As the number of Coronavirus cases in the UK continues to grow each day, whilst we hope its growth can be contained, we all need to be considering the possible impact of the virus on our businesses and planning for all eventualities. Many businesses may already have considered the impact of some illness on their business operations, but their plans may not cover this new threat.
We are now in uncharted territory and the level of disruption that could happen may be on a scale that we have not seen before, with the possibility of major events being cancelled, large numbers of schools closing and public transport affected.
However, there are a number of steps that you can take now, so that you are as well prepared as possible should the situation worsen.
Health and Safety
Keep abreast of the latest developments relating to the health risks.
If you haven’t already, you could actively encourage regular hand washing and use of hand sanitiser. Ensure you have the facilities to allow for this. Consider increasing the frequency that hard surfaces are cleaned, including door handles and telephones.
Face to face contact:
In the event that the Coronavirus outbreak continues and becomes more widespread, you should consider limiting face to face contact where possible, including client and staff meetings and home visits. You should also consider postponing events and non-essential travel. Think about putting alternatives in place where possible, ready for use. Consider using skype and zoom for calls and meetings. Instead of meeting with clients to obtain verification information, think about using electronic verification measures. (See Teal’s blog on electronic verification, which sets out the options: https://www.tealcompliance.com/single-post/2020/02/02/The-benefits-of-Electronic-Verification).
Review your Business Continuity Plan:
Does it cover this type of threat? Many businesses will already have contingencies in place to enable people to work from home. Check that you have suitable arrangements in place. If you need to allow staff to remotely access your systems from home, make sure they are aware of your Working From Home Policy (if you have one in place) – check that their cybersecurity measures are up to date (e.g. are their personal wifi passwords in place and changed regularly?).
Absence cover for Key Staff
If you don’t presently have deputies for your COLP and COFA (or other key staff), consider appointing one to provide support should one or both persons be absent from the office. Whilst you are unable to outsource either of these roles, Teal can provide short term support should you need this, so please do not hesitate to get in touch with us.
Update clients and staff:
Keep staff and clients informed as to matters that will impact them. Anticipate the questions you are likely to receive and prepare for them. For example, tell staff and clients as soon as possible if your firm has to close temporarily for a deep clean, or, in the case of clients, if the person dealing with their matter is going to be out of the office for a period of time. As we know, there is a culture in some organisations of staff “struggling into the office” despite feeling unwell. This culture would need to change quickly, and that message would need to be emphasised strongly and communicated from the top-down.
Remind staff about the importance of confidentiality when working at home. Remind them not to leave files, work laptops or mobiles in cars, or where they can be seen or even accessed by visitors or family members.
As your business may experience unexpected or sudden absences, remember to check that all key dates have been recorded correctly so that dates aren’t missed if this happens. If you don’t have a central register of key dates, check with Fee Earners where key dates and reminders are recorded and ensure that other staff will have access to these records in the event of illness.
Policies and Procedures:
Consider reviewing any policies relating to managing sickness absence, home working, work-related travel and taking time off to care for dependents, so that you understand your position on all matters that may arise and how to deal with them.
By taking modest and sensible precautions, you can be prepared.