Omicron: How to prepare your business for mass absenteeism

Omicron is here and it’s only a matter of time before New Zealand businesses start to see the kind of mass absences experienced in the UK and other countries. While we have already managed to make a head start on booster shots, current rules around self isolation, which could see some household contacts isolating for up to 24 days in theory, mean workforce shortages will be experienced across all sectors.  

So what can you do to minimise the impact of Omicron on your business? 

1) Create a contingency plan 

Create a plan for how you will operate with a partially reduced, and then a significantly reduced, workforce. This is a useful exercise not just for COVID-19 but in any other eventuality where you may be operating with less capacity, for example, during an earthquake.  

Consider what tools you have available – will roles need to change, or could you operate with a reduced service, perhaps with less face-to-face time with customers? Could you move some people around the country to support regions that are experiencing worse outbreaks? If you’re an essential service, you may want to start discussions with temporary workforce providers now so that you can continue to operate even with a significantly decreased staff headcount.    

2) Revisit your business ecosystems – who can you rely on for support?

“Your business doesn’t operate in isolation,” says Tim Ward, Advisory, BDO Invercargill Managing Partner. “There will be several other organisations you work with that you can count on for support and vice versa if anything unexpected occurs. It’s worth taking a look now and thinking about who that may be so that, if something does go wrong, you have an immediate and clear connection that you can reach out to for help to ensure you can still fulfil your customers’ needs, with the expectation that you will lend that business support when they next need it in return.”

Tim Ward, BDO Invercargill Managing Partner, advises businesses to look to their ecosystems for support.

3) Be aware of your contractual obligations

It helps to review your service contracts now, before Omicron embeds itself fully into the community, so that if for some reason you are unable to deliver agreed goods or services due to COVID-19 absences, or your customers are unable to continue with their purchase of your services, you are aware of any force majeure clauses that may provide you or your customers with relief.

Force majeure clauses have become more important than ever since COVID-19, and are useful for any other unplanned event that may occur that might significantly impact your operations.

4) Document your key processes  

It’s worth ensuring you have proper documentation for key processes so that should some employees have to pick up additional duties, they know how to carry them out without having to go through formal training (which may not be available if the person who normally does that job is unwell).  

5) Ensure there will always be staff available by having dual rosters 

If your employees can’t work from home, for example if they’re in essential services, consider having dual rosters so that your employees are split into two or more different groups. Ensure that they only interact with their own group at work, either by rostering them on different days or ensuring they work from different locations, with absolutely no risk of contact between groups. This means if one group has to isolate, at least half your workforce will be able to continue working – the more groups in your structure, the more resilience you’ll have.  

6) Reduce the risk of workplace transmission 

We know the health and wellbeing of your employees will be your number one priority, and this means doing everything you can to ensure the risk of workplace transmission is minimised.  

“Under the red setting of the traffic light system, more people will be working from home. Your staff should be well versed in this by now, but it’s worth working with your IT team to continuously check your systems are adequate to support working from home, and that if you need to, onboarding can also be done remotely,” says Tarunesh Singh, National Risk Advisory Leader, BDO.  

Tarunesh Singh, Risk Advisory National Leader

Tarunesh Singh, Risk Advisory National Leader, BDO, says it's essential to continuously check your IT systems are adequate for working from home. 

If your workforce does need to come in, consider reviewing the COVID-19 protection tools we have available to us, including QR codes, mask use, physical distancing and good hygiene practices, all of which may need to be stepped up given Omicron’s higher transmissibility.  

“In addition, regular communications encouraging people to get booster shots and stay at home if they are unwell or if anyone in their household is unwell will be key,” explains Tarunesh. “It’s also important to make sure that your business’ leaders are setting an example by following these rules.”  

The one silver lining with Omicron is that the health impacts are potentially less severe than other COVID-19 strains, and we can draw on the experiences of other countries that have already gone through their peaks to see how we can minimise the impact of mass absenteeism here. If you would like help creating a contingency plan, would like to know how Omicron will affect your business forecasting, or just want a sounding board for your COVID-19 decisions, please get in touch with your local BDO adviser today.