Working Safely at H1N1's Ground Zero
Manager Carlos Mondragon, who heads Dimension Data Mexico, explains how the company's Mexico City office is coping with flu-related disruptions.
How are workers in Mexico City dealing with the H1N1 flu outbreak? Do they go to work or stay home? Should they limit exposure to customers, friends, or family members? Carlos Mondragon, country manager for Dimension Data Mexico, is managing s Mexico City office with 36 employees. He answered the following emailed questions on May 1, discussing the current situation and steps taken to prevention infection among the workforce. So far, no employee is sick with the flu, he said.
The measures taken to safeguard the employees include allowing them to work from home whenever possible by way of remote video conferencing, video chat, and Web meetings; requiring client and internal meetings to be conducted via videoconferencing whenever possible; requiring employees to use mouth covers in the office; turning off the air conditioning so airborne viruses are not recirculated by the ventilation system; and temporarily restricting travel by all Dimension employees in the Americas to and from Mexico.
"Prevention is key," Mondragon wrote, "so special efforts should be taken to control the infection by keeping everybody well informed of the recommendations provided by health authorities and medical institutions."
1. How are residents of Mexico City and businesses there coping with the flu outbreak?
The Mexican government (federal and local) has implemented a series of recommendations that have been repeatedly communicated to the population. Although I'm not listing all of these recommendations, the more important are:
- a. Prevention -– personal hygiene: The virus is mainly transmitted by direct contact. This means that people should wash their hands as often as possible and not touch their eyes, mouth or nose with their hands. The use of “mouth covers” is recommended if they are in places where they are very close to others – like the subway and similar places – to prevent direct contamination if somebody sneezes.
- b. Prevention –- avoid crowded places: The government decided to close schools at all levels until May 6th. A holiday extension is being done to stop non-critical work activities from May 1st to May 5th. Local government has closed other crowded places like restaurants, movie theatres, sports stadiums, and government offices.
- c. Prevention -– reduce face-to-face contact: Companies of all kinds are taking actions to reduce the time their employees work close to others, avoiding meetings or even closing offices.
- d. Treatment: The disease is curable if it is treated on time. This means that the people should go to the doctor or a hospital if they have any symptoms of the disease. At the hospital an evaluation will be done and if there are signs that the patient has the flu, medicine is provided.
There are many other ways in which people are coping with the problem, although most of those are not specially recommended by the government or medical institutions.
2. Your company has restricted employees' travel and limited face-to-face contacts. So far this has been successful, correct? Have municipal or federal health authorities recommended or imposed travel restrictions and other steps your company has taken to prevent infection among your workers?
For our company, there are no specific restrictions imposed by the government, other than the holiday extension from May 1st (a regular holiday) to May 5th (another regular holiday). In this manner, May 4th is the only working day that was cut by government up to now.
3. How many employees work for Dimension Data Mexico?
4. What infection prevention practices are your suppliers, contractors, and customers in the region following? Has your company coordinated its preparations with them or asked them to change their procedures (such as delaying or canceling deliveries, canceling on-site training, etc.) in any way because of the flu?
Most of our customers are taking similar precautions to prevent the spread of the flu. This means that some face-to-face meetings have been postponed, as have events and training. Some have closed offices, like government and banks administrative buildings. We, of course, adjust our operations to the policies established by our customers.
5. Do you have ample protective supplies, such as protective masks, to last through the expected duration of the flu?
Our building provides a sufficient supply of protective masks, although Dimension Data has had its own supply of masks since the first signs of the outbreak. Even though wearing mouth covers is now a common practice, the flu is not mainly transmitted through the air but rather through very close contact. In that sense, protective masks function as a secondary protection.
6. Are your workers fearful about the flu? How are you counseling and educating them? What if anything are you telling them about personal contacts they may have with relatives or friends?
Fortunately, as I'm speaking, none of our employees or their family members have been infected by the flu virus. The percentage of the population that is affected is low. However we believe that it is important to take the necessary preventive actions in order to decrease the chance of contagion. As in any population, there are employees that are more fearful than others and some that are not necessarily well informed. So there is a mix of perceptions around the danger of the flu infection.
I have been supporting all prevention recommendations, and I have actively tried to keep the employees informed. At the same time, Dimension Data has offered employees the flexibility of working from home if necessary, using the collaboration tools that we have in place, like video conferencing, instant messaging, webinars, live meetings, IP Telephony calls, and teleconferencing.
7. Has your productivity been affected by letting employees work at home when possible? How are you staying in touch with employees who are working from home and with your company’s offices in other cities or countries?
At Dimension Data, working from home and telecommuting from geographically-dispersed locations are common practices. We regularly use advanced collaboration tools, so Dimension Data Mexico hasn't seen any significant impact on normal operations due to the flu outbreak. However, there are still some activities that have been postponed, like employee training and some face-to-face meetings with customers who don't have video conferencing capabilities.
8. This flu outbreak is now a global concern. Based on what your company has done, what advice do you have to help U.S. companies that have operations around the world manage their workforce during this outbreak?
The first thing is to be prepared with the necessary information about the flu and communicate it properly to employees. Prevention is key, so special efforts should be taken to control the infection by keeping everybody well informed of the recommendations provided by health authorities and medical institutions.
At the same time, U.S. companies should have the necessary collaboration tools -– like video conferencing, instant messaging, webinars, live meetings, and IP telephony -– to continue to operate normally and provide employees with the necessary flexibility to cope with the problem at the level they require. With these tools in place, companies will experience minimal disruption to their productivity.
About Dimension Data
Dimension Data is a $4.5 billion global IT services and solutions provider that helps clients plan, build, support, and manage their IT infrastructures. Dimension Data applies its expertise in networking, converged communications, security, Microsoft, storage, and contact center technologies and unique skills in consulting, integration, and managed services to create customized client services. The company was founded in Johannesburg, South Africa in 1983 and listed on the London Stock Exchange (LSE:DDT) in 2000. Dimension Data opened offices in Mexico and Canada in 2007.
For more information, visit http://www.dimensiondata.com/na/AboutUs/AboutUs.htm and http://www.dimensiondata.com/na/AboutUs/HistoryAndMilestones.htm.