The COVID-19 pandemic has caught the world by surprise. While businesses cannot foresee every possible scenario, managing through an unprecedented situation like this requires frequent communication, an agile culture, embracing the latest technology, top of the house coordination, robust preparation, and thinking about responsibility to society.
Most large companies have a formal business recovery and continuity plan, yet they those plans are rarely tested. This should be done on an annual basis and plans should be updated and strengthened from learnings. When it became clear what the world might be facing, my company took a number of steps to protect the health and well-being of our employees, families, customers, suppliers and the broader community, as well as to ensure our ability to continue business operations.
While it is a cliché to say you can never over communicate, communication is an absolute essential during trying times. In most organisations, employees are overloaded with email, but they pay attention when the CEO sends an email. In anticipation of how this disease might spread globally, throughout this period, we have sent out regular communications to reassure employees that we are taking measures to protect their health and well-being and to communicate changes to the way we work. Some of these measures were ahead of what conventional wisdom was at the time.
On January 26th, I sent a note to all Ceridian employees globally – requesting that my colleagues follow the guidance from the World Health Organization. We also asked employees to notify their manager if they were planning on travelling to at-risk locations, and we advised them they we would require them to work from home for a period of time upon their return.
On February 9th, we effectively banned international airline business travel for our employees – except under rare circumstances. On March 4th, we posted signs about COVID-19 around our offices, and we implemented #SocialDistancing measures, including avoiding hand shaking. On March 12th, we announced that most employees would now be working from home. Knowing this was a big change that would be met with questions and some anxiety, I hosted a global employee town hall where more than 2000 of our employees dialed in and I answered over 100 questions on the spot.
Agility is a stated core value at my company. It is much more than a word on a wall, it is a mindset that we look for when we hire and one that we try to reinforce constantly. A number of years ago, we realized that we could attract and retain the very best tech talent if we were a little more flexible around where and when employees worked.
This allowed our employees to meet family obligations, take care of both body and mind, and give Ceridian and our customers their very best. Last week, when were moved most employees to a work from home model, it was a fairly easy and smooth transition.
Our flexible workplace culture functions with great efficiency because we embrace the latest technology. An employee in Toronto can communicate with a colleague in Mauritius or Australia by using video conferencing and still have an in-person feel. And because our Dayforce product is a completely cloud-based solution, our employees can access the software from anywhere, allowing us to help customers when not at a client site or in a Ceridian office.
While we have a risk management team that is charged with leading our business continuity efforts, we designated an Executive Vice-President to coordinate all efforts around our response to COVID-19. By effectively taking him off his regular day job, he has the time, energy and focus to provide real and effective leadership to a team of leaders from across our organisation. This team not only streamlines decision-making, but they have the authority to make on-the-spot decisions. And any employee can reach this team instantly via telephone or email on a confidential basis.
The need for preparation cannot be understated. When facing a crisis, confidence is critical. Preparation gives you the confidence to manage through, rather than just respond difficult issues. Over the past number of years, our business recovery and continuity plans have been tested through simulations and in real time due to weather events.
Each time, we gain valuable insights and strengthen our plans. As news of COVID-19 broke, we acquired additional webcam-enabled laptops. We also acquired addition bandwidth to ensure all employees could work remotely at the same time.
Whether you run a railroad, a chain of grocery stores or a high tech company, we all have obligations to society. In the past six months, we have all seen the impact when trains do not move or when grocery stores shelves are emptied by panicked people who are hoarding.
For many organisations, their employees are going to have to continue to show up to work to ensure we can deliver vital services like food and healthcare. While Ceridian plays an important role in society by providing services that ensure people paid accurately and on-time, most of our work can be done virtually.
Our decision to move to a work from home model during this event was driven primarily because we felt we had an obligation to society to do our part in helping to reduce the potential community spread of the virus and hopefully lessen the burden on the healthcare system.
My ask of my fellow CEOs is this: please do everything you can to help reduce transmission in the community. If possible, have your employees work from home to protect those who are vulnerable and most at risk, including older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease. In a world that is looking a little more confused and complex, creativity is a corporation’s greatest currency.
Let’s work together, share experiences, and best practices to #FlattenTheCurve. We’ll get through this together.
If I can be helpful by sharing our experiences on #BusinessContinuity and moving to #workfromhomefirst, please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also be reached on LinkedIn or @dossip on Twitter.
David Ossip // Chairman and CEO // Ceridian