The thought of a new virus impacting businesses is probably the last thing anyone wants to hear after two years dealing with Covid-19.
But the declaration of a public health emergency in the U.S. means that companies should also increase their awareness and preparations for the monkeypox virus. Companies should now build a plan that details how they will respond to the virus and what tactics they will implement to mitigate its impact. From a strategic or tactical perspective, ignoring the virus is no longer a viable business option.
While CDC data shows that there are more than 23,000 total confirmed monkeypox/orthopoxvirus cases in the United States, at the time of writing, unfortunately there remains real potential for the virus to mutate into a more contagious strain and directly impact businesses, or to enter into child or youth communities where the spread can accelerate.
Following are five aspects of the monkeypox virus that business leaders should be aware of, and how businesses can be better prepared for it.
1. Longer Recovery Periods
The CDC explains that the virus’s numerous symptoms include swollen lymph nodes, chills and back ache. While some of the symptoms are also very similar to those presented by Covid—including muscle aches and respiratory issues—the trademark symptom of monkeypox is a painful, itchy and visible rash which can be very unsightly. The virus is contagious from the time a person becomes symptomatic until their rash heals, all scabs have fallen off, and a fresh layer of skin has grown.
Infected employees will need a long recovery time, away from work, for up to four weeks; many businesses owners and decision makers are not aware of this. This extended period out of the office or away from production lines is what could create the biggest challenge for businesses. A cluster monkeypox outbreak, in which several employees become infected and isolate at home, will only compound matters.
When creating a response plan, anticipating longer employee recovery periods, therefore, becomes paramount. While many businesses may be able to increase the workload of healthy employees to compensate for those out of work, the real challenge comes when specific training or skills are required for certain positions. There may be no one to pass work to in the event of a cluster outbreak. Businesses should build the capability to source and train employees with the required skills to provide their services and solutions without any interruption.
2. Duty of Care—Worker Awareness
One development after more than two years dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic is higher expectations from employees that their employer will be prepared to keep them safe and keep the business operating through the next major health crisis.
We have all recently experienced what it takes to survive a pandemic, leaving little room for excuses for any business that is not prepared for the next one.
This preparation—fulfilling the duty of care businesses have to their workers and contractors—commences with having the processes in place to monitor their horizon for virus and pandemic risks before the business is directly impacted. Preparation also involves having the appropriate processes, plans and tools in place to be able to respond effectively when the next major virus event occurs.
Companies with effective duty of care plans will notice a number of benefits. First, it’s reassuring to employees when they know that their employer is actively monitoring and managing potential risks and working to keep them safe. Productivity levels can also be maintained during outbreak conditions, since businesses can minimize staff absences due to illness and avoid continuity issues as a result of outbreaks and numerous sidelined workers.
Finally, an effective duty of care program has external benefits for a company. It ensures that a business can keep its commitments to customers and partners, and it directly impacts how parties upstream and downstream view it. They will perceive the company is being more resilient to risk, responsible and a better place to do business with.
3. The Poor Performance of Covid-era Phone Trees
One specific point about how to prepare for monkeypox and any future viral threat comes from the lessons of Covid-19. When contact tracing is done correctly, it helps to slow or stop the spread of a virus. Organizations with effective contact tracing systems were able to identify and isolate people that were exposed to a person testing positive for Covid-19.
However, Covid-19 also revealed the slow and ineffective nature of phone-tree contact tracing methods. A variety of factors contributed to this method’s disadvantages, including the lag time involved when trying to locate potential contacts, reliance on unverified and untrustworthy data, and invasive phone calls made at inconvenient times to employees.
Phone-tree contact tracing is very difficult to do well at scale. Calling hundreds of employees on an ongoing basis requires a large investment in people and additional infrastructure—something that many business owners may not want to do.
New best practices, however, have been established by top-performing organizations during the coronavirus pandemic. These companies can now contact trace quicker, more precisely and effectively because they have instant access to employee proximity data. They also minimize the risk of quarantining employees that do not need to be sent home and this also helps to maintain productivity levels
Businesses preparing for the next pandemic must now ditch the redundant phone-tree contact tracing methods.
4. Pandemic Risk is Now a Board-level Strategic Consideration
Following the significant impacts of Covid-19, pandemic risk has reached the board level and is now a high-level consideration in many organizations, particularly when it comes to making decisions about the company’s biggest asset: its employees. Workers, partners and customers expect company decision-makers to have mitigation protocols in place to effectively manage pandemic risk.
Corporate boards typically make informed and proactive decisions based on their access to accurate and insightful data. Decision-making about employees without trustworthy data is tantamount to “guess work,” which can put a company at risk.
The type of workforce data required by a board for decision-making in relation to pandemics typically concerns employee well-being and access control, virus testing, and the identification of cases and high-risk virus close contacts, so an organization can slow or stop the spread of a virus through its teams. Access to this level of data in relation to monkeypox or any virus will help them manage their risks better, protect employees and supply chains, and ensure continuity of business.
Boards who ignore planning for monkeypox may not be able to meet corporate compliancy requirements. It is important that the company has the necessary protocols in place, approved by the board, to manage employee risks, deliver uninterrupted value to shareholders and partners, and meet customer service-level agreements.
5. Integrated Planning is Best Practice
Finally, when companies plan their response to manage the monkeypox virus, one of the most important best practices established by top-performing businesses in the Covid-19 pandemic has been the use of an integrated, multidisciplinary task force to tackle the challenge.
Due to the need for a timely response, the execution of a virus response plan cannot be a siloed activity. A multidisciplinary team, backed by the company board, must be tasked to work together to formulate an integrated plan with key roles, responsibilities, strategies and tactics that will guide the business in its response to, and management of, an outbreak.
Ideally, this team should consist of senior executives from HR, business continuity, IT, health and safety, communications, and finance. All of those business leaders must be involved because their domains will be impacted by an outbreak of the virus at work.
Businesses with an integrated plan in place will also be able to respond faster. This speed of response is the key in more effectively mitigating a virus that can wipe staff out for extended periods.
No Place for Complacency
There is no place for complacency for companies in dealing with the threat of monkeypox and reusing a Covid-19 plan to manage a monkeypox outbreak could put a company at risk.
Allowance for a longer recover period of up to four weeks must be made. Companies now have a higher expected duty of care to everyone up and down their supply chain, and to all internal stakeholders. Employees, partners, clients and suppliers will now expect them to have a pandemic management plan in place.
The management of pandemic risk is now receiving a higher priority from company directors and the C-suite. Best practice is to ensure an integrated and multidisciplinary team is charged with not only getting a company pandemic-ready but monitoring the horizon for risks and taking the necessary mitigating steps to protect the business. Monkeypox is the first new virus where new pandemic-ready standards will be applied, but it won’t be the last.
Clint Van Marrewijk is the CEO and co-founder of SaferMe, a provider of contact tracing technologies.