Coronavirus: ‘We use an egg timer to remind staff to wash hands’

Reboot founder and CEO Shai Aharony.Image copyright
Robert Mills

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Shai Aharony’s company is taking hand washing very seriously

The government has said that up to a fifth of the UK workforce could be off sick in a major coronavirus outbreak.

So how are businesses around the world coping as the deadly virus spreads?

1. Egg timer reminder for hand washing

The main advice for people to try to avoid catching coronavirus has been to wash their hands frequently and thoroughly.

Shai Aharony, chief executive of digital marketing agency Reboot, has taken things one step further for his 25 or so staff.

Employees must wash their hands every 30 minutes and, in case they forget, Mr Aharony told the BBC: “We have an egg timer on one of the tables and it just goes off every half an hour.”

Keyboard and mouse sharing is strictly forbidden at Reboot. “My wife goes around wiping all the surfaces, door handles, phones,” he added.

“And anyone who has been to a high-risk location since the outbreak has been asked to stay at home for two weeks, fully paid.

“Where possible, we ask them to work from home and video call for any meetings. We have also banned table tennis in the office.”

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2. Working from home becoming the default

Staff at software firm Quantiq are regularly allowed to work from home one or two days a week.

However, the coronavirus outbreak means all staff are being encouraged to work remotely on a regular basis.

“We have about 20 people in today, a third of what we have [in London],” Lisa Lancaster, a business manager at the firm, told the BBC.

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Lisa Lancaster, a business manager at software firm Quantiq

Lisa is one of the senior managers and at least one of them has to be in the office every day.

But the company is advising staff who do commute into the office to avoid travelling in the rush hour, and has also ordered them face masks.

Lisa added: “We might be overreacting with these measures, but we’d rather be safe than sorry. It is critical we put our employees and clients first and reduce the risk by travelling less. Our team based in our Manila office is also working from home.”

Paul Cosford, Emeritus Medical Director at Public Health England, told the BBC it made sense for employers to try and facilitate remote working when possible as the virus spread.

Some businesses, such as airline Emirates, are also offering employees the chance to take unpaid leave until everything blows over.

Large investment banks such as Goldman Sachs and Citibank which already have back-up office locations outside of London in case of natural disasters have been sending some staff there to test they work.

But for firms such as pub, factory and bakery staff which can’t work from home they are, for now, still expected to show up.

Large food retail and hospitality companies such as Gregg’s and JD Wetherspoon said there was even more emphasis on hygiene and cleanliness than usual.

Wetherspoon spokesman Eddie Gershon said staff shouldn’t come to work if they thought they were sick and could be infectious.

“They would be paid, but they would also be expected to get it checked out,” Mr Gershon added.

3. ‘Elbow bumping’ instead of handshakes

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Getty Images

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel told Interior Minister Horst Seehofer he was right to refuse to shake her hand at a summit in Berlin

Handshake greetings could be off the agenda in the near future for business people, as they try to avoid catching coronavirus.

In fact, a German minister recently refused to shake Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand at a meeting.

Laura Foll, from asset management firm Janus Henderson, told the BBC: “I’ve decided that company meetings will be a non-shaking hand event.

“I think companies will be quite happy with that. If you think you’re doing a corporate roadshow around all of Europe, think how many investors’ hands you’re going to have to shake.”

Tej Parikh, chief economist at the Institute of Directors, said: “Business people want to feel part of a community of their peers, and meeting in person still counts… Without the trusty handshake to fall back on, we may have to start getting creative.”

The World Health Organization’s director of pandemic disease, Sylvie Brand, retweeted suggestions for other ways of greeting people, including elbow bumping, waving and “foot shaking”, whereby people greet each other by tapping heels.

4. Cutting back on travel and cancelling events

Some businesses are telling staff not to travel unless it’s absolutely essential.

Twitter has suspended all non-critical business travel and events for its staff.

Amazon and Goldman Sachs have also banned all non-essential staff travel, particularly to badly hit regions such as Hubei province in China, Northern Italy and Iran.

Magic circle law firm, Linklaters, has said that for the month of March, it will cancel any large meetings with more than 30 people in attendance.

Big business conferences such as Mobile World Conference in Barcelona have also been cancelled at great cost to organisers.

However, other big events such as the home decor exhibition KBB – due to be held at the Birmingham NEC arena in March – are still going ahead for now.

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Sally Evans Photography

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HR expert Tracey Hudson

5. Doing the jobs you keep putting off

The coronavirus outbreak is giving some firms the chance to catch up with some of those jobs that usually get put off – albeit reluctantly

Tracey Hudson, of the HR Dept, works with small and medium-sized businesses and has many clients in the events industry.

“A lot of events are being cancelled so the companies are getting their staff to work in a different way. They are working from home on all those projects that have been sitting there,” she told the BBC.

“One firm is reviewing its accounts system and another is writing social media marketing posts for the next three months to have content lined up.

“Another one, which was planning on moving offices next year, has pulled the project forward and is working on it now.”

Unfortunately, other firms have not been so lucky.

“One firm has already laid off staff this week as they can’t bankroll it after all the cancellations,” said Tracey.

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