What is your coronavirus policy?

Coronavirus means revenue loss for many organizations . But what positive impact, or opportunity, can your business realize amidst such a crisis? The answer is "significant," so long as you have the right policies in place.

Kristina Podnar
February 6, 2020
· 6 min read

My son asked me this morning, "What is small, travels easily, and allows workers to take a month off from work?" My answer, "a baby," was utterly wrong. Even my 12-year old is dialed into the news and realizes that across the globe, the coronavirus outbreak is having a tangible impact on technology.

With Apple, GM, Ford, Sony, and others negatively impacted by the decrease in production out of Foxconn, Quanta, and other Chinese manufacturers, it will be some time before the world is back to normal. There will be long term losses to the cruise and airline companies, hotels, and restaurants for sure. But what positive impact, if any, can businesses have amidst such a crisis? The answer is "significant," so long as you have the right policies in place. Consider the following:

  • Video conferring policy. Companies that have new product launches and business development meetings in China, Singapore, and nearby countries are now canceling in-person events. While it is not nearly the same, face-to-face meetings can be replaced by video-conferencing. Since there are so many physical cues that will be missing, in addition to cultural norms, employees should be provided guidance – a policy -  that will help them understand what is appropriate and inappropriate for video conferencing meetings.
  • Crisis communications policy. China is responsible for 90% of the vitamin (C) consumed by Americans, 78% of the tilapia, 70% of the apple juice, 50%of the cod, 43% of the processed mushrooms, and 23% of the garlic. These numbers represent a lot of importers, distributors, grocery stores, and restaurants that will be impacted by the slowing of perishable imports from China. It behooves most organizations to "wait and see." The smart strategy is to get ahead of the shortages and delays by communicating to partners (B2B) and customers (B2C) about food availability, increased prices, and what scenarios are likely to occur if the virus drags on. All communication you undertake in this scenario deserves a crisis communication policy in place
  • Appropriate and prohibited content policy. I’ve already encountered several organizations referring to Hong Kong as a separate entity from China when it comes to the coronavirus. While Hong Kong enjoys some autonomy from China due to its designation as a Special Administrative Region, the Chinese government (and many of its people) will not take kindly to referring to Hong Kong as a separate country or entity. Understanding what is appropriate and inappropriate in the cultural and political context is crucial for any business. Any it is ever so easy to make a mistake without a policy that clearly states what appropriate and prohibited content is.

  • Data security policy. Every business is focused on data security. But in times of crisis, and let's face it, coronavirus is a classic definition of one, companies need to boost their security. Hackers and online data thieves welcome confusion and panic, and can always leverage such an event for phishing attacks or a way to ransom a business’ systems. Check your security policy and check it twice. This is not the time to be dealing with a systems breach.
  • Business response and continuity policy. Most of China has been away for a bit, celebrating the Chinese new year. The virus might mean employees will be away for an even more extended period. While it is impossible to shift Wuhan manufacturing to another location quickly, office work, strategizing, and planning need not stop. Of course, that assumes that the business has a response and continuing policy in place, with data in the cloud or a secondary location that is accessible from employee homes or locales outside of China.  
  • Food marketing policy. While the coronavirus is unlikely to be spread via foods exported from China, there are many misperceptions in the general population. For any business dealing with food, but more specifically food imported or related to China, this is a great time to revisit the food marketing policy, coordinate with authorities, and ensure that messaging is on target to protect business interests and communicate correct information.
  • Hosting and content storage policy. An architectural firm client called me last week to say that their business data and critical files are on a local machine in Wuhan, but employees could not get to the computer. The business is simply out of luck for the moment and will have to wait out the coronavirus so that employees can physically come into the office and retrieve the files. More than anything, let that be a good lesson for why hosting and content storage must be considered carefully if your policy hasn't considered this to date (much like disaster recovery and business continuing) this is an excellent time to prioritize a modification.
  • Data (and health data) privacy policy. It is easy to communicate about an employee being sick and out of the office or describe what a customer's child is going through as they are quarantined from the coronavirus. Every business must stay vigilant and mindful of personal data, including health data that is publicly shared. Of course, there are legal considerations for protecting a person's information, including the status of infection with regards to the coronavirus. Still, it can have a significant social, economic, and political impact, not to mention restrictions on possible movement. So boosting awareness and accuracy of data (and health data!) privacy policy is prudent in these precarious times.
  • Advertising policy. I couldn't help but cringe as I watched a popular cruise line advertisement proclaiming exceptional food, historical moments, and superior sights. With more than 7,300 individuals quarantined on cruise ships in Hong Kong, this doesn't seem like the right time to be promoting the cruise, and in fact, could harm your business whether you are a cruise line or any travel-related provider. What does your advertising policy say about promotion during times of crisis? And how can you stay above the fray? I'd love to see the famous cruise line remove its online advertisements and instead come harder at audiences once the coronavirus passes. The organization can only cause negative associations by pushing promotions at this time.
  • Social media policy. I see plenty of social media policies that discuss not disclosing confidential organizational information, always declaring your business association, and not using offensive language. But what about Chinese employees reporting from China about the coronavirus? What if they share information with customers and clients, but the message doesn't align with the Chinese government's interests? A social media policy needs to be authoritative around what employees should and should not do, in some countries, even on their social media accounts. Foregoing such guidance may not only result in severe consequences for the individual, but also the business. If your social media policy doesn't address real-life examples such as this one, learn and adapt before your business is in hot water.

How many is enough?

You may not need all of the policies I just listed. In some instances, you may need more. Some organizations will only need a few. But neither you nor I will know for sure until we take a look at the risks your business faces in light of the coronavirus and addresses how to operate in this new world paradigm. Authorities say that things could get back to normal in a few weeks or a month. But then again, we might see more of these types of viruses, more often, forming in different countries. And because we live in a highly connected world, only one thing is for sure: having sound digital policies will ensure you can continue operating no matter what virus is next.

Photo by CDC

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