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This year's flu season is hitting the U.S. harder than normal. All those coughs and sneezes could put the brakes on your company's productivity. According to the Center for the Disease Control (CDC), up to 20 percent of Americans contract the flu virus each year, and it's likely to be more this season.
Failure to prepare your company for the flu season can result in missed deadlines and lost opportunities. Nim Traeger, vice president of casualty services risk control at Travelers Insurance, says crafting a contingency plan to deal with the flu is the best way to minimize the impact of illness on your company’s bottom line. Here are her suggestions:
1. Evaluate employee roles. "Managing the human resource element of a contingency plan is critical [in preparing your company for dealing with the flu]," says Traeger. Examine your critical operations and the individuals who perform them and discuss how to build contingencies around how these tasks could get done in the event that someone is away sick.
2. Host a flu awareness campaign. According to the CDC, flu viruses spread in respiratory droplets through person-to-person contact. Viruses can be spread one day before symptoms develop and up to seven days after becoming infected, meaning you can pass the flu to someone even before you know you're sick. Make sure all employees are educated on how to avoid spreading the flu.
"Remind [employees] to have proper coughing etiquette," says Traeger. Coughing or sneezing into your arm or sleeve will significantly reduce the spread of viral droplets. Encourage employees to wash their hands regularly with soap and water or use an alcohol-based hand gel. "The flu virus can survive on surfaces for several hours, so it's important to take precautions and keep common areas clean," says Traeger. If you haven’t received a flu shot, it’s still not too late. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the influenza virus. And make a plan for next year to ensure all employees have access to the flu shot pre-flu season, generally starting in October.
3. Use technology to minimize gatherings. Encourage employees to keep germs at home. Audio and video conferencing is a great way to conduct business without physical contact. Closed conference rooms can be a breeding ground for germs, especially if one or two employees are already infected. Provide options for sick employees to contribute from home. "Being able to work remotely is a contingency plan benefit that goes past the flu season," says Traeger. Giving employees the option to work from home when their children are sick or on holidays can help ensure employees take less time off from work.
4. Test your satellite office system. Ensure employees have the equipment they need to work off-site and do a test run to make sure all systems function. Pick a date and send half your staff home to test your company's remote capabilities. Make sure everyone can access the network remotely and make note of any problems you encounter so you can make adjustments before you really need it. "The important thing about contingency planning for any kind of adverse situation whether it be flu season or something else is that it really be specific and customized." says Traeger. The only way to know the system that will work best for your company is to try it out first.