Okay, the Coronavirus (dubbed COVID-19) has gotten a lot of people spooked, and that makes sense. After all, although the World Health Organization (WHO) hasn’t dubbed it a pandemic, COVID-19 is close to fitting the definition of pandemic as outlined by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That’s scary, I know. But before we dive into the rest of the article, it’s worth knowing that the CDC also asserts that most average Americans actually have a low risk of catching the virus (as of February 28, 2020, that is).
Still, whether you’re at a high risk or not, it’s worth being prepared just in case things do go south.
In the case of COVID-19 spreading further, the CDC says: “Widespread transmission of COVID-19 in the United States would translate into large numbers of people needing medical care at the same time.” In other words, it would really start cutting back on grouping people together in things like schools, conferences and work – which can leave a lot of questions about the future of your income.
Even if this worst case scenario never comes, having a company plan can help ease anxieties that are sure to accompany news of COVID-19. So, how do you prepare?
Stay Up to Date
Look, there’s a lot of misinformation and panic out there. It’s easy to fall down the rabbit hole of extremes on either end – both with people asserting that nothing is going wrong as well as the kinds of people who are already prepping their apocalypse bunker. Your business needs to be smarter about it.
Check on trustworthy sources like the CDC and WHO and shut down any spread of misinformation you see around the office.
Keeping up to date will also let you know ways to best prepare your office for the spreading virus. Research of COVID-19 is ongoing and we’re still waiting on skilled professionals to figure out exactly how it spreads and what risks the virus poses. Be prepared to make changes as needed.
That said, there’s one caveat: don’t go crazy trying to keep up to date. If you find yourself refreshing Google every couple minutes in the hopes there will be a new update, you might need to take a step back, get some fresh air and try to stop obsessing over the virus.
Consider Conference Plans
Traveling can increase the risk of employees catching the virus, especially in areas where outbreaks have already occurred, so it’s worth using tools like this COVID-19 tracker to keep an eye on future conference destinations. I’m not saying to cancel all your conference plans, but stay vigilant, y’all!
Rework Remote Work
If the time does come that your employees can’t meet in the office anymore, you’ll want a plan for what to do then – and it’s worth sharing this plan to your current employees. After all, if you’ll have to let people go, it would suck to be broadsided with that news in the middle of an outbreak.
That said, there’s always remote work available. And in the case of a quarantine situation, it might make a good solution. It’s one that’s happening in China already – the workforce is already utilizing digital tools to adapt to the virus. If you’re going that route, just make sure you prepare your employees for this situation too. Remote work brings its own challenges, like potential isolation, so it’s worth getting people ready early.
Plus, having a concrete plan can help reduce current anxieties about the virus.
Small Health Initiatives
Sure, we might not know exactly how COVID-19 spreads, but we can still promote good health practices in the meantime. Make sure your office is stocked up on hand soap, for instance. Encourage employees to stay home if they’re sick and, to incentivize this, consider being more lenient on sick day caps or offer the chance to work remotely instead to minimize the risk of something spreading through the office.
Not only can these and other small pushes for a healthier environment actually keep your company from getting sick, it also provides people with something to do. Powerlessness can increase anxieties about COVID-19; a proactive approach can help ease the fears.
These are just a few potential ideas for making an emergency plan for your company – if you’re still worried, I’d recommend taking a look at what other companies are doing. Even if you’re in a low risk area, there are still steps to be taken to reduce anxiety surrounding the virus.
And remember, before you panic, look to credible sources. Your fears might not be as pressing as you think.
Big retailers are opting for refunds instead of returns
(BUSINESS NEWS) Due to increased shipping costs, big companies like Amazon and Walmart are opting to give out a refund rather than accepting small items returned.
The holidays are over, and now some people are ready to return an item that didn’t quite work out or wasn’t on their Christmas list. Whatever the reason, some retailers are giving customers a refund and letting them keep the product, too.
When Vancouver, Washington resident, Lorie Anderson, tried returning makeup from Target and batteries from Walmart she had purchased online, the retailers told her she could keep or donate the products. “They were inexpensive, and it wouldn’t make much financial sense to return them by mail,” said Ms. Anderson, 38. “It’s a hassle to pack up the box and drop it at the post office or UPS. This was one less thing I had to worry about.”
Amazon.com Inc., Walmart Inc., and other companies are changing the way they handle returns this year, according to a report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ). The companies are using artificial intelligence (AI) to weigh the costs of processing physical returns versus just issuing a refund and having customers keep the item.
For instance, if it costs more to ship an inexpensive or larger item than it is to refund the purchase price, companies are giving customers a refund and telling them to keep the products also. Due to an increase in online shopping, it makes sense for companies to change how they manage returns.
Locus Robotics chief executive Rick Faulk told the Journal that the biggest expense when it comes to processing returns is shipping costs. “Returning to a store is significantly cheaper because the retailer can save the freight, which can run 15% to 20% of the cost,” Faulk said.
But, returning products to physical stores isn’t something a lot of people are wanting to do. According to the return processing firm Narvar, online returns increased by 70% in 2020. With people still hunkered down because of the pandemic, changing how to handle returns is a good thing for companies to consider to reduce shipping expenses.
