Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?

While coronavirus (COVID-19) is disrupting the workplaces of many in various countries, it is imperative that the United States takes as many precautions as possible. Many workplaces have emergency plans into fruition for storms and unforeseen weather, but are there plans in place for a virus that is spreading quickly? Read this blog post to learn more.


This coronavirus (or COVID-19) has taken a more serious turn in the U.S. with warnings that it could very well impact how, when and where we work:

"Disruption to everyday life may be severe," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC's National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, cautioned at a news conference. "Schools could be closed, mass public gatherings suspended, and businesses forced to have employees work remotely."

The global spread of the virus may be a moment that reveals whether employers are ready to respond rapidly to unexpected workplace changes. Business travel could decrease or come to a full stop. More employees may need to work outside of local "business hours" and use video conferencing to operate across time zones. And, if it gets bad enough, many could indeed be asked, or request, to work remotely.

Are organizations ready? Chances are probably not. But even for those open to rethinking how the work would get done, are they ready for the inevitable post-crisis question: "Why don't we do this all the time?"

How do you prepare your organization to not only flexibly respond to this potential disruption, but also to use it as an opportunity to reimagine work broadly? Here are five steps to get started:

Acknowledge the possibility that all or part of your workforce may need to work remotely.

Hoping and praying it doesn't happen, or simply ignoring it, is not a strategy. Neither is handing everyone a laptop and saying "Go work someplace else" on the day they expand wide-scale quarantines. Plan as if the only way to remain operational will be for as many employees as possible to work remotely. Gather a cross-functional team together now that includes business-line leaders, IT, HR, communications and facilities to start to plan for different scenarios and optimize execution, should circumstances require a rapid response.

Map out jobs and tasks that could be affected.

Note which roles and duties: 1) Can be done, even partially, without a physical presence in the workplace, 2) Cannot be done, even somewhat, outside of the physical office, and 3) Not sure.

Challenge any potentially inaccurate default assumptions about specific jobs you may have thought couldn't be done remotely. And for those in the "not sure" column, be willing to experiment. For example, for years, I've been told, "Administrative assistants can't work flexibly." And, for years, I've worked with teams of administrative assistants to prove that is not true. Yes, certain tasks they complete require physical presence, but those can be planned for. The majority of their tasks can happen effectively outside of the traditional model of work and benefit the business.

Audit available IT hardware and software, and close any gaps in access and adoption.

Assess the comfort level with specific applications, such as video conferencing and other collaboration/communication platforms. Where you find gaps, provide training and opportunities for practice before people need to use them. Real-time mastery is not optimal and is inefficient. Identify devices owned by the organization that people could use and clarify acceptable "bring your own" phone and laptop options. Determine if there are any data-security issues to consider and how best to address them beforehand.

Set up a communications protocol in advance.

This communications plan needs to outline: how to reach everybody (e.g., all contact information in one place, primary communication channels clarified — email, IM, Slack, etc.); how employees are expected to respond to customers; and how and when teams will coordinate and meet.

Identify ways to measure performance that could inform broader change.

After the flexible response period is over, this data will allow you to reflect on what worked, what didn't and why. The data will also prepare you in advance to answer the inevitable question once the crisis has passed, "Why don't we do this all the time?" Depending upon the outcomes, you may decide to continue certain aspects of the flexible response permanently. For example, perhaps you cut business travel by 25% and substitute video conferencing. You determine afterward that about 80% of those meetings were equally as effective virtually. Therefore, a 20% decrease in business travel will continue, but this time as part of the organization's sustainability strategy to cut carbon emissions.

Global health emergencies, like COVID-19, are scary, disruptive and confusing for everyone. And if you plan and nothing happens? Then, at minimum, you have an organized, flexible work disaster response ready the next time there's a challenge to operational continuity, which chances are, there will be.

SOURCE: Williams Yost, C. (10 March 2020) "Viewpoint: What’s Your Company’s Emergency Remote-Work Plan?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/employee-relations/pages/viewpoint-whats-your-companys-emergency-remote-work-plan.aspx


Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources

Mental health is a sensitive topic for those who are affected by it, but as businesses begin to close due to COVID-19, certain behaviors and uncertainty has led to an increased amount of anxiety. During this time, mental health is being challenged with balancing the stress of the COVID-19 outbreak and daily lives. Read this blog post to learn more.


Managing mental health in and outside of the office is a challenge for more than half of Americans, but the added stressors of coronavirus are pushing many people to reach out for help.

As attempts are made to quell the spread of COVID-19, companies have mandated employees work remotely and have cancelled conferences, gatherings and other non-essential travel. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended implementing “social distancing,” which involves minimizing exposure by avoiding large crowds, working remotely if possible, and practicing personal hygiene like washing your hands frequently.

“Obviously it’s a stressful time, and we’re seeing significant increases in sessions for therapy and psychiatry,” says Russ Glass, CEO of Ginger, a virtual mental health support platform. “The disruption in behavior and the uncertainty has led to a lot of anxiety.”

The increasing severity of the pandemic has many people on edge. The World Health Organization released guidance for dealing with stress and anxiety associated with coronavirus. Among their recommendations: avoid watching the news and implement plans to feel prepared and safe.

“Avoid watching, reading or listening to news that can cause you to feel anxious or distressed — the sudden and near-constant stream of news reports about an outbreak can cause anyone to feel worried,” the WHO guidelines say.

But for those with mental health issues, balancing the demands of work with this new reality can add additional stress and make work challenging.

“When people are experiencing fear, they try to exert control in whatever situation they can, but the results are often destructive,” says Ken Zuckerberg, vice president of training at ComPsych, a global EAP provider. “Employees are not performing their best if they’re dealing with feelings of isolation, or fears of being quarantined.”

Eighteen percent of Americans struggle with mental illness, and 61% of employees report their mental health affects their work, according to the CDC. Even in times when external stressors are not as prevalent, these issues lead to productivity loss and absenteeism in the workplace.

