Skip to main content

5 Issues to Consider in Your Company's Response to COVID-19

Published Mar 13, 2020 by Bob Harvey

coronavirus

Businesses across Houston and around the world are considering how best to react to the rapidly changing COVID-19 situation. It’s a question on everyone’s minds. But each case is different and business leaders have to evaluate their situation, workforce and all of the factors surrounding their business.

The Partnership asks business leaders to consider focusing on this general framework of thinking so you can make smart decisions for your company.

We’ve broken it down into five buckets.

  1. Employee/Workplace Hygiene and Safety
  2. Travel Policies
  3. Policies for Meetings and Large Gatherings 
  4. Sick and PTO Leave
  5. Telecommuting

Each of these areas involves minimizing risk of exposure as well as the risk of spreading the virus. Achieving those goals is a community-wide effort, and businesses are key parts of the puzzle. 

Employee/Workplace Hygiene and Safety

First employee and workplace hygiene and safety.

Businesses must encourage their employees to stay home if they are showing respiratory illness symptoms or if someone in their household is.

And then there are the basics:
•    Wash your hands frequently
•    Stop shaking hands
•    Clean your workplaces frequently and properly
•    Avoid close contact, put distance between yourself and other people 

The CDC has great advice on what workplaces can do.  

Note that the Partnership has compiled an online resource with a number of good toolkits for businesses to think about how to response to the virus. 

Business Travel Policies

Next, let’s talk about business travel policies, both domestic and international.

The Partnership surveyed our board over the last two days and received about 30 responses. Keep in mind most but not all are large companies, but this includes some mid-market companies as well.

On this travel question, 82 percent have modified or outright banned nonessential domestic business travel…97% have changed their international travel policies.

On the domestic side, we’re seeing a few scenarios, ranging from:
•    Outright domestic travel bans, to
•    Bans on non-essential travel, where essential travel must be approved by a senior executive
•    Or a hybrid, that bans most travel except for client travel

This gets tricky for client service companies – particularly when we look at audit and tax firms – this is busy season. Being face to face with clients is the traditional model and many firms are having to rethink this.

On the international side, it’s more clear-cut. Most are outright bans, with some exceptions for client travel with executive approval.

Personal Travel Policies

On the personal travel side, this is a question that can be difficult because it touches people’s personal lives. 

But it’s our belief that business leaders have a responsibility to protect their entire workforce and ensure they are coming into a reasonably safe environment.

Several companies are implementing travel logs where employees must report any personal travel.

Here’s an example of why this is important. Say an employee travels for Spring Break and there is not a known outbreak of the virus when they are at their destination.  They come back, have no symptoms, but then five days later an outbreak pops up in that place.

Given the incubation periods and testing windows, the employee was likely there at the time of transmission. The employer knows from the log that the employee travelled there. It’s time to have a conversation to gauge if there was possible exposure.

The medical folks would say – self-quarantine for 14 days if there is a risk the person was exposed.

So, the log is tough, but is an important thing to think about. Know that some are restricting logging to just international travel and perhaps cruises.

Policies for Meeting and Gatherings

Next in our survey, the Partnership asked about employees attending meetings and gatherings – there was an 80/20 split favoring the limitation on meeting size and business gatherings/events.

Some are outright bans from attending outside business functions, but many are limiting the number that may be in attendance at an event. 

Some are as small groups of 10, we’ve chosen 50 at the Partnership, and many are somewhere in between that. It’s worth noting that this has knocked out attendance at major conferences in particular.

Sick/PTO Policy

The fourth area of the five-part framework is your Sick and PTO Policy. 

Only a third of the companies in our survey had looked at this, two-thirds had not. 

But it is important to note that many of the companies who said they were not adjusting their PTO policies already had very relaxed policies, some who even offered unlimited sick time.

Employers should expand their thinking about PTO as the universe of employees who should not come to the office goes beyond those who are visibly sick. 

Key things to think about:

  1. Sick people should stay home – penalizing absences can incentivize reckless and dangerous behavior, potentially exposing others in the work force
  2. Potentially exposed employees should stay home – if someone has travelled to a high risk region, or comes to find out they possibly came into contact with an infected person in a community setting – these folks will likely need to self-quarantine for at least 14 days.
  3. Another group to think about are employees in vulnerable populations – this includes employees with existing respiratory issues, or immune system deficiencies—even age is a factor. Some say the age of 60, 65 or 70. Essentially as you get older, the risk of a dangerous infection increases.