While it might be nice to keep the makeup or batteries for free, don’t expect to return that new PS5 and get to keep it for free, too. According to WSJ, a Walmart spokesperson said the company lets someone keep a refunded item only if the company doesn’t plan on reselling it. And, besides taking the economic costs into consideration, the companies look at the customer’s purchase history as well.
Google workers have formed company’s first labor union
(BUSINESS NEWS) A number of Google employees have agreed to commit 1% of their salary to labor union dues to support employee activism and fight workplace discrimination.
On Monday morning, Google workers announced that they have formed a union with the support of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), the largest communications and media labor union in the U.S.
The new union, Alphabet Workers Union (AWU) was organized in secret for about a year and formed to support employee activism, and fight discrimination and unfairness in the workplace.
“From fighting the ‘real names’ policy, to opposing Project Maven, to protesting the egregious, multi-million dollar payouts that have been given to executives who’ve committed sexual harassment, we’ve seen first-hand that Alphabet responds when we act collectively. Our new union provides a sustainable structure to ensure that our shared values as Alphabet employees are respected even after the headlines fade,” stated Program Manager Nicki Anselmo in a press release.
AWU is the first union in the company’s history, and it is open to all employees and contractors at any Alphabet company in the United States and Canada. The cost of membership is 1% of an employee’s total compensation, and the money collected will be used to fund the union organization.
In a response to the announcement, Google’s Director of People Operations, Kara Silverstein, said, “We’ve always worked hard to create a supportive and rewarding workplace for our workforce. Of course, our employees have protected labor rights that we support. But as we’ve always done, we’ll continue engaging directly with all our employees.”
Unlike other labor unions, the AWU is considered a “Minority Union”. This means it doesn’t need formal recognition from the National Labor Relations Board. However, it also means Alphabet can’t be forced to meet the union’s demands until a majority of employees support it.
So far, the number of members in the union represents a very small portion of Google’s workforce, but it’s growing every day. When the news of the union was first announced on Monday, roughly 230 employees made up the union. Less than 24 hours later, there were 400 employees in the union, and now that number jumped to over 500 employees.
Unions among Silicon Valley’s tech giants are rare, but labor activism is slowly picking up speed, especially with more workers speaking out and organizing.
“The Alphabet Workers Union will be the structure that ensures Google workers can actively push for real changes at the company, from the kinds of contracts Google accepts to employee classification to wage and compensation issues. All issues relevant to Google as a workplace will be the purview of the union and its members,” stated the AWU in a press release.
Ticketmaster caught red-handed hacking, hit with major fines
(BUSINESS NEWS) Ticketmaster has agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after hacking into a competitor’s network specifically to sabotage.
Live Nation’s Ticketmaster agreed to pay $10 million to resolve criminal charges after admitting to hacking into a competitor’s network and scheming to “choke off” the ticket seller company and “cut [victim company] off at the knees”.
Ticketmaster admitted hiring former employee, Stephen Mead, from startup rival CrowdSurge (which merged with Songkick) in 2013. In 2012, Mead signed a separation agreement to keep his previous company’s information confidential. When he joined Live Nation, Mead provided that confidential information to the former head of the Artist Services division, Zeeshan Zaidi, and other Ticketmaster employees. The hacking information shared with the company included usernames, passwords, data analytics, and other insider secrets.
“When employees walk out of one company and into another, it’s illegal for them to take proprietary information with them. Ticketmaster used stolen information to gain an advantage over its competition, and then promoted the employees who broke the law. This investigation is a perfect example of why these laws exist – to protect consumers from being cheated in what should be a fair market place,” said FBI Assistant Director-in-Charge Sweeney.
In January 2014, Mead gave a Ticketmaster executive multiple sets of login information to Toolboxes, the competitor’s password-protected app that provides real-time data about tickets sold through the company. Later, at an Artists Services Summit, Mead logged into a Toolbox and demonstrated the product to Live Nation and Ticketmaster employees. Information collected from the Toolboxes were used to “benchmark” Ticketmaster’s offerings against the competitor.
“Ticketmaster employees repeatedly – and illegally – accessed a competitor’s computers without authorization using stolen passwords to unlawfully collect business intelligence,” said Acting U.S. Attorney DuCharme in a statement. “Further, Ticketmaster’s employees brazenly held a division-wide ‘summit’ at which the stolen passwords were used to access the victim company’s computers, as if that were an appropriate business tactic.”
The hacking violations were first reported in 2017 when CrowdSurge sued Live Nation for antitrust violations. A spokesperson told The Verge, “Ticketmaster terminated both Zaidi and Mead in 2017, after their conduct came to light. Their actions violated our corporate policies and were inconsistent with our values. We are pleased that this matter is now resolved.”
To resolve the case, Ticketmaster will pay a $10 million criminal penalty, create a compliance and ethics program, and report to the United States Attorney’s Office annually during a three-year term. If the agreement is breached, Ticketmaster will be charged with: “One count of conspiracy to commit computer intrusions, one count of computer intrusion for commercial advantage, one count of computer intrusion in furtherance of fraud, one count of wire fraud conspiracy and one count of wire fraud.”
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