“People at work who are dealing with behavioral health issues self-report 20% or greater productivity loss and also develop other chronic health conditions,” Glass says. “Employees are coming to their employer and saying, ‘I need help but our current insurance plan or current EAPs aren't providing the right level of access. I can't get care.’”

Now more than ever, employers need to provide resources that address these mental health issues, Glass says.

“Companies have to be thinking about both physical and mental health and recognize that this is a very stressful time for their employees,” says Glass, whose mental health platform, Ginger, connects users with behavioral health coaches for chat and video-based sessions. Users can seek help from therapists and psychiatrists through the platform. Glass says they’ve reported an 16% increase in session volume and a 10% increase in their daily users in the past two weeks.

For those struggling with anxiety or feelings of isolation because of coronavirus, WHO recommends people maintain their daily routines and reach out for support and connection.

“Even in situations of isolation, try as much as possible to keep your personal daily routines. Stay connected via email, social media, video conference and telephone,” the guidelines say.

Ensuring the mental well-being of all employees, especially in high-stress times, involves providing communication and access to help, Glass says.

“Putting resources in place or communicating the resources you already have in place can be helpful to your employees,” Glass says. “If you're feeling anxious, it’s a good time to reach out to family members or friends or your behavioral health coach and talk through it. Have some outlets to discuss this in a way that's not just social media.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (13 March 2020) "Coronavirus pandemic puts the spotlight on mental health resources" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/coronavirus-pandemic-puts-the-spotlight-on-mental-health-resources


Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding

Employers are continuously looking out for the safety of their employees and customers. With the spread of COVID-19 becoming faster and more relevant, employers are putting in effect their emergency plans to continue providing safety measures for both employees and customers. Continue Reading this blog post to learn more.


Companies are scrambling to respond as the coronavirus, which causes the respiratory illness COVID-19, spreads around the world. During a Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) webcast March 10, an official with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention asked employers to do all they can to slow the coronavirus.

SHRM Online has collected the following news reports that reflect the different ways in which organizations are reacting to protect their employees and their businesses.

Emergency Leave

Walmart to Allow Any Worker Concerned about Coronavirus to Stay Home 'Without Penalty'
Walmart is enacting an emergency leave policy for its 1.4 million hourly US workers that allows them to take time off without penalty if they fear the spread of a new virus. The nation's largest private employer said Tuesday that a worker at its store in Cynthiana, Ken., tested positive for the COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus.
(New York Post)

Colorado Will Require Paid Sick Leave for Certain Workers in Response to Coronavirus
The state of Colorado will soon require employers to offer paid sick days to hundreds of thousands of service and hospitality workers in response to the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Gov. Jared Polis announced the new policy on Tuesday morning as he declared a state of emergency.
(Colorado Public Radio)

Employee Relief Fund

Amazon Launches $25 Million Relief Fund for Delivery Drivers, Seasonal Employees Amid Coronavirus Outbreak
Amazon is launching a $25 million relief fund for delivery drivers and seasonal workers amid the coronavirus outbreak, it announced March 11.  The aim is to help employees "that are under financial distress during this challenging time," the company said. This includes Amazon Flex drivers and its network of delivery service partners, who handle last-mile package deliveries, as well as seasonal employees, who help the company manage variation in customer demand during peak periods and holidays. Amazon will allow these employees to apply for grants that are equal to up to two weeks of pay if they're diagnosed with the novel coronavirus, or COVID-19.

(CNBC)

Coronavirus Testing

NYC's Hotel Workers Union to Offer Members Coronavirus Testing
The health insurance plan run by the city's powerful hotel workers union will soon offer more than 90,000 people tests for the coronavirus. About 40,000 workers and 50,000 of their relatives and union retirees are covered by the plan run by the New York Hotel Trades Council.
(New York Daily News)

Closures and Quarantines

Starbucks Closed a Seattle Store after 1st Case of Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Starbucks temporarily closed a Reserve store location in downtown Seattle after an employee was diagnosed with COVID-19 and was quarantined March 6. This is the first case of coronavirus contracted by a Starbucks in-store employee. The company immediately closed the affected store, initiated a deep-clean procedure and sent home employees that had direct contact with the infected partner.
(Nation's Restaurant News)

'No-Contact' Food Delivery Offered

Gig Economy Companies from Uber to Lyft Take Action as Coronavirus Cases Grow
Uber and Lyft are planning to compensate drivers affected by the coronavirus for up to 14 days. Postmates and Instacart have unveiled "no-contact" food delivery. DoorDash is letting customers leave in-app instructions if they prefer orders left at the door. Amazon Flex, which taps independent contractors to make deliveries, doesn't have a policy to compensate drivers and is instead supporting on an "individual, case-by-case basis."
(CNBC)

Teleworking Promoted, Office Visits Restricted

Twitter Tells Employees to Work from Home as Tech Firms React to Coronavirus
Twitter on March 2 became the first major U.S. corporation to strongly encourage its employees to work from home to avoid spreading coronavirus.
(Los Angeles Times)

How IBM, Goldman Sachs, PwC and Others Are Responding to the Coronavirus Threat
IBM, which nearly three years ago ended remote work for some U.S. employees, said Feb. 27 it had asked workers in coronavirus-affected areas to work from home "wherever possible." The guidance was issued for IBM workers in China, Japan, South Korea and Italy. The company also restricted travel to some locations and canceled its in-person participation in the RSA Conference on cybersecurity in San Francisco.
(Washington Post)

Google Tells More than 100,000 North American Employees to Stay Home
Google is telling all of its North American employees to stay home until at least April 10, as the COVID-19 coronavirus spreads, CNBC reported March 10. On March 9, CNBC reported that the company blocked all external visitors from coming into some of its offices, including New York and the San Francisco Bay Area where its Silicon Valley headquarters are located.
(CNBC)

UBS Divvying Up Teams in Switzerland, Having Them Switch Off Teleworking
UBS, the Swiss bank headquartered in Zurich, has begun implementing a split-operations policy in Switzerland this week as part of its coronavirus response. The firm has already implemented a similar policy for its employees across the Asia Pacific region.
(News of the Day)

