6 Steps to Proactive and Sustainable “Reopening”

Posted on June 1st, 2020

Economic and public health recovery from the Coronavirus pandemic are closely related, as is true with any regional, national, or global catastrophe. What makes pandemic recovery so different from most other disasters is that its impact cycle is significantly more sustained and progressive. The U.S. economic recovery strategy for COVID-19 has been short-term financial relief — a typical disaster response — along with physical distancing, cleaning, personal hygiene, testing, contact tracing, and personal protective equipment (PPE). These response actions are necessary and appropriate and must be done urgently. But to facilitate sustained workplace recovery, additional and equally urgent occupational-factor-dependent steps must be taken.

In some industries, food service for example, it may be more difficult to devise strategies that go beyond public health guidelines. But, regardless of industry, there are functions where adding a proactive response strategy would improve sustainability. These functions include administrative, clerical, manufacturing/production, commercial repair & overhaul, engineering, research & development, scientific, and similar occupational environments. In these settings, workers congregate but there is low incidence of irregular, uncontrolled, or random interaction with unknown people external to the business.

Here are six steps to developing a comprehensive approach to successful and sustained business restart in settings like these:

1.     Outline the business occupations or functions using Organizational Modeling

To avoid the mistake of generalizing response by industry, each workplace should take a functional/occupational viewpoint when determining the proper approach for them. In some businesses, parts of the organization are well served with the public-health-only approach, while other business units, functions, or sites may not be. Since outbreak of transmission cannot easily be confined within the business landscape all areas are exposed to risk if this happens.

Guidelines will differ between production and office areas, for example. Further, production impact is not universal: video or digital production shops are much different from stamping or plating. Similarly, a real estate or insurance office would not be identical to a call center. Service occupations, whether healthcare, hospitality, or consumer products repair would all require specific considerations.

The analysis to develop the model should be kept simple and done quickly. The objective is to identify occupational/functional labels/categories for people and spaces in the business.

2.     Determine potential transmission rates across the business using Affinity Analysis

Before an effective strategy can be framed, the most likely locations/spaces, occupations/roles/functions, and individuals subject to spreading the virus must be identified. The basis for the rating should be “contact density’ — a function of the number of people in each space over time. The main difference between the reactive approach, where contract tracing is done after symptoms or positive tests appear, and the proactive approach is that in the latter, projected contacts are mapped ahead of time rather than tracked after the fact. This is how contact density leads to discovery of high transmission spaces, roles, and people. For example, a supply cage in a manufacturing area can likely be classified as low transmission because access is easily monitored and controlled and can be mitigated by separation, PPE, and sanitation practices. On the other hand, a continuous flow processing line may be significantly harder to mitigate and so would have a much higher expected transmission rate.

Affinity mapping must also include contact density outside the business. Effort must be taken to estimate the impact of “off-premise” exposure. For example, do people drive to work alone? Carpool? Take public transportation? Walk? Bike? Each of these would predict separate exposure affinities.

The result of the Transmission Affinity Analysis is a series of heat maps that show relative transmission risk along multiple dimensions.

3.     Devise mitigation and remediation plans using Risk Analysis

Quantifiable transmission rates broken down by groups, space, and people, can now be translated into relative prioritized risk. This will support the development and execution of protocols to address each (Step 4). The risk analysis should consider the frequency, severity, likelihood, and detectability of each risk factor relative to each affinity group. Once the relative risk priorities are established, mitigations and remediations can be developed and evaluated based on their impact (how much their execution would lower the relative prioritized risk). This sounds complex, but is a standard, universally practiced, and simple approach. Finally, the risks are re-prioritized based on mitigation impact so that execution planning can be done, first for mitigations (identifiable actions to prevent transmission), then for remediations (identifiable actions to contain or minimize transmission after it occurs). This step is vital to budgeting and funding acquisition as each mitigation or remediation carries forecastable cost.

4.     Establish Affinity- and Risk-based Protocols across the business

Now that transmission risk has been quantifiably prioritized along with the financial impact of the risks and prevention and response actions against them, attention can finally be paid to making sure that appropriate protocols are in place to address each space, group, and individual in the business. This is critical to establishment of a sustainable action plan. If testing protocols, for example, were identical for every worker in the business, there are only three logical alternatives:

a.      Adopt a maximal level for everyone

While this alternative is noble, funding or availability will likely run out rather quickly unless the business has very deep pockets and the supply chain can meet unlimited demand.

b.     Adopt a minimal level for everyone

Less noble than the first and, worse, unlikely to lower transmission risk and very likely to threaten cash flow and cause loss of business and public reputation.

c.      Take a moderate stance

While “everything in moderation” often sounds good, in practice this is probably the worst alternative. First, the financial resources of the business are largely wasted because the protocols will hardly be effective. Second, because the protocols will hardly be effective, no progress is being made at lowering transmission rates. So now, cash flow is being exposed from top-to-bottom and the hit to public reputation is still felt.

Specific, affinity- and risk-based protocols must be established across the business to protect revenue and contain cost, contracts, reputation, etc. Protocols should be established for telework, “on-premise” work schedules (frequencies, staggered arrivals and exits, incoming and outgoing delivery…), physical distancing, sanitation practices, PPE, health monitoring, surveillance testing, and contact tracing. Customizing these protocols across constituencies optimizes the use and effectiveness of financial resources resulting in the highest sustainable level of workplace health, customer accounts, and reputation in the community for the business.

Skipping this step is like playing in the casino where the house always wins … in this case, the house is Coronavirus.

5.     Use professional Change Management Experts

At least some of these protocols will be new and changes to policies, processes, and/or procedures will certainly require effective communications (internal and external) and training. Professional change management expertise should be used. The cost of change should be included in funding estimates to protect the business from being forced to abandon an otherwise workable plan because the money ran out. The smaller the business, the more important this step.

6.     Develop and rely heavily on Performance Monitoring

Here the value of proactive management is seen. Since predictable transmission rates and contact densities were established, they can be compared to actuals. Monitoring allows for assumptions to be validated and adjusted. The validation cycles the business through the first five steps continuously, each time improving resource utilization, and proactively responding to “on- and off-premise” changes.

Deploying these six proactive steps properly allows business to not only “reopen,” but stay open.