In my previous post, I outlined the four phases of the coronavirus pandemic — Phase One: Infection; Phase Two: Social Distancing; Phase Three: Management; and Phase Four: Eradication. We are about to enter Phase Three, which will last in the US from mid-May to at least March of 2021. To navigate this stage of the crisis, governments and companies must design and enforce pandemic management protocols (PMPs) — a set of procedures and processes by which people will go to the office, go to school, congregate in public, eat in restaurants, travel, and move without causing unmanageable new outbreaks of the virus. The efficacy of PMPs will depend on their design, the willingness of the populace to abide by them, the quality of enabling technology, and the effectiveness of governments to enforce them. As part of these protocols, companies and governments will employ testing, tracing, and quarantining (TTQ) to control outbreaks. If the PMP regimen is not well managed, society will risk looping from Phase Three back into Phase One — necessitating another two to three months of social distancing and risking continued economic impact. So there is a lot at stake in implementing Phase Three well.

Forrester is researching PMPs from around the world, and we have just issued a client report (very short summary here) giving direction on how companies should design and implement their plans for Phase Three. This is a complex set of data and recommendations, but here are some highlights that CEOs should be aware of:

  1. Forrester’s most recent survey of working adults in the US showed that 41% are afraid to go back to work. Your PMPs must retain enough flexibility and sensitivity to match employee emotion.
  2. The return to work will happen in stages, not all at once. Through each stage, PMPs should be reviewed and refined.
  3. Phase Three will entail a continuous back-and-forth between employees at work and employees at home, depending on virus control. So you should prepare for “hybrid work” — with some employees at home and some at work in continuously changing proportions. You must be able to flex the company between the two states seamlessly and easily.
  4. If you have employees who can work effectively at home, don’t be surprised if state and federal governments require them to stay at home through Phase Three — enabling those who must be at work (in factories, construction, delivery centers, schools, retail, travel) to do so surrounded by fewer people.
  5. Your employees who are working effectively at home and are happy to do so should continue to stay at home.
  6. Hybrid work will put new stresses on your technology infrastructure — you must have the ability to maintain at-work and work-from-home tech at robust levels. This will be a new business requirement in Phase Three.
  7. Early best practices are showing the effectiveness of broad, continuous, open employee communications. As a simple rule of thumb, your employee communication should be double what it was pre-pandemic. If you had a company meeting every month, do it every two weeks; if you checked in with direct reports every two weeks, do these every week. The hybrid workforce will demand this level of connection.

Phase Three will be a test for companies — this is where they will distinguish themselves with customers, employees, suppliers, and investors. As a Forrester client said to me recently, “In this crisis, our goal is to be the company that our employees are proud to work for.”

Forrester has reviewed the 10-Ks (the yearly financial report for public companies) of the Fortune 50 companies in the US — none of them indicate preparedness and planning for a pandemic on this scale. So this will be a rolling IQ test for executive teams and boards — challenging their abilities to act quickly, adjust quickly, and rapidly calculate new facts in real time.

Business resilience in the face of this crisis will be a competitive advantage. Forrester defines business resilience as “the ability of an organization to deliver on its mission and vision regardless of the crisis or disruption.” Companies must recover faster, navigate hybrid work seamlessly, and deliver to customers — hitting these marks while keeping employees and their families as safe as possible. It’s a big task, but we have no choice — we must rise to this challenge.