By Beth White, Founder and Chief Bot
Two years ago, when I founded MeBeBot, our vision was to help companies leverage innovation and technology to enrich people's lives in the workplace. I started the company from home, and began to assemble a "dream team" of people, with a realization that many of our team members may not be in Austin, Texas. We built a culture for remote work from day one and today MeBeBot has a team of people that live and work from several US cities and in Argentina.
Over one month ago, one of our team members (in the US west coast) became ill, with symptoms of a cold/flu/bronchitis….and she was not getting better. Two weeks ago, she went to the hospital, as the shortness of breath and trouble breathing was getting worse. At her local hospital, she took various tests, was admitted, treated for pneumonia and was released three days later. But, she never had a COVID-19 test, as they did not have one to give her. She's getting better day-by-day, but as a "normally" healthy person, she said to me that she has never been so sick.
A week ago, another team member (in a major Texas city) began to have symptoms of coronavirus, with body aches, fever, dry cough and shortness of breath. She had a telemedicine appointment, but based on her age and "normal" good health, the doctor told her to stay home and he called in some medicines (over the counter and a RX cough suppressant). But, she was not tested for COVID-19, as tests in her city are reserved for high risk individuals. She is getting better slowly, day by day.
While this current crisis is unprecedented, so was the dot com bust in 2000, 9/11 and its aftermath, as well as the 2008 recession. Business leaders may have crisis protocols to follow to ensure business continuity, but let's not forget to take care of our people first! The actions of business leaders during this crisis will have a lasting impact not only on company culture, but humanity.
If you have an employee (and you will) with COVID-19 or related symptoms (as of today, not all sick people are tested), here are some of my recommendations:
Start with compassion- If someone on your team is sick, treat them with compassion and provide them with the immediate help they need. Are they able to get tested? If not, are they able to get some kind of medication/relief so that they can rest and heal? Recognize that not everyone will see a health care provider in person, as clinics and hospitals may not have the capacity to treat all individuals at this time. Many grocery stores and pharmacies offer delivery services that know to leave items outside the doors of potentially contagious people.
Keep in continuous communication- Isolation can lead to loneliness, especially when you are not feeling good and the only news is depressing news. Reach out to your team members, via text, chat and phone calls. Even as a company that develops chatbot technology, there is always (and will be) a time and place for the human connection. Yesterday, our team had a virtual "happy hour"…but our happy hour was unique in that 2 of the 10 people on the web conference were recovering from being sick, with their cameras off. However, we were able to share, as human beings, our genuine concern for each others' well being.
Be patient with your team- For those affected by the virus, this may not be a 2-3 day illness…in some cases, it may take weeks to feel better. The best advice, from those that have been sick, is to get sleep, avoid stress, stay isolated for 10-14 days, and continue to wash your hands! Despite the health crisis, every business still has customer commitments to meet and operations to run. For your healthy team members, start by reminding everyone of the high level priorities daily to continue to keep your team focused. And to keep communications up-to-date, MeBeBot's Admin Portal allows for real time content changes so that your employees across the globe can have specific messaging.
Keep abreast of the latest updates in employment policies and laws- I started in HR before HIPPA was passed in the US, but the health privacy of employees is still of utmost concern. However, in the US and in many countries, the labor and employment laws are adapting to our current times. And, it's going to be a challenge to keep up. Here is a "crowd sourced" collection of public Coronavirus response communications, templates, news, remote work, hiring impact, and resources, curated by HR Leaders.
End with empahty- While I am in TOTAL agreement on Josh Bersin's recent article, Coronavirus Response: People First, Economics Second, CEO's need to be the "Chief Empathy Officers" and it's time to slow down and take care of each other. Operational budgets will be cut, job requisitions may be put on a temporary hold, and some companies may think they have no other choice to survive than to cut talent. Exercise empathy and compassion, as people reductions should be the last resort.
Here are some resources that describe the "big picture" of corona virus:
Coronavirus: Why You Must Act Now– Translated in 30 languages, with over 40 million views
Flatten the Curve– How we can each do our part to #stopthespread
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center– As experts in global public health, a trusted resource.