Cuomo Asks NY Businesses to Split Employee Shifts to Prevent Coronavirus Spread
The State of New York will ask businesses to consider having employees work two shifts and allowing telework, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a CNN interview.
(New York Post)

Domestic and Global Travel Restricted

Ford Bans Employee Travel on Coronavirus Fears
Ford Motor Company told employees March 3 that it is banning all non-essential air travel until at least March 27 because of concerns about the novel coronavirus. Ford had been restricting travel to and from China but has now extended the ban to all flights, both international and within the United States, out of concern for employees' health and safety. There may be exceptions, a Ford spokesperson said, but they will probably be rare.
(The Motley Fool)

Coronavirus Cancellations, Travel Bans
Google on March 3 called off its flagship developers conference, called I/O, which was scheduled for May in Mountain View, Calif. Last year, the three-day event drew 7,000 attendees. The company said it would look for ways to "evolve" the event, raising the possibility of livestreamed or remote sessions. Several other companies and organizations, including the World Bank and the IMF, said they would replace in-person gatherings and meetings with virtual ones.
(NPR)

Coronavirus Conference Gets Canceled Because of Coronavirus
The Council on Foreign Relations canceled a roundtable called "Doing Business Under Coronavirus" scheduled for Friday in New York due to the spread of the infection itself. CFR has also canceled other in-person conferences that were scheduled from March 11 to April 3.
(Bloomberg)

Airlines Cut More Flights, Execs Take Pay Cuts as Coronavirus Takes Toll on Flying
United CEO Oscar Munoz and president Scott Kirby will forgo their base salaries through at least June 30. United also said it was postponing "non-critical" projects requiring capital expenditures, got a $2 billion loan from a group of banks and expects to incur a first-quarter loss. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly said Monday in a message to employees that he would take a 10 percent pay cut and Delta said it is instituting a hiring freeze, taking some planes out of service and retiring older aircraft.
(Herald & Review)

Work Areas Disinfected

How Dallas-Area Restaurants Are Prepping Their Kitchens and Dining Rooms for Coronavirus
Extra hand sanitizer is only part of the effort. Some say food delivery is the next big answer. At one eatery, crews have started sanitizing credit-card pin pads, surface areas and both sides of all door handles more regularly. Like many restaurants, it has put out more hand-sanitizing dispensers and ordered touchless hand sanitizer dispensers to replace manual ones.
(The Dallas Morning News)

Nike Closed Its Worldwide HQ in Oregon for Deep-Cleaning after 1st U.S. Coronavirus Death
Nike announced March 1 it temporarily closed its corporate headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., in order to deep clean the campus following the first US death from COVID-19 the day prior. "While we have no information indicating any exposure to Nike employees, out of an abundance of caution, we are conducting a deep cleaning of campus," a Nike spokesperson told KGW, the Portland, Ore., NBC-affiliated station. "All WHQ buildings and facilities, including fitness centers, will be closed over the weekend."
(Business Insider)

Facebook Shuts London, Singapore Offices for 'Deep Cleaning' After Employee Diagnosed with Coronavirus
Facebook said March 6 it was shutting its London office and part of its Singapore base for "deep cleaning" after an employee in the Asian city state was diagnosed with coronavirus.
(The Economic Times)

SOURCE: Gurchiek, K. (12 March 2020) "Coronavirus: How Employers Around the Globe Are Responding" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/hr-today/news/hr-news/Pages/Coronavirus-How-Employers-Around-the-Globe-Are-Responding.aspx


School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents

While COVID-19 is affecting travel plans and workplaces, it's beginning to have school districts close down to reduce the spread of any germs to children. Although keeping the safety of children a priority, working parents are being faced with challenging situations regarding the care of their children while they are at work. Read this blog post to learn more.


Last weekend, Jannell Nolan woke up to dozens of texts: Elk Grove Unified School District had announced its decision to close all of its 67 Sacramento County schools in California for the next week after a student tested positive for coronavirus.

That sent all four of her kids — two elementary schoolers, a middle schooler and a high schooler — home for the foreseeable future and left her doing full-time childcare. Nolan works for the district, so she's staying home while her husband is working at a nearby Costco Wholesale.

“My kids have playdates planned for the rest of the week,” she said. “I’m not going to keep them locked up all week, I’ll lose my mind.”

It's not ideal, but at least the family has one parent who won’t have to negotiate work and childcare schedules.

In the U.S., having a stay-at-home parent is a luxury that’s proving even more beneficial as schools shutdown and offices send employees home. A majority of American mothers with children younger than 18 are employed and in more than 60% of married couples, both parents work, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. With relatively little parental leave, fewer sick days and rigid schedules, working parents in the U.S. have a lot to juggle even when school is in session and everyone is healthy.

Coronavirus is adding new complications for that already stretched-thin demographic. Parents are scrambling to find childcare or figuring out how to be productive at home with kids around. Others are making tough choices between a paycheck and their families’ needs. Anxieties are even creeping up in places where the virus has not yet disrupted daily life.

“People are more stressed around the logistics than the actual disease,” said Elizabeth Gulliver, a mother of one and co-founder of Kunik, a membership-based community for working parents.

Alexa Mareschal, a Salt Lake City-based attorney, said she has “no idea” what she and her husband, who also has a full time job renovating homes, would do if her kids’ daycare is closed because of the virus. She finds it nearly impossible to be productive when working at home with her toddlers. “It’s kind of like trying to wrangle cats,” she said.

If widespread childcare and school closures come to Utah, Mareschal said she and her colleagues have discussed setting up a makeshift daycare for everyone’s kids, where the oldest ones would watch the younger ones. Other than that, she has no plan. “I’ll fly in my mom, I guess?” she said.

Like Mareschal, many working parents not yet affected by school or office closures are worrying about the feasibility of family quarantines. “The idea of being cooped up in my house trying to work with my kids running around for two weeks is not making me happy,” said Rachel Cherkis, a marketing manager for EY and mother of two, who already works remotely in the Miami area full-time. “There’s definitely not enough sound-proofing in my house.”

