How Prepared Was Business? HR Firm Offers Free Help.

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Nine days ago, when ERC, a Cleveland-based human resources organization, surveyed 1,000 companies and organizations in northeastern Ohio, most were unprepared for a large-scale outbreak of COVID-19.

Only 8% of the 130 companies that responded to the survey said they had an epidemic/pandemic response plan in place; 18% said they were “not at all prepared” and 26% said “N/A,” or not applicable, to their business.

The survey was taken from March 10 through the morning of March 12. The results were released Monday.

The respondents – all companies based in northeastern Ohio – included “everything from manufacturers to service industries to nonprofits,” says Nicki Artese, director of marketing for ERC.

“At the time of the release, the news of the virus coming into northeast Ohio was just really beginning,” she says. “We asked people how prepared they were for something like this, and as we were asking, things were already taking place.”

The survey shows what policies and plans were in place last week, and the precautions employers were taking then.

Workplace sanitation cleanliness ranked highest followed by travel, paid time off and sick policies. At the time, remote work options were not a priority, the survey shows.

Nevertheless, companies appeared to be moving quickly to revise policies in the wake of the pandemic with only 18% saying they had no plans to do so.

Big majorities of employers said they were educating employees about minimizing the risk of disease transmission (77%); providing additional access to hand sanitizer and cleaning products (75%); and emphasizing proper hand-washing hygiene.

Only 9% said they were limiting group meetings internally while 13% said they had no plans to provide virtual work options — most common among medical organizations and manufacturers, where work-from-home is not feasible, according to the survey.

Today, as he spread of the virus escalates and workplaces are shutdown by state government, businesses that remain open are looking for solutions, says ERC’s Artese.

“They are interested in hearing about best practices for remote working and solutions – how to become productive as an organization that may not have necessarily had to work at a distance,” she explains.

To that end, as the HR consulting company works with its clients, it also is providing free access to tools and templates that any company can download and modify specifically to their business and industry “as a public service,” she says. Posted at the ERC Coronavirus Research Center are emergency planning resources such as samples of work-from-home policies created by the HR company, telecommuting agreements and a sample emergency response plan.

“We’re trying to be thoughtful about providing things that businesses need. We have free, ungated access to templates and tools. We’re saying, ‘Here, take ours. You don’t have to create your own.’”

The site also curates helpful material from federal agencies such as the pandemic planning checklist compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“We’re a central source for that type of information,” Artese says. “It’s such a moving target.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.