How should you handle these folks? They may be healthy enough to work, but do you want to risk having them get exposed in your work environment? Perhaps consider teleworking for these employees.

How about employees who have family members with these conditions – it would be bad if your employee brings home the virus from work.

Again, this is all about minimizing risk of exposure.

Teleworking Policy 

The final policy area in the framework is related to telecommuting.

About 65% of respondents to the Partnership survey already had some form of teleworking in place. And more than half were taking a look at altering their policies in light of the virus.

The medical experts will talk about the need to avoid being in close contact with others, and telecommuting can be important to this.

But you have to think about the roles within your company. Can all jobs be done remotely from home? Do you have enough laptops so people can be productive while at home? With our IT infrastructure support a higher volume of remote log-ins?

When setting up a telecommuting policy, should it be universal telecommuting for all employees? 

One example we have heard from the construction industry (and this applies in some refinery and petrochemical situations), where you have a project team that must be onsite. 

You split that work team into two (or three or four) groups. One team works from home for two weeks while the other one is on site, and then you switch. 

The goal is that if you lose a team due to exposure, you have another team available before you cannot provide the service to the client.  

Again, those are the five things to think about: 

  • Employee Hygiene 
  • Travel 
  • Meetings and Large Gatherings 
  • Sick/PTO Leave
  • Teleworking

Houston is a can-do city, and with your help, we can minimize the spread of this virus and hopefully get on the path to recovery soon.

The Partnership's Houston Coronavirus Resources guide provides information around the virus to businesses and individuals in our region. We will continue to update this page as new information becomes available.

Related News

Economy

SBA Analysis Pinpoints Lending Wins and Challenges for Houston's Female Entrepreneurs

10/5/21
A recent analysis by the Houston District Office for the Small Business Administration (SBA) found women-owned small businesses in Houston are outpacing their male counterparts when it comes to SBA-guaranteed lending. Leaders say it's a good start, but additional efforts are still needed to ensure women founders receive adequate funding. The SBA Houston District Office, which encompasses 32 southeast Texas counties, examined lending to female founders between 2010 and 2019. The organization found these women outpaced men in terms of the number of loans, average loan amounts and the total volume of dollars. Here's what they found: Total dollars of SBA Loans to women have increased 191%, compared to only 103% for men The average size of an SBA loan to women increased by 109%, compared to only 67% for men The total number of SBA loans to women have increased by 10%, compared to only 6% for men Authors of the analysis argue that while these findings are encouraging, there's still a nearly 10% deficit between the number of women-owned businesses in greater Houston who received SBA loans (31%, 2020-2021) and the number of women-owned businesses in the U.S. (40%, according to U.S. Census data).  SBA's Houston office said it implemented several initiatives in an effort to close that gap, including "matchmaking" sessions with women founders and SBA lenders. Authors said that participating lenders noted women were sometimes asking for less money than they actually needed. Shayla White, Executive Director of the Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce (GHWCC) Women’s Business Center, said it's a trend she's observed in her work, as well.  “We have experienced that women are more conservative when asking for funding as they want to make sure that they can pay the loan back," said White. "Our advice is that women founders seeking capital from lenders ensure that they have a strong business plan that they can communicate with confidence. Do your research to describe the growth and sales strategy and develop realistic financial projections.” SBA's Houston office also has measures geared specifically toward lenders to ensure they're more inclusive. Abigail Gonzalez, Economic Development Specialist and Public Information Officer with SBA Houston, said it's an especially crucial effort for Houston.  “When it comes to outreach in a city as diverse as Houston, each community faces its own unique challenges," said Gonzalez. "It is not enough to be aware of perceived barriers without also being intentional about helping entrepreneurs gain access to resources. That is why we created the Inclusive Lending initiative, which brought together SBA lenders, community partners, and entrepreneurs to highlight challenges and opportunities in various underserved groups, including Black, Hispanic, LGBT, disabled, and women-owned businesses. The initiative includes a seminar specifically for SBA lenders to shed light on unconscious bias and highlight the importance of being intentional about diverse outreach efforts so that people of all backgrounds are being served." SBA's Houston office shared other resources outside of the SBA to look for funding, including: Harris County Small Business Grant Recovery Program 2021 (harriscountybusinessrelief.org) SOAR - TruFund Small Business Grant · COVID-19 Assistance Programs KKR Small Business Builders  See the 10-year look at SBA lending to women-owned businesses in greater Houston. 
Read More
Digital Technology