Brooklyn-based lawyer Colleen Carey Gulliver and her banker husband have started having conversations about what they’ll do if their three-year-old’s school closes. They may have to alternate days off work to watch their toddler. In the case that they both end up quarantined at home, she “might have to rely on TV more than you would like to get some actual time alone.”

In a way, these anxieties are for the privileged: Only 29% of the American workforce can do their jobs from home. To quarantine, most workers would have to take time off and many would forgo pay. Mendy Hughes, a single mother of four, has been working at a Walmart in Malvern, Arkansas, for the past decade and now makes a little more than $11 an hour. Not only is the 45-year-old cashier concerned about getting sick with the virus herself, she’s worried about what she’ll have to do if her kids, the youngest of whom is 10, had to stay home from school.

“I don’t know what I would do if they had to be on extended leave,” said Hughes, who is also a member of the Walmart watchdog organization United for Respect. “I’m a single parent so I really can’t afford to miss work.”

The U.S. is one of the only industrialized countries without federal paid sick leave. In light of the pandemic, President Donald Trump is expected to sign an order that would give some to hourly workers. Walmart this week also tweaked its own policy and now offers up to two weeks pay to employees who contract the virus or those who have to quarantine. These programs don’t necessarily cover the illness of a child or school closures.

No matter the situation, much of the care-taking and household burdens would likely fall to women, further exacerbating gender inequality. A 2017 survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that working mothers are more likely to take care of sick kids than working fathers. Among mothers surveyed, about 40% said they’re the ones who take care of a sick child, compared to 10% of fathers surveyed. Women with young children also do twice as much childcare as men, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. They also do more cooking, cleaning, and laundry. This all contributes to the so-called “motherhood penalty,” which accounts for the bulk of the gender pay gap.

There may, however, be long-term benefits to this experiment, Gulliver, the Kunik co-founder said. She’s hopeful that this experience will change some of the harmful stereotypes around working parents that tend to hurt women.

“If you were not visibly pregnant at the office for all nine months of your pregnancy, a lot of people don’t even know that you’re a parent,” Gulliver said, explaining that’s the case for fathers, adoptive parents and step parents, among others. “Being forced to work from home and having kids pop up in the back of screens is going to show that you don’t necessarily need to hide that you have a kid.” This visibility could push employers to support the needs of employees with children.

Still employers can’t fix everything. Marketing manager Cherkis, who already telecommutes full time, said that despite the fact that her husband is the stay-at-home parent to their two kids, some things still fall to her.

“At the end of the day I’m mom, and sick kids want to be with mom,” Cherkis said. “That’s the truth of it."

SOURCE: Bloomberg News. (13 March 2020) "School and office closures are a logistical nightmare for working parents" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/articles/school-and-office-closures-are-a-logistical-nightmare-for-working-parents


Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel

With the Coronavirus being a major discussion for all travelers, many businesses are canceling meetings and events that require traveling. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about how the Coronavirus is impacting business travel.


To go or not to go: As the coronavirus spreads, more and more companies are opting to cancel long-planned conferences and tours, ditching all but the most essential business travel, and even warning employees to rethink their vacation plans or be prepared for an at-home quarantine.

Nestle made news last week when it announced plans to halt all international travel and limit domestic trips, but it was one of many companies to do so. A survey of member companies by the Global Business Travel Association, released Feb. 27, found that 65 percent of the 401 respondents had already cancelled at least a few meetings or events. More than half had nixed international travel to places beyond China, including some European countries. To keep a handle on the rapidly evolving situation, 43 percent of respondents had instituted new trip approval procedures.

"I think the major takeaway is that safety is the main concern for all travelers," said association spokesperson Meghan Henning. "Once companies feel that the virus has been contained, we are confident that travelers will be back on the road."

So far, though, the virus is not contained, and employers are scrambling to keep up. On Feb. 4, National Symphony Orchestra Executive Director Gary Ginstling announced the cancellation of performances in China for an upcoming Asia tour, but he said he was confident the Japan leg would be unaffected. "We'll be there for eight or nine days," he assured the public and NSO musicians. However, only a couple weeks later, on Feb. 28, the Japan tour was eliminated as well.

Should They Stay or Go?

The difference between a reasonable response and overreaction seems to change hourly. How can employers ensure they are making responsible decisions? Management specialists recommend the following:

  • Frequently check travel advisories from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
  • Update internal travel approval procedures to make sure managers know where all employees are traveling.
  • Communicate clearly with employees about travel decisions and listen to any concerns they might have.
  • Be prepared to be flexible.

Employers are obligated under the Occupational Safety and Health Act to provide a workplace free of known safety and health hazards, and workers have a right to refuse work that they consider to be dangerous under certain circumstances. That could include travel to destinations at risk for the coronavirus.

Beyond that, companies would do well to err on the side of caution, said David Michaels, a professor of public health at George Washington University and assistant secretary of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for seven years during the Obama administration.

"Every employer has to consider whether or not the risk [of travel] is warranted—not just the destination but the plane trip itself," Michaels said. "It's a moving target right now. If you can avoid [having employees travel] as much as possible, you're going to be better off because when you minimize employee exposure, you improve your ability to function in the long run."

Courtney Harrison, chief human resources officer for San Francisco-based tech company OneLogin, said employee travel decisions are being made there individually, after consulting the CDC and WHO websites. "We are not mandating any restrictions at this point," she said. "We will work on a case-by-case basis with each employee to assess the safest path for that person."

Harrison said one challenge is ensuring the safety of colleagues and customers when an employee returns from a virus-prone area, whether for work or vacation. "[Our policy requires that], when an employee returns from an at-risk geography, they self-quarantine themselves for at least 14 days and they stay in close contact with HR," Harrison said. She noted that the company, which is in the business of providing secure login platforms, is well-positioned for remote work. "It might be the right time to reframe this challenge and use it as an opportunity to learn and practice a new way of working."

