The number one question on the mind of business leaders today is how to keep their employees safe. When you work for an agriculture company that is part of the world’s critical food infrastructure, that question becomes even more important. In addition to worrying about productivity, profitability and business continuity, you must also be cognizant of the impact that any disruption could have on the global food supply.

As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, my team and I were able to transition over 4.000 people to new ways of working while remaining operational and keeping a continued focus on the health and safety of every worker.  We did this by developing tools and procedures that allowed agility in a rapidly changing and new environment. This approach resulted in our ability to make fast and effective decisions that have kept our teams safe and delivered on our commitments to our customers. While we recognize that we will continue to face new challenges in the weeks and months to come, we feel confident that we have the right systems and processes in place to help us manage through it.

Here’s what we learned over the past three months:

Make It Easy for Employees to Provide Information to Business Leaders: We quickly recognized that the first thing we needed to do when the coronavirus pandemic hit was to create a process for quick employee self-reporting of symptoms potentially associated with coronavirus. This self-report would initiate employee contact by a medical professional while allowing us to monitor coronavirus outbreaks throughout the region This sounds easy on the surface, but it’s really anything but. Traditionally, when someone is sick, they send an email to their manager and the process of follow up is done through non-centralized means. Under normal circumstances, this process works well, but when you’re trying to ascertain the health of 4,500 employees across the region at the same time, its limitations quickly become apparent.

We realized that in order to get our arms around the situation we were facing, we needed to build a self-serve online North America Coronavirus Response Portal. Despite not having coding skills, our team was able to create this powerful tool in a few days using Smartsheet and within just six weeks, the portal received over 28,000 views and interactions across more than 65 Syngenta locations in North America.

Our lesson was that when you create a process that makes it easy for people to share information quickly, they’ll do it. When you make it cumbersome, people will find a reason to put it off. By creating a simple and visually appealing way for employees to follow this critical coronavirus control, not only were they more likely to follow the requirements but most importantly they appreciated the quick contact they received by our medical professionals due to the process capabilities.

Overcommunicate with Your Employees: Of course, communication is a two-way street. As much as the company needed information from employees, the employees were hungry for information from the company. We quickly expanded the portal to become a single access point for information on the status of sites (operational, closed, or open for essential activities only) as well as a hub for employee training, and news and government advisories. We also provided the latest information on the status of our PPE supply chain, shipment status and other information updates for essential equipment.

Leverage Automation: With so many employees updating us on their health status, it’s impossible to respond to all of them individually. Automation has helped us ensure that employees know their voices are heard and that they can access any assistance they need.

For example, if someone clicks a box saying that they’ve been feeling sick, they’ll next be asked about their symptoms, whether they’ve seen a doctor, and so on. Depending on how they answer, the Smartsheet platform will automatically pass their information to HIPPA-trained doctors and nurses who will follow up with them confidentially.

Give Back: Our North America Coronavirus Response Portal was so successful; that we decided to create an additional portal focused on employee Wellbeing.  This portal was created to support our employees to stay healthy, active, and manage stress during these unprecedented times.  The employee Wellbeing Portal worked so well that we decided to make it available to our customers, families and communities as a gift from the Syngenta team. We also encouraged employees to share it with their loved ones, first responders and others. On launch day alone, we had over 1,000 hits from the community wellbeing portal, demonstrating the need people have for tools that will help them cope with the challenges of this health crisis. Opening the portal not only helped our communities, it also gave employees something to feel good about during a difficult time.

The key to managing through the COVID-19 crisis is understanding and mitigating the risk. The Coronavirus Response Portal and Wellbeing Portals have helped us quickly mitigate risks, keep our employees safe and deliver for the customers.

If this crisis had happened even five years ago, we likely would have been dealing with a deluge of email, which would have caused slower responses, confusion and a lack of accurate data, all of which leads to increased business risk. We have delivered on our commitments to employees and customers during this unprecedented time, and the use of technology that has empowered the Syngenta team to stay ahead of the curve as we deal with one of the most challenging times of our lifetime.