A Viral Lesson in Disguise: What American businesses can learn from the Coronavirus outbreak

Amid concerns over the recent Coronavirus outbreak in mainland China, businesses around the world— especially those who rely on the financial hub as central to their operations — are beginning to implement various precautionary measures to quell the disease’s spread. Many large franchises have temporarily closed their locations in China, impeding business as usual in order to protect the health of their employees, whereas other companies are taking action within the borders of their own countries: Canadian insurer Sun Life Financial Inc., for instance, has confined employees who recently returned from mainland China to remote work. Corporations like Goldman Sachs and UBS Group AG have even restricted travel to the region altogether.

The Coronavirus’s implications to the business world have proven immense; and on a broader scale, a lot can be learned from its potential repercussions on company operations, as well as the American economy.

Business continuity in emergency situations

The results of an outbreak in a place as physically distant and financially integral to the American economy as China clearly demonstrate the importance of businesses having continuity plans in case of emergency. As this disease spreads and more major economic hubs become affected — just like Hong Kong has recently tightened its borders in the Coronavirus’s wake — many businesses are about to see notable decreases in productivity and communication.

These effects, however, don’t need to be catastrophic: they can be curtailed by taking the appropriate amount of time to plan ahead and create systems of prevention and recovery in the event of a threat to company operations. One obvious way of accomplishing this is through devising a comprehensive Business Continuity Plan (BCP).

As a great potential case study, Enterprise Singapore’s Guide on Business Planning specifically for the novel Coronavirus outlines some key points to evaluate regarding the threat and prevention of infection. These include assigning employees to separate teams in charge of different tasks to reduce the risk of cross contamination and bacterial spread, figuring out how to maintain communications with relevant stakeholders and establishing alternative suppliers and alternate delivery information in the event of travel restrictions or quarantine.

Though Singapore’s closer proximity to mainland China makes some of these suggested policies more extreme than may be necessary in the United States, Enterprise Singapore’s BCP exemplifies how preventative measures against the Coronavirus can be enacted internally, within the walls of your own office space — businesses need not try to extend control overseas to neutralize the threat of infection.

Evidently, there are myriad potential deliberations that should go into planning for business-jeopardizing disasters. If you still don’t know where to start, here’s a rough outline from Investopedia for a successful BCP:

  • Identify potential risks.
  • Determine how those risks might affect operations.
  • Brainstorm and implement procedures to mitigate those risks.
  • Test to make sure those procedures work.
  • Review and revise procedures to ensure their relevance.

These considerations might be enhanced by obtaining input from multiple people — perhaps through creating a team dedicated to company threat prevention — and collectively considering all their implications. Though planning comprehensive BCPs entails a thorough process, in unique situations such as the Coronavirus outbreak, having an effective one in place can mean the difference between fast recovery and equally-as-fast catastrophe.

Basic hygienic office practices 

People don’t pay nearly as much attention to something as cyclical as flu season as they do to the Coronavirus — which is currently dominating news headlines on a global scale. Despite Corona’s literal and figurative virality, however, the flu poses an arguably deadlier threat; the CDC estimates there have been about 10,000-25,000 flu-related deaths in the past four months alone, whereas there have only been a handful of non-deadly U.S. cases of Corona so far. But out of the slew of media attention on the Coronavirus has risen one potential good: the emphasis on elevating basic hygienic office practices in general — which can prevent both the flu and the notorious virus from being contracted and spreading.

The CDC’s recommendations regarding preventative measures against the Coronavirus are applicable to the prevention of the flu as well, considering that both are respiratory viruses. These measures can seem almost banally simple: make sure employees know to wash their hands regularly and avoid touching their faces, that those with coughs and runny noses wear face masks and avoid densely populated areas. But because of their simplicity, they’re often overlooked — which makes any added attention they can get absolutely crucial.

Moreover, aside from individual cleanliness and precaution, disease prevention can also be made a group effort: Enterprise Singapore’s aforementioned BCP, for example, suggests that companies appoint “flu managers” as resident health officials in the office, who keep coworkers informed about viral diseases and are prepared to support the execution of “incident response measures.”

Fears over the novel Coronavirus are demonstrating how imperative basic hygiene is in maintaining good health. By perceiving deadly infection as a looming sort of threat, businesses should feel far more compelled to ensure their offices are clean, hygienic spaces. Acting like this year-round and in the years to come would hopefully make everyone less sick, every season.

Reliance on China for manufacturing and selling

As New York Times reporter Alexandra Stevenson so aptly put it, “China has become an essential part of the modern global industrial machine. It alone accounts for roughly one-sixth of global economic output, and is the world’s largest manufacturer.”

Mass hysteria around the novel Coronavirus has made America’s over reliance on the Chinese economy all the more apparent.

The country’s enormous consumer culture, the skill of its workers and the ingenuity of its transportation has made it a prominent hub for businesses worldwide. But widespread focus on China as a locus for manufacturing and trade has proven a significant disadvantage in the wake of Coronavirus concerns. Apple, for example, is foreseeing significant decreases in their production and is currently searching for alternative suppliers. Chinese assembly plants belonging to Ford and Toyota have been idled and, as mentioned before, many Western franchises are closing their Chinese branches.

At the moment, it’s uncertain how these businesses will recover from the blows they’ve been suffering as a result of China’s Coronavirus outbreak. Still, one thing remains clear: many American businesses depend on China for the success of their operations — so much so that one health concern overseas seems to have the potential to significantly compromise their internal structures.

Perhaps diversifying business connections and decentralizing operations — as well as implementing emergency alternative measures — are in order: perhaps this outbreak is a sign that American companies regaining some financial and operational independence from China is long overdue.

As more information about the novel Coronavirus is made available to the public, it’s important to avoid letting mass hysteria and disease hijack the efficiency of American business. Many lessons can be learned from the world’s reaction to Corona, and it’s crucial to take those lessons and translate them into precaution over reaction.

Continue to monitor news relating to the coronavirus — being especially wary of sources of information that attempt to stoke mass hysteria and gain clicks through misleading headlines. When necessary, understand that you have the power to act accordingly and avoid transforming your office into a hub of paranoia and viral infection.

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Cailin Lansang

Cailin Lansang is a Digital Media Intern for Meadowlands Media. She is currently a senior at Bergen County Technical High School in Teterboro, majoring in Digital Media, and will be attending Columbia University this fall as a prospective English major. She can be contacted at cailin.lansang@yahoo.com.

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