Health, Safety & the Bottom Line: Employee Communication During COVID-19

By Brian Cruver, CEO, AlertMedia

2020 was tumultuous for nearly every person and business, regardless of industry or location. We started 2020 with a global pandemic, which has since resulted in more than 85 million people contracting the virus and led to the sharpest economic decline since the Great Depression. During the pandemic, we also experienced devastating wildfires, a record-breaking Atlantic hurricane season, and one of the most turbulent election seasons in modern history. Calling 2020 an overwhelming year is somehow still an understatement.

Never before have we had to confront so many intense threats all at the same time. With such a wide array of hazards to contend with, employee health and safety has become a top priority for businesses everywhere.

Employer Obligations in the Age of COVID-19

Organizations have always had a duty of care to protect employees from unnecessary risk of harm. But the pandemic has made meeting this duty of care exponentially more difficult. With so many employees working from home due to COVID-19, employers are grappling with how to keep remote, distributed workforces safe, informed, and connected. Several states, including California, Oregon, and Virginia, have introduced or passed legislation mandating that employers notify workers within 24 hours of potential exposure to COVID-19.

Ensuring the health, safety, and well-being of your employees isn’t just legally and ethically required, it’s also a smart financial decision. Companies that have exemplary safety, health, and environmental programs outperform the S&P 500 by between 3 and 5 percent. By ensuring a safe work environment, organizations can avoid costly legal issues, lost productivity, and reputational brand damage. All of these, of course, can negatively impact earnings, profitability, and stock price.

Prioritizing employee health and safety by focusing on timely, accurate, and transparent employee communication is crucial. In the uncertain, chaotic conditions brought on by the pandemic, communication is imperative to ensuring the health of employees and the company’s bottom line.

Adapting Emergency Communication for the Modern Workforce

One thing COVID-19 has revealed is the importance of an effective, modern emergency communication strategy. While businesses historically relied on manual call trees or emails to communicate with employees during critical events, these methods are no longer sufficient for a modern workforce.

Emails don’t convey the sense of urgency that is needed when communicating time-sensitive information. Employees today—especially when working remotely—are bombarded with a constant stream of emails, instant messages, and app notifications, all competing for their attention. In a true emergency, employees may not even have access to their email., Hourly or front-line employees—such as retail associates and distribution center workers—may not have a company email address at all or, even if they do, do not check it on their personal phones outside of business hours.

Fortunately, emergency communications have moved far beyond antiquated phone trees and email blasts. Modern emergency communication software enables the fast, reliable, secure delivery of mass notifications. Business leaders can communicate with any-size audience, on any device, over any communication channel, anywhere in the world. They can send COVID-related warnings, alerts, and information out to specific segments of employees in near real-time, even from a mobile device.

As we’ve learned during the pandemic, the speed and accuracy of communication are critical during a crisis. For example, if you have to notify employees of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in the workplace, a delay of even just a few hours could needlessly expose employees (and their families) to the virus. Pre-built messaging templates can also help HR and safety leaders communicate accurately while complying with HIPAA and other regulations. By enabling two-way, real-time communication across multiple channels—including email, text message, phone call, mobile app, and desktop—you can ensure everybody gets the messages they need when they need them.

Some sophisticated systems with location tracking and global threat intelligence capabilities even allow employers to view real-time COVID-19 case counts in relation to where employees live and work. With readily available data along with a heat map showing which areas are being hardest hit, organizations can closely monitor local COVID-19 outbreaks and take appropriate actions to keep employees safe.

Companies Turn to Technology to Aid Pandemic Response

From communicating with furloughed workers to performing wellness checks to prudently starting to return to work, businesses are using emergency communication technology to improve employee health and safety, maintain business continuity, and meet their duty of care during the ongoing pandemic.

Throughout the pandemic, essential businesses like hospitals, grocery stores, restaurants, and manufacturing facilities have used emergency communication software to manage operational changes and dispatch critical updates about the pandemic to their employees.

Metro Diner—a Florida-based restaurant franchise with 5,000 employees—began using emergency notification software in March when the pandemic began to escalate in the United States. Having to furlough most of its staff due to locally mandated closures, Metro Diner uses the software to communicate frequently and openly with affected employees. By keeping in regular contact with its dispersed employees and sending relevant, timely information—including details on how to file for unemployment and take advantage of the benefits available to them—Metro Diner has been able to keep engagement and morale up even in difficult times.

Businesses are also using emergency communication software to share reopening plans, perform wellness checks on their teams, and carry out mandatory employee health screenings.

Additionally, due to state requirements many organizations are now conducting daily employee health screenings to quickly identify those exhibiting symptoms and help slow the spread of the virus. To automate and standardize this process, Houston-based Bellicum Pharmaceuticals uses an emergency communication system with survey functionality. Each morning, a survey is sent to all of the company’s employees scheduled to work in-office that day asking if they have had any known exposure to or are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19. Employees can then respond using a survey link within the message—a process that takes employees three seconds. If people don’t respond, the message is automatically resent to only those employees until a response is received. These real-time survey insights allow the organization to swiftly notify employees in the event of a suspected or positive case of COVID-19 in the workplace, while also enhancing employee safety and maintaining compliance.

Emerging From COVID-19 Stronger and More Strategic

We will get through the pandemic. There will be a post-pandemic future, and how you treat your people now will impact how employees feel about their job, your organization, and whether they want to continue working for you once we find our “new normal.” Businesses that prioritize employee safety and wellness are the ones that will win on the other side of the pandemic.

As business leaders, it is our job to protect our people and create a culture of safety from the top down. When we take care of our people, they take care of our customers and business will thrive. An Edelman study conducted earlier this year found that people trust their employers more than the government or news media when it comes to sharing information about COVID-19. That is an incredible privilege and a great responsibility. Your people trust you to keep them safe and they expect you to leverage every tool available to you to communicate swiftly, reliably, and proactively. Don’t let them down.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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