key role.

“Understanding that people might be coordinating at different times of the day to balance caring responsibilities (is important),” she said.

“Some people really enjoy working from home but a lot of people don't because they find it quite lonely and socially isolating.

“We know there's a prevalence of mental health issues in the workplace and for some people, this could be exacerbated and make them more anxious with the general panic that is going on in some areas.”

Published 13 March 2020 at 5:47am, updated 13 March 2020 at 7:27am
By Ilias Bakalla