When Travel Is Part of the Job

For some, of course, travel is an integral and unavoidable part of the job. Take, for example, flight attendants, who not only travel globally but also interact with passengers along the way. The Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the union that represents attendants at 20 airlines, has been posting the latest CDC alerts to its website and pushing airlines to provide greater protections and even curtail some flights. "AFA leaders at each airline are working directly with airline management through our contracts and other means to mitigate the impact," the union announced on its website.

The Allied Pilots Association also has been actively monitoring the coronavirus response. In late January, the union filed suit against American Airlines to stop all flights to China and encouraged pilots to refuse to fly there. The following day, American, which had already curtailed some flights to China, announced that all were canceled.

As employers scramble to get ahead of the fast-changing travel landscape, they must also consider when travel bans should end. At this point, that's one of many unanswered questions. The WHO website cautions against indefinite travel bans, saying they "may only be justified at the beginning of an outbreak, as they may allow countries to gain time, even if only a few days, to rapidly implement effective preparedness measures. Such restrictions must be based on a careful risk assessment, be proportionate to the public health risk, be short in duration, and be reconsidered regularly as the situation evolves."

Until then, monitoring public information sites and communicating with employees are key. "Our industry's first priority is the health and safety of the business traveler," said Scott Solombrino, executive director of the Global Business Travel Association, "and our members are being appropriately cautious and proactive in their approach to the situation."

SOURCE: Cleeland, N. (03 March 2020) "Coronavirus Impacts Business Travel" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Coronavirus-Grounds-Business-Travel.aspx


Tips for Making Your Workplace More Sustainable

Companies are continuously looking into ways to become a more sustainable workplace, which includes buying in bulk, reducing paper, and recycling. Read this blog post to learn helpful tips for becoming more eco-friendly in the workplace.


Employees at CareerPlug, a software company in Austin, Texas, loved their Keurig coffee. In fact, the 60 employees used around 300 of the brand's disposable K-Cups each month.

However, one employee on the company's sustainability committee was bothered by the amount of waste this practice was generating. Instead of trying to eliminate the coffee system, however, she proposed a solution: The company could save money and help the environment by investing in reusable K-Cups.

CareerPlug implemented her idea and, according to Natalie Morgan, director of HR, the company has reduced its monthly coffee budget from $126 to $42.

"Not only did we eliminate 300 K-Cups per month," she said, "we reduced costs by 67 percent."

At a time when climate change is dominating headlines, companies around the world are evaluating how they can put more sustainable practices into place.

"As hubs in our communities, workplaces represent a large footprint to create an impact within our broader society," said Anne Robinson, chief talent officer at VillageMD, a professional medical practice in Chicago. "Driving action against eliminating waste and reducing our carbon footprint are such critical elements to ensuring generations to come are able to enjoy and benefit from the environment that we know today."

To help make your office more environmentally friendly and do your part to protect the planet, here are some easy habits to put into practice.

Recycle, Reuse Paper or Go Paperless

Think about all the times you use paper in the office. You likely print out employee onboarding and performance review forms, the employee handbook, notes for distribution at meetings and notices to hang around the office. Recycle or try reusing paper, suggests Angelique J. Hamilton, founder of the HR Chique Group consulting firm in Jacksonville, Fla.

Also have employees view documents with their teams on shared drives instead of distributing paper copies. "Not everything needs printing out, especially not the documents handed out during meetings, which are glanced at for five minutes," said Nate Masterson, HR manager for Maple Holistics in Farmingdale, N.J. "Use online document-sharing platforms to collaborate and share work in the office."

Digital tools such as Google Drive, Slack, Dropbox, Basecamp and Asana can help employees make the leap from paper-based to digital communication.

Develop a Remote-Work Program

Most Americans—76.5 percent, to be precise—take a car to work every day, according to research by the World Wildlife Fund. Transportation is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions, behind the electricity sector.

One way to cut back on those commuting emissions is to allow employees to work from home at least some of the time, said Tony Bergida, HR director at Frosty Tech, an engineering firm in Overland Park, Kan. "Allow employees to work from home a couple of days a week, which, in addition to reducing the impact of commuting, [also] cuts down on in-office snack packaging, electricity use, trash creation and more."

Consider the Landscaping

When thinking about workplace sustainability, don't forget about your outdoor areas. Hamilton recommends xeriscaping—the practice of using plants that require less water and arranging them in ways that they need less water to thrive.

Many communities, especially those in areas plagued with water shortages, are rewarding companies that decrease water usage in this way through rebate and tax relief programs, such as those offered by the Los Angeles County Waterworks Districts.

Cut Back on Water Bottles

Many cities are now charging retailers that give customers plastic bags, and restaurants are being encouraged to seek alternatives to plastic straws and utensils. But many companies are still providing single-use plastic water bottles to employees.

A more environmentally friendly approach is to buy or rent a water dispenser for the office.

Buy Snacks in Bulk

Providing snacks to employees is a great perk. However, if you want to reduce plastic use and waste, buy in bulk instead.

Morgan said the CareerPlug team "evaluated how we were ordering breakroom snacks and realized we were buying a lot of individually packaged items. We purchased some reusable containers instead and now buy most of our snack items in bulk."

Seek Buy-in

When implementing waste-reduction initiatives, said Robinson at VillageMD, organizational leaders should model the change they want to see. They should publicly invest in and support programs that make a difference, which demonstrates to employees the behaviors they should emulate.

Robinson said her company involved employees from the beginning by creating a task force to plan and implement sustainability goals. "Employees are passionate about this, and they're wanting to do this."

You'll also need to educate employees on waste reduction to ensure they know why changes are taking place. Robinson is creating communication that explains the company's plan for putting different types of trash and recycling bins around the office, what employees can dispose of in each, and how to properly operate new composting equipment.

Becoming a more eco-friendly workplace will not only show employees and job candidates that the company is Earth-friendly but also that it cares about offering a healthy work environment.

