How to plan for Coronavirus: A Case Study

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How to plan for Coronavirus: A Case Study

How can you plan for the Coronavirus affecting your business and its workforce?

Airlines, holiday companies, and hoteliers are facing major challenges. As March unfolds, international travel has dropped dramatically. On 10th March, news channels announced a travel ban across the whole of Italy. At Schiphol airport, Amsterdam, there were no queues for parking and the security lines were empty. On the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt, I was the only passenger in the last 6 rows.


The flight crew, completing a five-day tour, said planes had suddenly emptied in the last 3 days. The Lufthansa service desk could already see 80 canceled flights out of their usual daily schedule of around 500. The airlines themselves are facing a major workforce planning challenge – but the effects will go far beyond transport companies. What impact will this shock have on the tightly connected international business system? How can any business plan?

My job is to tell the story of software for workforce planning. I am an “evangelist” and what sort of evangelist does not go to meet people? Well, maybe now is the time to find out. The world economy is facing the biggest workforce planning challenge for the last 50 years. And as creators of the workforce analysis and modeling platform, OrgVue, it’s right that we should share our view on it.

We are taking on the planning challenge by applying our normal approach: quantifying and using dimensions to analyze. We always start from the work itself. What is it now, and what will it be in the future? In the context of a virus outbreak, does each area of work need people to meet in person? Does it require travel? How can it be delivered safely, for the employee and for the client?

Using this approach, we go through different steps.
1. We first need an understanding of the individuals. Who has got dependents and who might need care? Who has any symptoms of illness? Who has pre-existing conditions and could be at additional risk? Who is far from their native country, and has possible family concerns or obligations?

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2. Next, we need to understand the positions: we segment the business by departments, then into roles and even – if time permits – into activities to analyze the potential for delivering work at a distance. We have to identify single points of failure and successors or contingencies for each key position or activity.

We need to collect this data once for the work and the roles, and continue collecting it at a relatively high frequency for people data – potentially every day in a fast-changing situation.

3. For us, the ability to think about the situation of the people separately from the requirements of the work is a useful one. Having analyzed the activities we do, we are now updating personnel data every day via line managers. To prepare in case it is needed, we started with a rolling program of working from home, and later this week will have the entire business working from home to test out the technology and make sure that our technical infrastructure can handle it.

We think that this approach is realistic for businesses at small and large scale, depending of course on the nature of the work. No-one can run a steelworks from their kitchen. The analysis needs to be done by a central team to plan the data to collect and the frequency of collection. We have used our own software but any system which allows you to think about the work and the people separately should allow this kind of planning. You also need a simple way to collect data and update it on a daily basis. We do this through OrgVue, but any simple web form or data collection device should do it.

4. Finally, we have taken a decision to use the greatest amount of transparency possible, communicating the health status of our overall workforce within the company so that people are aware of the situation. We are minimizing client and internal travel and asking our people to minimize risks of transmission by hand washing and avoiding personal contact. We will share our approach with our clients at one of our regular client events – now also available virtually! – and we plan to update on our approach and progress each week via public blogs.

Example approaches

We recommend this 10-step approach to our clients. Map out the As-Is organization: how many people we have, where?

1. Map out the As-Is organization: how many people we have, where?


2. Get expert advice on the best actions to be taken for personal safety.

3. Decide what data is required for the company to support individual employees and manage the whole organization. An example of gathering data at the department level below:

Example Planning for functions in a software company:

Department Remote work option Comment
Software Development Yes Expected to have ~ 20% impact on productivity due to distance working
Advisory Yes Most analytical work can be done remotely; for client workshops, consider options
Marketing Yes Some impact on joint working & idea generation, but core activities expected to focus on online marketing
Sales Yes Shift to phone, email and social outreach, and remote sales calls. Test the possibility of entirely remote sales methods.
Support functions (Finance, HR, legal) Yes Some impact on joint working, but core activities expected to be deliverables virtually

4. Collect the data
Example of data collection from each manager regarding each team member via OrgVue forms – an anonymized example from our training dataset:

example of data collection

5. Aggregate the data in reports that allow decision making

count of records by current health status
count of records by department

6. Identify contingencies to minimize risk and ensure business continuity

identify contingencies to minimize risk

7. Choose a cycle of decision making (daily / weekly / monthly) for effective support

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8. Define ongoing plans: how updates will be collected, how reports will be updated and how actions will be triggered

customer advisor

9. Forecast the impact of sickness on financial planning. For example, business costs will vary by geography (different national rules for statutory sick pay), by role type, and by the contingency options, the company chooses.

10. Plan for a 3-month and 6-month review point to identify the lessons learned from the emergency situation.

And now… wash your hands! Good luck with surviving Coronavirus, and let us know any examples you have alternative approaches that you would like to share on using data to combat the Coronavirus in the comments below!

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