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September 20, 2007

Feeling Sick Yet?

Psychologically, of course, who doesn't sometimes feel sick at work?  When hacking coughs and rampant fever overtake your business, there's initial relief you have more space in the refrigerator to store your lunch. Then,  you remember ailing Roberta was supposed help you with that project you promised your boss, and down-at-the-mouth Fred is the only IT worker who knows how to fix your e-mail problem. You laugh at the prospect of mass disease (especially one with a name that conjures images of Big Bird), but if it should happen--and I guess they (The Experts) say it might--you're sunk.

What to do?  Naturally, who wants to panic?  The question is whether there's any way to avoid the panic?  When commuters start dragging through the train station in a sluggish, disoriented state (perhaps the disease onset is so swift signs of it are evident before they can get home), your workers aren't going to start hyperventilating--because of the Bird Flu memo you sent out last month?  I think not.

Smart, you distribute a list of Bird Flu Do's and Don'ts, such as "Please wash your hands, Please don't come to the office if you can't stand upright, Please don't deliberately cough all over your boss's desk."  How often should we be washing our hands, workers may posit, and what about sharing pens, can we risk worker-to-worker ballpoint transmission? 

What I'm asking is, how does an office function normally under such conditions?  Think about an elementary classroom of 25 children, two of whom have Chicken Pox. If you tell them not to share food or pencils, and wash their hands before eating, do you think you'll stop the sickness from spreading?  Well, no, because what happens when one student touches a doorknob touched by another student exposed to the illness, but not yet showing signs of it?  The first child unthinkingly rubs his eye, and it's all over.

My advice is think mobility. Unlike the days of the Black Death (not referring to the day last month when you reviewed the latest financial results), we don't have to associate with each other if we don't want to--at least not for work. Instead of drawing up lists of Thou Shalt Wash Thoroughly and Thou Shalt Not Arrive Coughing, make plans for mass telecommunication. Talk to IT about what needs to be done to make it work, and train your employees on the Sick Times Mobility Plan.

My computer isn't warm and fuzzy, but I'd rather share space with it than a really warm, really unwell cubical mate.

In the midst of your daily training glory and angst, is there room for Bird Flu, and other, lesser known, mass sicknesses?  What would you do if your workers started to fall left and right before turning in their assignments?


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