"Workplaces are ultimately part of a larger community, and caring about your environmental impact is both healthy for your external reputation and your corporate connection to the individuals in your workplace," Morgan said. "It's also, plainly, the right thing to do to be engaged in this global conversation and take a stance for positive impact."

SOURCE: Lobell, K Ora. (26 February 2020) "Tips for Making Your Workplace More Sustainable" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/employee-relations/Pages/Tips-for-Making-Your-Workplace-More-Sustainable.aspx


What employers need to know to combat coronavirus

As the coronavirus is a trending topic of discussion, it is important for employers to keep their employees safe regarding any illness. Having set protocols and preventative guidelines set in place could keep symptoms from spreading. Continue reading this blog post to learn more about the importance of protocols around this flu season.


The coronavirus is continuing to spread rapidly, spurring employers such as Starbucks and PwC to implement workplace practices that protect their employees and offset growing fear and anxiety over the outbreak.

Since December, over 28,000 cases of coronavirus have been reported, and 565 people have died in China, which is at the epicenter of the outbreak. The disease has currently spread to 28 countries. In the U.S., there have been 293 cases reported and 11 people have tested positive for the virus in five states, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“There is a tension we’re seeing between being cautious and panicky,” says Joseph Deng, an employment law partner at Baker McKenzie law firm. “Companies want to communicate in a way that reassures the employee population while taking reasonable measures to protect employees.”

Employers like Facebook, Starbucks and WeWork, among others, have enacted a variety of preventative measures to handle the spread of the outbreak, including closing office locations in China and asking employees to self-quarantine in their homes for up to three weeks. Companies including accounting giant PwC and LG have placed mandatory travel bans to and from China.

“We are confident that the disease can be contained if everyone — including corporations doing business in China — is prudent and makes the safety of their employees their number one priority,” LG said in a statement.

Because of the changing nature of the pandemic and the speed in which it’s spreading, employers need to have essential protocols in place to protect employees and avoid misinformation. Often, employers feel unprepared but typically already have a blueprint for other disasters, Deng says.

“If you don’t have a pandemic policy, you as an employer will very likely have analogous policies that can be used in this situation,” Deng says. “When planning for this scenario, you need to ask what are the objective facts and what are your options.”

A critical first step to carrying out proper protocol is establishing a senior-level point person who can gather information, communicate across teams and report to upper management to implement the plan if necessary.

“You have to have someone who has the right touch and that can be subjective,” Deng says. “Find a person now who is the most knowledgeable and has the time and resources to gather information, assemble a cross functional team, and has access to a decision-making authority.”

Additionally, workplaces should focus on basic disease prevention measures, like promoting proper hygiene and encouraging workers to stay home if they’re not feeling well.

“If you feel you have symptoms, make prudent decisions. Do not travel or go into the workplace where you could spread the illness,” says Kathleen O’Driscoll, vice president of the Business Group on Health.

Taking these smaller, preventative measures early on will prepare both the employer and the employee in the event more extreme measures need to be taken. A more measured approach will make employees feel confident and protected.

“Think about how you want to be seen by your employees when this is over. You don’t want your employees to say, they didn’t tell me what to do or I had no support,” Deng says. “You’re not just preparing for an emergency. You’re working on how to come out with a better, stronger and more resilient workforce.”

SOURCE: Place, A. (06 February 2020) "What employers need to know to combat coronavirus" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.benefitnews.com/news/what-employers-need-to-know-to-combat-coronavirus


Employers: Make small talk with your remote workers

Working remotely is becoming a trend across many companies, and with that may come a lack of communication between employees and employers. Being intentional with communication strategies is necessary, especially to overcome different challenges that may arise within the working remotely environment. Continue reading this blog post to learn more regarding practices for managing and communicating with remote workers.


Technology makes it easier than ever to work from home, but it’s not the most important ingredient for managing a productive remote workforce.

While full-time remote work is still uncommon, employers are using the benefit to help their workforce achieve better work-life balance. Last year, 69% of employers allowed employees to work from home as needed, according to the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2019 Benefits Survey. And 42% of employers agree to let workers do it part-time, or select days of the workweek. As this perk continues to trend, it’s crucial for employers to adopt a strategy for managing people they don’t see every day.

“As a manager, people skills are crucial when your team isn’t working in the same space,” says Melissa Marcello, associate vice president at Champlain College Online — a Vermont-based employer with a large remote workforce. “When you’re relying on technology to get the work done, you really need to be intentional about your communication strategy to be successful.”

Marcello spoke with Employee Benefit News about best practices for managing remote workers.

What are some of the challenges of having a remote workforce?

While working from home gives employees the flexibility to live wherever they want and maintain better work-life balance, it can be challenging for managers to monitor everyone. Communication has to be more proactive when you can’t walk over to someone’s desk to talk about a project. Teams also need to be more organized and set clear deadlines when team members are working in different time zones.

What strategies do employers need to manage a remote workforce?

Good management skills need to be even more pronounced when you’re managing a team scattered all over the country. Managers need to have a clear vision and set clear goals to make sure everyone on the team is successful. They also need to put effort into developing relationships with individual team members and the group.

How do managers foster relationships with remote workers?

By checking in with them regularly, whether it’s by instant messaging, video conferencing or phone calls. And don’t just talk about work; ask them about what’s going on in their personal lives and about their interests. Send them funny videos over instant messaging. None of these things are wasting time. It’s what you’d do if you saw them every day in an office setting. These are the little things that build strong teams.

What tools do you need to successfully incorporate remote workers?

You need to have a space where everyone can participate in projects even when you’re not all together at the same place, or time zone, working on something. There are many digital platforms that accomplish this; our organization has been successful using G Suite.

It’s one thing to have the tools. It’s another thing to set expectations on how we use those tools and when to provide feedback. A good manager is able to harness digital tools and set the norms for a team, even if they’re in different locations.

How can remote employees ensure they remain productive?

