We’ve all heard a lot about Swine Flu over the last few months and reactions seem to vary from genuine concern for personal welfare (or that of loved ones) to total complacency believing it won’t have any effect and is being exaggerated. In both cases the focus has been understandably about personal health rather than the implication on society and business at large.
As a business that has a number of staff currently recovering from Swine Flu The PC Support Group has a unique early insight into how this might affect businesses throughout the UK.
With swine flu predicted to affect 30 per cent of the population and cost the UK economy up to £50bn, I would urge businesses to plan now and utilize technology to help prepare for the outbreak.
The first wave of swine flu is likely to occur between August and November – peaking late August to late September.
Peak weeks could see employee absence rates for illness reach 12 per cent of the workforce – in addition to normal holiday absence. However, while 12 per cent may not seem an extremely worrying percentage, you have to take into account that smaller companies only have a limited number of staff. They are therefore likely to lose much higher percentages, which in some cases could be up to 50 per cent.
Luckily, as an IT support company we already use technology geared to remote working, which has enabled us to continue work with little effect on our customer service.
We have utilized staff from other locations in the UK and assisted staff to work from home to remotely support customers hundreds of miles away. The engineers can still see all the customer details, receive and make phone calls, and operate seamlessly as if they were in the office.
From personal experience I cannot emphasise enough the potential seriousness of this outbreak to businesses, particularly small ones with low staffing levels. If they don’t act now to put plans in place they could find it causes their business irreversibly detrimental effects.
The virus is spreading rapidly through the UK, with 55,000 new cases reported last week and experts predicting that 30 per cent of the public will be eventually infected.
Companies need to start preparing for soaring absentee rates before the peak of the virus hits the UK’s business community.
Swine flu can vary in seriousness and in a number of cases, particularly towards the end of the illness, sufferers will be able to work although due to being contagious may still not be able to return to the workplace, extending their absence.
For many smaller companies this loss could even lead to them going out of business if they don’t plan ahead.
With such potentially serious consequences it is crucial for employers to start planning and implementing emergency strategies now. As a priority, they need to make arrangements for staff to work from home in the event of high levels of infection, in order to minimise disruption to their businesses.
Any business, no matter how small, can utilize technology to help them continue to operate through the potential crisis.
Businesses need to ensure laptops are available for use to work from home or other locations. In this case it will obviously be important to check that users have access to all the required applications they will need to work effectively.
Companies could also implement VoIP systems so calls can be easily and seamlessly transferred to remote locations, which will add flexibility to the business.
Some may also benefit from video conferencing – systems range from ‘free to download’ desktop arrangements to incredibly sophisticated multi-camera, document sharing, high definition systems.
It is no longer a case of ‘if your company will be affected’, but more ‘when it will be affected’. Businesses should ask themselves what they will do if a third of their staff is suddenly taken ill, and if they don’t have a solution they need to start planning, as it is now a very real possibility.