Markus Dohle, chief executive officer for Penguin Random House, has shared a note to reassure staff worldwide that the safeguarding of their health is its "highest priority", at the same time as staff in its US offices, in New York, Colorado Springs and Emeryville, were told to "plan for today to be your last day in the office".
Dohle said in a letter to staff on Friday (13th March) the company "is strong" and will "do everything to ensure business continuity, so that we are able to share our books with readers around the globe during this difficult time".
Explaining its approach to tackling the virus, he said a "one-size-fits-all approach" for all offices worldwide wasn't possible, due to the geographic nature of the spread of the virus, and so, instead, it has established "localised coronavirus taskforces" that are "constantly monitoring the situation" and meeting "regularly" in the countries where they are based.
At the same time as implementing plans locally, Dohle said these taskforces were "thinking globally" in terms of sharing knowledge and advice, and he updated staff he was meeting "frequently" with Bertelsmann to "collaborate on our plans and align our approach".
"It is difficult to predict the impact this outbreak will have on our business in the coming months," Dohle wrote, "but I know that our company is strong, our colleagues are committed, and our responses are rapid and proactive. Please know that we will do everything to ensure business continuity, so that we are able to share our books with readers around the globe during this difficult time.
"Though books are not a panacea for what the world is going through, we hope that our stories can provide a small escape and some comfort for our readers, and of course for each of us, too.
"Our highest priority continues to be you and your families and safeguarding your health. Please be well, stay safe and healthy, and rest assured that we are a global community of colleagues who care about one another, always—and especially—in times like these."
In terms of what Dohle's note means in practical terms for its US operations, Madeline McIntosh on Friday (13th March) told staff the decision had been made that everyone based in New York, Colorado Springs and Emeryville offices who can work from home "should now transition to do so". "Plan for today to be your last day in the office, for the time being," she wrote in an email to staff. "In addition to keeping yourselves safer, this will also keep the facilities safe for those who do need to be here. It will also help lighten the load on local infrastructures and help slow the spread of the virus."
Its IT staff have been "working around the clock", she said earlier in the week, on Wednesday (11th March), to maximise the number of people who are able to work remotely. At this time she said she was "grateful that at this time we have no knowledge of anyone in our PRH community who has been exposed to the virus".
In her latest update, McIntosh acknowledged "social distancing" would be tough for a business based on relationship-building and connection, in response to which employees had launched a new Facebook group, called Igloo Outpost, where staff "can share what we’re reading, streaming, cooking, and more". The group's description rallied: "We're a team. We stand together. We’re just standing a little farther apart right now."
In relation to the UK specifically, a spokesperson for PRH UK said "the health and wellbeing of our employees and those we work with is our priority, and we want to minimise the impact and reduce the possibility of exposure to coronavirus".
PRH UK meanwhile said it is "closely monitoring and following" guidance from Public Health England as well as the World Health Organisation and local health authorities, and is "providing regular updates and resources to colleagues".
It has a task force in place, which is also meeting "regularly" to review business continuity plans for each department and communicate these plans with colleagues – including information on and measures around business travel and planned events and meetings.
As part of this, it is "assessing remote working needs and requirements" and "trialling remote working for all London-based colleagues to ensure we are best placed to manage this should it become necessary"