Creating a sacred, designated work space in the home is really helpful. Claim a room in the house where you can shut the door and be dedicated to work, so everyone in the house knows you need to focus. If that’s not an option, coworking spaces are becoming increasingly popular — and you don’t have to worry about keeping your personal life and work separate.

SOURCE: Webster, K. (10 February 2020) "Employers: Make small talk with your remote workers" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.employeebenefitadviser.com/news/employers-communicate-with-your-remote-workers


corporate meeting

Top Challenges for Managers in 2020

Technology and rising trends are creating new challenges for managers to handle. Different situations regarding employees from Generation Z and gig workers, mental health and vaping are creating new ways for managers to interact with employees. Read this blog post to learn more regarding how managers are facing these trials.


Managers in 2020 will face some new challenges, many having to do with their youngest workers. Among those challenges: leading employees from Generation Z and gig workers, addressing mental health issues and helping vapers kick the habit.

Understanding Generation Z

Generation Z workers—generally, those born in 1995 or later—should be on every manager's radar. "Within the next two or three years, they will become the fastest-growing percent of the workforce," said Jason Dorsey, a Generation Z researcher and co-founder of the Center for Generational Kinetics, a research and solutions company in Austin, Texas.

"They don't remember a time before smartphones or social media," he said. They live on their phones, not their laptops, and that's the way they want to communicate—on and off the job. "Gen Z expects to go through the entire application process on a mobile device."

Dorsey said managers often tell him that they don't remember young adults asking about retirement plans, but today's young workers do. "It's the aftershock of the Great Recession, when they saw their parents struggle," Dorsey said.

And Generation Z considers flexible scheduling to be a given, not a perk, Dorsey said. He advises managers who want to attract and retain young workers to offer not only flexible schedules but also flexibility on a start date and the ability to work remotely.

Finally, employees from Generation Z want to have access to their pay beyond the typical twice-a-month paycheck. Platforms such as Instant Financial, which allows workers to access a portion of their pay after every work shift, are appealing, Dorsey said.

Holding on to Generation Z employees may take some coaxing, said Cheryl Cran, founder of NextMapping, a future-of-work consultancy headquartered in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. "They are far more entrepreneurial than any other generation," she said, noting that many are gig workers by choice because they value their freedom. Hence, she said, "managers need to think about how to give them freedom" in a traditional job, whether that means offering remote work, flexible scheduling or another solution.

Understanding Gig-Worker Laws

An estimated 15 million adults in the U.S. have alternative work arrangements, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, concerns about whether employers should classify these workers as employees has spurred states to propose task forces or legislation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Congress, meanwhile, is assessing H.R. 2474, Protecting the Right to Organize Act of 2019. The aim of these efforts is universal: to stop the exploitation of nonemployee workers.

But that goal can misfire, contend some gig workers who are worried about losing their livelihood. California's AB 5, which took effect Jan. 1 and requires businesses to reclassify many independent contractors as employees, has already triggered controversy, including lawsuits challenging it on constitutional and other grounds and pushback from independent journalists, photographers, interpreters, musicians, truckers and others the law doesn't exempt.

Many of these independent workers tend to be young adults who value the flexibility that comes with freelancing. But that flexibility can make traditional employees at the same company resentful. Inspiring teamwork will be no small task, said Alec Levenson, Ph.D., senior research scientist at the USC Marshall Center for Effective Organizations.

"We are at the tipping point of employers hiring people from all different [work] arrangements," he said. "There is not enough focus on productivity, how to get people to work together as a team."

Destigmatizing Mental Health Issues

Mental health disorders, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are among the most burdensome health concerns in the workplace. Nearly 1 in 5 adults reported having some type of mental illness in 2017; stress symptoms, such as headaches or feeling overwhelmed or anxious, are also common.

Adults from Generation Z report the highest stress levels, according to the American Psychological Association's 2019 Stress in America survey. On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being the highest level of stress, Generation Z reported an overall stress level of 5.8. Generation X averaged 5.5, Millennials 5.4 and Baby Boomers 4.2.

In a tight labor market, where there is stiff competition for talent, managers who show concern about their workers' mental health will stand out to applicants and existing employees, said LuAnn Heinen, vice president for well-being and productivity for the National Business Group on Health (NBGH), a nonprofit headquartered in Washington, D.C., that represents large employers' perspectives on health policy.

In a 2019 NBGH survey, 43 percent of managers said they had a formal mental health strategy in place, including strategies to address depression, anxiety and stress; opioid and other substance abuse; sleep disorders; and workplace bullying.

The managers said the most important components of those strategies are making employees aware of the importance of mental health; hosting mental health awareness events; and training managers on what mental health is, how to recognize trouble signs and how to refer workers to mental health resources.

Even the best mental health programs won't succeed, however, if people don't feel comfortable accessing them, Heinen pointed out. Managers who need help talking with workers about mental health issues can turn to programs such as MakeItOK.org.

Helping Vapers Quit

As of Jan. 7, 2020, a lung illness tied to vaping nicotine or products containing tetrahydrocannabinol, the chemical in marijuana responsible for the high, had resulted in 2,668 hospitalizations and 60 deaths. Employees who vape—many of them young adults—may need help to end their habit.

Programs to help people quit need to be tailored to the generation of workers you're targeting and that cohort's preferred communication style, Heinen said.

Truth Initiative, a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., devoted to eliminating tobacco use, has fine-tuned its decade-old digital tobacco-cessation platform developed with the Mayo Clinic. "We launched a program specifically to address the needs of vapers," said Amanda Graham, Ph.D., chief of innovations for Truth Initiative. The quit-vaping program uses text messages, preferred by many younger adults, and includes instant message support if users feel they are slipping.

SOURCE: Doheny, K. (06 February 2020) "Top Challenges for Managers in 2020" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.shrm.org/ResourcesAndTools/hr-topics/people-managers/Pages/Top-Challenges-for-Managers-in-2020.aspx


What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?

What will 2020 have in store of workplace wellness? Currently, all indicators are pointing toward a rapid evolution of the workplace wellness industry. Read this blog post to learn more about what wellness will look like in 2020.


