Federal health officials have asked United States businesses to prepare for a nationwide spread of the new coronavirus.
Locally, companies are looking into how telecommuting — one of the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations — affects employee morale and day-to-day practices.
The CDC has outlined a handful of practices employers can utilize to help lessen the impact COVID-19 and other widespread illnesses, such as influenza, according to the Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 that was released in February.
The agency is asking companies to actively encourage sick employees to stay home, separate sick employees who come in to work and perform routine environmental cleaning. The severity of illness and the number of people expected to fall ill from COVID-19 is currently unknown, the CDC reports; however, employers should plan to be able to respond in a flexible manner.
The CDC has also asked employers to explore whether flexible work sites and hours might work for their everyday operations. Telecommuting and staggered shifts increase physical distance between employees and others. The agency has stated that supervisors should encourage sick employees who are able to telework to do so instead of coming into the workplace.
Likewise, the CDC has emphasized the importance of identifying essential business functions, jobs and roles as well as critical elements within supply chains that are required to maintain operations. Increased absenteeism may limit or interrupt supply chains, so businesses should be prepared to continue operations in this event.
Pilmer PR has been allowing their team members to telecommute for over 17 years. Founder and CEO John Pilmer said the practice won’t work for every business, but for content creators and sales-oriented positions, teleworking is not only the best way to limit the spread of illness but it’s also cost effective and better for the environment.
Everyone on the Pilmer PR team is hired on to work from a home office, which Pilmer said was initially decided due to cost. Over time, company administrators have found that allowing their team members to work remotely is not only cost effective for the company but also helps with employee morale and increased quality of life.
“It’s not the answer for every business but it’s been great for our business, and we’ve learned a few things over the years that have helped us to make it more tolerable,” he said.
For larger companies in major cities, like Manhattan, public relations firms can spend up to 1/3 of the client’s money to cover overhead costs, Pilmer said. By allowing team members to telecommute, the Orem-based firm was able to significantly cut the cost to customers and the company.
When Pilmer PR started in 2003, the idea of telecommuting was a novel concept that required access to cutting-edge technology. Now, with a strong internet connection and the right system, almost anyone can do it.
Pilmer said he had experience in the realm of information technology prior to starting his public relations firm, which helped the process tremendously when the company was first taking off. Technological hurdles are much easier to navigate now, but not completely painless.
“Security is obviously an issue, especially with the number of hackers out there,” he said.
While access to teleconferencing systems and collaborative software is important, it is becoming imperative for companies to guard their clients’ personal information.
According to a statement from Brett Callow, a threat analyst at Emsisoft, the company confirmed almost 25,000 ransomware incidents in the U.S. last year. An overwhelming majority of these incidents were not reported to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The 2019 Internet Crime Report published by the Internet Crime Complaint Center reported 467,361 nationwide complaints with an estimated loss of over $3.5 billion.
Business email compromise accounted for over $1.7 billion of that loss with 23,775 complaints collected in 2019.
While telecommuting has a large impact on data security, the practice also affects intangible, but arguably more important aspects of a business, Pilmer said. This includes socialization, employees’ sense of community, job security and trust.
The biggest determining factor for the success of a company with employees who telecommute is building a system of trust, he said.
“Your business will run more effectively if you have trustworthy relationships and you engender trust in the work environment,” Pilmer said. “When you’re not in each other’s presence, when the supervisor is not right there in the room, you have to hire for trust level.”
Pilmer said the company saw the benefits of having team members telecommute long before the CDC’s recommendations and hopes applicable businesses will take advantage of the opportunity to see how telecommuting might affect their operations.