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Coronavirus Marketing

What global businesses are doing to prepare staff and the workplace for coronavirus


By Shawn Lim, Reporter, Asia Pacific

March 2, 2020 | 10 min read

As the coronavirus continues its spread around the world, the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have encouraged employers to actively encourage sick employees to stay home.

Over the past month, advice has been actively given by governments to citizens on how to avoid spreading the virus, but focus has turned to what businesses can do.

Businesses should place posters around the workplace that encourage staying home when sick, cough and sneeze etiquette, and hand hygiene at the entrance to your workplace and in other workplace areas where they are likely to be seen. They should also routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces in the workplace, such as workstations, countertops, and doorknobs with cleaning agents usually used in these areas, following the directions on the label.

While many businesses have been heavily impacted by people being quarantined around the world, with the financial markets at their lowest since the last crash over a decade ago, consumer goods giants are seeing a boom. Major FMCG companies such as Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Reckitt Benckiser have been among the few beneficiaries of the global panic with sales of hand sanitizer and cleaning products shooting up as the public look to beat the bug. This follows reports around the world that some supermarkets are running low on stock with UK high street chemist Boots now rationing purchases to two bottles of hand sanitizer per customer. However, the use of soap and water is still advised as the best combination.

Instructions of effective hand washing were released by the British National Health Service advising that the length of time should be that of the time it takes to sing Happy Birthday to You for each wash.

Businesses should also ensure employees who become sick while traveling or on temporary assignment understand that they should notify their supervisor and should promptly call a healthcare provider for advice if needed.

For employees who are well but who have a sick family member at home with coronavirus should notify their supervisor and seek advice on how to conduct a risk assessment of their potential exposure.

Those travelling back from a hot zone have been advised to self-quarantine and keep themselves in isolation in order to prevent spread through contact with others. The costs of sick pay should be considered immediately by the company and outlined to all staff in advance of travelling for holidays or for work as to the outcome should they be unable to work as a result.

In the UK, the Health Protection regulations brought in this year as a result of the pandemic, there is no legal right for sick pay for anyone in isolation, however it is at the discretion of each employer whether to pay that employee during that period.

In the US, the government has recommended anyone feeling ill to stay home. However there is no federal law for companies to provide sick leave, which makes it difficult for employees to comply and means that the spread could be all the more difficult to contain.

If an employee is confirmed to have coronavirus, employers should inform their colleagues of their possible exposure to the virus in the workplace.

Here is a list of what some businesses around the world are doing in addition to WHO guidelines:


The social media platform has informed its staff and partners it is suspending all non-critical business travel and events.

It said it is doing this because its goal is to reduce the risk that anyone at Twitter might contract or inadvertently spread the virus.

Singapore Airlines

The airline is cutting the pay for its management staff as the coronavirus outbreak has hit demand for air travel.

In a note to staff, chief executive Goh Choon Phong said from 1 March, his pay will be cut by 15%. The airline's two executive vice-presidents will take a 12% cut, and senior vice-presidents a 10% cut. Other affected staff will take a 7% or 5% cut.

A voluntary no-pay leave scheme will be offered to staff, including cabin crew and pilots.


Facebook has cancelled its set-piece developer conference F8, which was originally scheduled for San Jose in early May to discuss software developments.

"In light of the growing concerns around Covid-19, we’ve made the difficult decision to cancel the in-person component of F8 this year, to prioritize the health and safety of our developer partners, employees and everyone who helps put F8 on," the social network said in a statement.

Singapore government

Singapore’s government ministers will take a one-month cut in their salaries that can cross a million dollars a year because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Members of Parliament will also take a one-month pay cut to their allowances, while senior public service officers will have a half-month reduction in their salaries.

President Halimah Yacob has also volunteered to have her pay cut by a month.


Chief executive Jon Wren has issued a staff warning while postponing travel to certain regions and quarantining staff who return from these spaces.

This came after it closed its London office for OMD after a coronavirus scare.