As we look toward 2020, all indicators point towards a rapid evolution of the U.S. workplace wellness industry characterized by innovative solutions for managing health care costs that serve the increasing need for proactive ownership of well-being. However, are advances in related disciplines being leveraged optimally, cohesively and creatively to provide for maximum benefit to both the employee and employer?

The corporate model of wellness programs ranges from education programs, to a more evolved model of on-site fitness facilities, incentive programs and HR driven wellness initiatives as part of an overall health and benefits offering. The 2014 SHRM Survey of Strategic Benefits - Wellness Initiatives shows that 76 percent of all surveyed companies had some form of wellness programs/resources. Among those companies two-thirds offered some form of incentive or reward program.

The results of these types of programs have already demonstrated the positive impact of a collaborative responsibility partnership between employer and employee in implementing a wellness approach and the reduction of medical costs.

Several key performance indicators have been used for evaluation, including reductions in monthly medical cost spend, hospital admissions and employee absenteeism. According to SHRM, of the 30 percent who conducted a cost analysis of their wellness programs, 93 percent noted their programs were somewhat or very effective in cutting costs.

This certainly demonstrates a return on investment (ROI) to the employer. In addition, the positive qualitative effect on the organizational culture cannot be understated, with direct impact on talent and team spirit as well as other variables that are incremental to the quantitative benefits measured.

This is particularly important given that variables such as an increasingly aging workforce (by 2020, the number of Americans in the 55 to 64 age group will have grown by 73 percent since 2000), an increase in predominant disease states (by 2030, 40.5 percent of the US population is expected to have some form of cardiovascular disease) and rapidly changing regulations added to the equation, employers are evaluating best and "next" practices to determine if these programs are truly optimized to realize their full potential of impact.

For the next iteration of workplace wellness, the lessons learned can be leveraged from the evolution of the traditional health benefit offering to a health exchange model or to the advances and learnings in personalized therapeutic medicine. The current opportunity requires a creative and innovative approach to health and wellness ownership. Coupling a predictive, proactive and fact-based wellness management approach with employee-owned and led wellness decisions can provide a powerful and personalized platform.

By maintaining this initiative in a structured and sustainable manner, employers are able to provide a more targeted approach of spending proactive wellness dollars for maximum ROI and decreasing the reactive spend on medical costs.

These personalized programs will enable companies to better track and monitor costs and ROI with the goal to have more than 30 percent of the companies properly monitoring cost efficiencies. This is further supported by the fact that 90 percent said they would increase their investment in wellness programs if they could quantify the ROI.

Targeted Wellness

Traditional medical treatment has evolved significantly from standard diagnostic evaluations to increased utilization of scientific advances, specifically in terms of personalized medicine. Medical decisions and treatments are tailored to an individual patient through a data-based approach to drive the efficiency and effectiveness of patient treatment.

Similarly, there is an opportunity for the employee - within the framework of privacy regulations - to leverage this fact-based approach to optimize the value derived from a wellness offering. Two-thirds of employers involved in wellness initiatives typically provide some type of defined contribution or incentive towards wellness (e.g., fitness rebate); however, an opportunity exists to focus this spend on the desired health outcomes. This would provide the maximum benefit to the employee from a well-being standpoint, as well as to the employer for its investment.

While the powerful combination of data analytics and segmentation analysis allows a human resources team to facilitate a fact-based decision-making approach to right-fit an organization with the right individual in the right role at the right time, an organization can effectively manage the time and money dedicated to workplace wellness by creating a tailored program based on the individual employee's current needs and critical influencing factors.

Wellness Exchanges

Employers have made the journey from self-funded managed health care to the growing trend of providing employees with a "shopping mall" of health insurance options, and on to formal health exchanges - gradually increasing the patient-centric involvement of employees in managing their own health care choices.

The value drivers for this organizational transition include increased price competition based on the marketplace model as well as cost savings influenced by employers not overbuying health care coverage for their employees. This is exemplified by the vast majority of participants switching to cheaper plans in their first year of choice coverage.

This undertaking by an organization is by no means a small effort, and it requires a good amount of diligence and change management - not only in creating the road map for the transformation journey, but also in properly structuring, executing and sustaining this approach. In a well-planned and structured implementation journey, the return on investment can be well recognized.

Similarly, a workplace wellness exchange can offer a suite of proactive health program choices designed to give the employee the responsibility to make an informed and impactful decision that is tailored to drive specific health outcomes.

A marketplace approach can also drive competitive offerings from wellness solution providers and encourage a spirit of innovative and cost-conscious platform options - further maximizing use of wellness dollars. This model will encourage individuals to leverage their own personal health ecosystem information (e.g., current state baseline, lifestyle, environmental factors and disease state predisposition) to choose a solution that may help reduce reactive health care dollars spent based on disease state prevention and risk factor reduction.

According to SHRM, year-over-year employee participation has remained flat. An innovative and personalized approach could help motivate and boost participation and would also continue to ensure that the individual employee's wellness responsibility is shared in partnership with the employer. This would require an independent review of the process, structure and plan design, specifically as it relates to patient privacy and the impact to the holistic benefits offering.

Regardless of a company's ability to track ROI, an overwhelming majority (72 percent) think their wellness initiatives are very or somewhat effective in reducing health care costs and 78 percent thought they improved the overall physical health of their employees.

As the impact of reactive medical claim costs on employers continues to increase due to a variety of influencers, proactive workplace wellness will likely evolve and become an inherent component of an organization's benefits offering.

This presents an opportunity to leverage recent learnings from other initiatives in the life sciences vertical to create an effective and efficient workplace wellness platform that is data-driven and tailored to the needs of the employee - providing a marketplace for choice and competition, and reinforcing the shared partnership responsibility between the employer and employee.

SOURCE: Pervaaz, V. (Accessed 01 November 2019) "What will Workplace Wellness Look Like in 2020?" (Web Blog Post). Retrieved from https://www.corporatewellnessmagazine.com/article/workplace-wellness-in-2020