Connecting the Dots to Help Get Houston Back on Track

9/27/21
Houston, like most places in the world, is forever changed by the pandemic that broke in the spring of 2020. The metro region lost 361,400 jobs in the ensuing recession, making it worse than the jobs lost in the Great Recession and the oil bust in the 1980’s. Houstonians and our local economy have been hurting ever since, and though much progress has been made, we have only recouped about 60 percent of those lost jobs. More needs to be done to help and support people and employers. It is worth reminding ourselves how we got here. The COVID-19 epidemic has been a disrupting event like few of us have seen. It shut us down and stressed our hospital systems almost to the breaking point. We worried about the sick and grieved over those who we lost. Our workforce suffered as millions of people stayed home and away from work. Many stayed away for a long, long time, even after employers began to open their doors again. The employment gap has hindered our recovery and put us on pause in a way we haven’t seen in our lifetime. Effects of the pandemic have disproportionately impacted and displaced women, communities of color, and workers with low levels of educational attainment.  The Partnership has for years worked with member organizations and local governments to make greater Houston a metro that could thrive by building a strong, diverse 21st century economy, offering a great quality of life, and ensuring opportunity for all.  When the pandemic threatened to upset this path, the Partnership tapped two community leaders, Matt Morris and Chase Robison, to provide key leadership and work with its Regional Workforce Development division to help chart a path forward. The idea for Houston Back on Track was born. During an UpSkill Works Forum on September 8, our first stakeholders announced Houston Back on Track as the job recovery initiative that promises to connect the dots between displaced workers and our employer partners. Through key partnerships and new ways of combining and coordinating our collective efforts, Houston Back on Track will provide job seekers with the necessary support and resources they need while searching for their next great role and career in healthcare, customer service, transportation/distribution. This alliance of community partners, education providers, and employers is a game changer that should help put Houstonians back to work in jobs with great opportunities for upskilling and growth. Houston Back on Track is supported by organizations and companies committed to making positive change. On the employer side, we are proud to have the support of: HCA Houston Healthcare, Houston Methodist, Mustang CAT, Primary Services, and Silver Eagle Distributors. These companies are seeking to hire hundreds of new employees through this effort. Our community partners will provide career coaching and wraparound services to help prepare job seekers for these roles. They are Wesley Community Center, Houston Area Urban League, Change Happens!, WorkFaith, LISC Houston, and United Way of Greater Houston. While some of these community partners will provide critical preparation and training for clients directly, we will also tap into the expertise and services of our education providers: Lone Star College, Houston Community College, and San Jacinto College. Finally, we will offer online training through LinkedIn Learning, a platform that provides a rich selection of courses in many areas of professional development. This alliance is designed for impact and will scale in the coming months. We know our challenges are great. Fears about contracting the virus are still keeping a gap between people and jobs. This is not our only variable. Many people have reconsidered what they want from their careers, and they are hoping to make a change in industry and occupation. Others want more stability, higher wages, and better benefits than they had before the pandemic. There are impacts that are still unknown to us, but one thing is certain: many job seekers will build off their existing skills and develop new skills as they move into the roles they want. It may be that our work is cut out for us, but we are committed. The partners behind Houston Back on Track are dedicated to not just connecting the dots, but also to helping improve lives. A great job can change the trajectory of an entire family. Our efforts are underway, and we will grow and scale in coming months. Our work starts with employers who need to hire qualified, entry-level workers in occupations with pathways for growth. Join Houston Back on Track if your company is committed to charting a new path forward for Houstonians displaced by the pandemic. Good results are coming.   Connect with the Houston Back on Track team by visiting HoustonBackOnTrack.org or contacting BackOnTrack@Houston.org. 
Read More

Related Events

COVID-19

Houston Region Economic Outlook

The 2021 Houston Region Economic Outlook event will share perspectives on the region’s economy and a future outlook. The event will feature a presentation by a leading expert on the national economy and a panel of…

Learn More
Learn More