There is an old saw about the Chinese character for crisis being a combination of the characters for danger and opportunity. Friends who speak Mandarin tell me that this is not true, but it is so convenient that I wanted to use it here. Please consider it quoted.
Linguistic folklore or not, I believe that there is both current danger and opportunity in the coronavirus outbreak that is happening in China. I have been in the audiovisual business through several major flu outbreaks and the SARS epidemic, and each time the AV business was affected in roughly the same way. For those of you who have not been through it before, let me give you the benefit of my hindsight.
Some of the things that will happen if a contagious epidemic strikes your area are obvious. First of all, public events will be canceled or postponed, as will internal corporate meetings that require travel. Many organizations will allow or encourage employees to work from home or to take personal or vacation time. One organization that I worked for offered a bonus of two additional days for every week of vacation taken during the SARS outbreak. Also, many organizations will cancel work that requires their staff to interact with outsiders, and this can include audiovisual rentals or installations. People will worry that our delivery drivers and installers could become a conduit for passing an illness and we should worry about it too. We should also, of course, worry about the reduction in business that the cancellation of public events could cause.
So we should plan for these possibilities in two ways: defensively, we should plan to keep our staff healthy, and offensively, we should have a plan to assist our clients during this time to keep our business level as high as we can.
Masks and Gloves
The first protective measure, of course, is to provide masks and gloves for delivery drivers, rental technicians and installation technicians who will come into contact with the general public. This measure not only tells your employees and coworkers that you are concerned for their health, it also illustrates to your clients that you are concerned for them as well.
Note that most outlets have already sold out of these items, especially antiviral masks that are now in short supply all over the world. Every brand sold on Amazon currently shows unavailable. A vital hint that people outside the industry may not know is that many construction dust masks are now made to N95 standards, which makes them able to intercept virus particles. I was able to order a supply through the outlet that sells us industrial supplies, and you may be able to as well.
Another easy preventive method is to keep a supply of disinfectant spray and wipes in rental vehicles and in offices. Frequent disinfection of surfaces that people touch is one of the main ways of preventing the spread of viruses. Especially in places like the lunchroom, it is essential to disinfect surfaces frequently. During the SARS outbreak, we had employees wipe down tables after they ate as well as surfaces that they may have touched like the coffee maker or the microwave. Current understanding is that for the coronavirus to infect a person, it needs to pass in through orifices such as the mouth nose and eyes, which makes the lunchroom an especially important place to disinfect. This is obvious. But another important thing that people may not think of is to wipe down rental equipment that was handled by clients before it is packed up and returned to the shop.
Procedures in the Workplace
Thoughtful procedures in the workplace can also go a long way toward keeping our staff healthy. Like many audiovisual organizations, during SARS, we worked in small offices, close together. Remaining five or six feet apart and being careful when we coughed or sneezed was a critical practice that we all tried to remember. But an even more important procedure was that it was during SARS that we began encouraging employees to work from home when possible. While this was not an option for warehouse employees and drivers, most of the office staff, such as accounting and other administrative personnel, were able to work from home. At one point, we even forwarded our phones to our assistant manager’s home, and she answered calls from there.
But enough about preventive measures, as they are common knowledge and will become even more so if the outbreak hits your area. Now let’s talk about business measures:
The rental portion of our business is usually the first to be affected by a viral outbreak and is typically the sector that feels business reduction the most. Probably the most obvious thing that we can do to prevent meeting cancellation is to enable those meetings to be held remotely, even by those clients for whom this is not a standard procedure. It may behoove you to develop rental packages for conferencing equipment and to put out that information to clients before meetings are canceled entirely. Besides video and audio-conferencing equipment, digital whiteboards can become excellent rental items during this period. For those of you who are not in national or international organizations, keep your AVIXA guide handy, so that you can work with colleagues and other organizations to handle both ends of a multi-location rental.
This may also be a good time to introduce clients who do not usually use these methods for audio, video or virtual conferencing. When the SARS outbreak started, one of the first things I produced was a quick flyer called “Staying Healthy during Meetings,” to remind clients that we could enable them to continue their regular meeting schedule while protecting their personnel. Coupling this with some rental packages that make ordering the appropriate gear effortless for clients can go a long way toward keeping our business levels up during such a trying time.
Be careful out there. This may turn out to be nothing, in which case you will have used it as an opportunity to show clients that you are on the ball.