With the COVID-19 pandemic raging across the globe, companies and individuals alike are struggling with the fallout. Movement control orders, work from home protocols, and social distancing measures are transforming life for every worker and business owner alike.
We spoke to Mr Suresh Pragasam of Mundipharma Pharmaceuticals, together with Dr Murtaza Qasuri, South-East Asia Medical Head of Mundipharma to clear the air about what companies can do, and what we should look out for in the time of COVID-19.
Question: What can companies do to protect their employees from COVID-19?
Suresh: We should utilise and implement technology to enable employees to work from home, which would help decrease the chances of employees being exposed to viruses from crowded areas such as the public commute.
We at Mundipharma have always practiced a work-from-home policy (as and when needed), utilizing technology to allow for virtual work. Even before an outbreak happens, companies should change their employees work behaviour and culture by introducing technology in the workplace and training the employee to start using technology.
In my opinion, there is a slight challenge as certain people would still love to go to their office as it is part of their routine, as they might prefer a face to face interaction. While it may be challenging for some to adjust to this new work environment, citizens should cooperate and follow guidelines to combat the COVID-19 outbreak, especially since the virus appears to be highly contagious. Social distancing is a must.
Q: What can we do to protect ourselves from COVID-19?
Dr Murtaza: The World Health Organization (WHO) COVID-19 related advice for public recommends the following protective measures:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and hand sanitiser to eliminate the virus on your hands.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth. Our hands might touch many surfaces which may be contaminated. If we touch our eyes, nose, or mouth with contaminated hands, we can transfer the virus from the surface to ourselves
- Practice respiratory hygiene. We all should practice good respiratory hygiene to prevent infecting others and getting infected ourselves. We should cover our mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing to prevent the spread of germs and viruses, and immediately wash our hands.
- Maintaining social distancing. Right now, we are in lockdown across many countries in Asia. But, even after the lockdown, I would suggest everyone to avoid crowded places for some time afterwards. We should at least maintain 3 feet distance from other people, particularly those we are coughing or sneezing. This is because for those who are infected by COVID-19, coughing and sneezing projects small droplets containing the virus, and we might be infected if breathe in the virus when we are too close to them.
Q: What should companies do in case one of their employees is infected with COVID-19?
Suresh: If an employee is confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, office disinfection measures should be conducted, and contact tracing should be conducted to ensure that other employees who may have been closely in contact with the infected employee is monitored and tested. Companies should cooperate with government health authorities to establish a protocol on this, if not already in place.
If one employee is infected with COVID-19, companies should implement work from home scheme while it implements office disinfection measures, and use technology such as video conference call for meetings and discussions. Once office disinfection has been cleared, companies should establish protocol for visitors and employees coming in and out of the office such as having the receptionist check the temperature of office entrants as a precautionary measure, and placing hand sanitisers at all the entrances.
In support of social distancing, video conference calls should be encouraged for internal and external meetings and discussions
With the checking of temperature of visitors, internal employees, and external vendors, companies may refuse entry to its office to those who have temperatures of 37.5°C and above, showing symptoms (fever, cough or difficulty in breathing), or those who have had direct contact with any suspected or confirmed COVID-19 cases in the last 14 days.
Q: What’s the difference between having a common flu or cold and having COVID-19?
Dr Murtaza: People with COVID-19 typically develop respiratory symptoms such as fever, cough and runny nose. The symptoms are similar to a common flu or cold, even though it is caused by a different infection.
It is difficult to identify the disease based on symptoms alone, that why I should advice people who have cough, fever and difficulty breathing should seek medical care early. Patients should be honest with their health care providers by informing them if they have travelled in the 14 days before they developed symptoms, of if they have been in close contact with someone who has been sick with respiratory symptoms.
Q: Will this mean more companies will adopt a “work from home” concept for longer periods of time?
Suresh: Yes, especially during this outbreak we believe companies will start introducing or implementing the work from home policy. We, at Mundipharma have always had a work from home policy where employees can enjoy this facility as and when needed. We believe in a work integration and with technology work can be done virtually.
Companies should optimise the use of technology to keep everyone digitally connected to maintain the productivity level. For Mundipharma we do not track the work completed by our employees from home, because we have a mutual trust level and we take into account the output and quality of their work when they have to work from home.
On the technology used by employees at home, we provide virtual platforms for customer interactions as we need to interact externally with customers and internally with our doctors. We also have digital promotional materials where the sales team can interact with doctors digitally. The doctors we engage are able to participate in medical conferences via conference call and webinars.
Q: What continuing measures can companies take to ensure their employees’ health, once the COVID-19 outbreak is over?
Suresh: There are many measures a company can take to ensure their employees’ health once this overbreak is over if health measures weren’t taken into consideration before.
These are a few health measures that companies can implement, which Mundipharma has implemented even before the outbreak.
We have invited speakers and experts of health gadgets such as Fitbit to educate our employees on the importance of taking care of their physical health. In addition to that, we gave each and every one of our employees a Fitbit watch to encourage them.
We participated in Malaysia’s healthiest workplace by a leading healthcare insurance brand and we received a good rating compared to the company benchmark: a low number of smokers; low absenteeism; good mental wellbeing such as low work-related stress; financial concerns and depressive symptoms;
Annual PhAMA Games
It is very good to participate in annual games event if one is available in your industry.
For instance, Mundipharma participates in various sports such as badminton, bowling, and snooker in the Annual Pharma Games, organised by the Pharmaceutical Association Malaysia (PhAMA).
Employee Wellbeing Programme
Companies can go the extra mile, by providing simple incentives like creating an employee wellbeing programme.
At Mundipharma, we subsidise gym memberships and nutrition supplements for all employees.
In addition, to encourage good personal hygiene, we provide each of our employees with monthly product vouchers to spend on Betadine products.
Q: What does this pandemic spell for the corporate world? What are your thoughts on how this will impact how businesses are run in the future?
Suresh: Businesses across the world will definitely be impacted especially for those companies who are not prepared for any form of pandemic. In light of this, pandemic preparedness is very important for organisations as well as individuals. Having said that, we have to inculcate pandemic preparedness as part of our culture, to come up with the best ways and methods for a company to reach its optimum level of output during an outbreak.
Talking about pandemic preparedness, part of it is to start at the very basic facts like how to wash your hands the right way. Mundipharma has partnered with ministries of health across Asia to organise educational activities by having experts train school teachers, while providing materials and resources to the school to educate their students on the importance of washing their hands the right way as it is part of basic personal hygiene.