Travel to or from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, or Northern Italy has been postponed, until further notice. Furthermore, Employees, who are returning from personal or business trips from China, Japan, Hong Kong, Iran, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, or Northern Italy have been asked to work from home for 14 calendar days

It also applies to any employee who has had a member of their household return from a trip to any of the countries listed above.

"Our first priority – now and always – is the health and safety of our people. As the number of reported coronavirus cases continues to grow, especially outside of China, we are updating our guidance," said Wren.

"Omnicom and our agencies will continue to follow the advice of the appropriate national regulatory authorities, as well as the World Health Organization."

"We will monitor the situation as it evolves and continue to update our guidance accordingly. If you have any questions or concerns, please contact the leadership of your agency."

Interpublic Group

The group has imposed a company-wide travel restriction to China and Hong Kong due to the coronavirus for all non-essential business travel.

“At this time, this restriction only applies to China and Hong Kong. As always, this decision was made with employee safety and well-being in mind. We do also realize some travel may be necessary so the current restriction does allow for some business-critical travel in certain case-by-case situations," according to an internal memo seen by The Drum.

"If there’s a critical business reason to travel, the travelling party must provide written justification along with management approval to IPG’s Risk office prior to ticketing. In the meantime, even if you don’t travel for work, there are simple precautions you can take to stay healthy. We will provide further updates as necessary and thank you for your cooperation.”

Publicis Groupe

The French ad giant has a restricted travel policy in place and has asked that people avoid non-essential trips. Those who need to travel to China will require specific authorisation.

Dentsu Inc.

Dentsu put in place an emergency workplace protocol and forced 5,000 staffers at its headquarters in Tokyo to work from home after an employee was confirmed to have Covid-19.

The employee, in his 50s, was hospitalized but not in serious condition, according to the ad giant. Four employees identified by public health officials as having had close contact with him began to work from home.

Dentsu has also stopped visitors from entering its headquarters.


More drastic action is called for when Covid-19 strikes closer to home with sportswear brand Nike forced to shut down its Oregon and European headquarters for ‘deep cleaning’ after an employee was found to have been struck down by the virus.

As part of a global clean-up operation, all offices and fitness centers were closed worldwide over the weekend for disinfection.


In London, a similar approach was taken by oil giant Chevron which instructed all 300 staff at its Canary Wharf base to work from home after an employee who had visited an infected country reported flu-like symptoms.

The cautious approach has seen traders and admin staff alike log-in remotely to avoid coming into close contact with potential carriers.


The developer has announced a wage freeze for members of staff at managerial level and above.

From April 1, board members and senior management will take a 5 to 15% reduction in their board fee and base salary "as a show of togetherness and solidarity with its stakeholders", according to CapitaLand.

These measures will be reviewed after six months or when the position arising from the coronavirus outbreak has stabilised.

Temasek Holdings

Singapore state investor Temasek will implement a company-wide salary freeze, including promotion increases, for its upcoming April compensation exercise.

Its senior management may also take a voluntary pay cut of up to 5% for up to a year.

This will be matched dollar-for-dollar by Temasek, and along with the budget originally set aside for salary increases, will be donated to the company's staff volunteer initiative T-Touch.

Thai Airways

Thailand’s national carrier has also announced salary cuts for its management. Its senior management will voluntarily reduce their salaries by 15% to 25% for six months beginning March in a bid to cut expenses.

“Thai Airways has implemented measures such as reduction of operational expenses and delayed unnecessary investments,” said the airline president, Sumeth Damrongchaitham.

Senior management, including the president and vice presidents, would also reduce their transport allowances by 20% to 30%.

Verizon, IBM and AT&T

Travel restrictions are an obvious immediate step to limit the spread of the virus, a strategy adopted by the likes of Verizon, IBM and AT&T, all of which have withdrawn delegates from the RSA Conference which draws 45,000 people each year.

This has seen companies ban non-essential travel, especially to virus hot spots, by cancelling off-site visits and meetings to minimize the contagion risk.

Further reporting by John Glenday and Stephen Lepitak

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