Silicon Valley Watcher - Former FT journalist Tom Foremski reporting from the intersection of technology and media

Dimdim: Avoiding 'SOS' - sick office syndrome

Posted by Guest Writer - November 20, 2009

Guest post by DD Ganguly, CEO, Dimdim

A few years back, I used to work for a global company with more than 13,200 people. My office alone had more than 1,000 people, so when winter rolled around, it'd be hard not to encounter someone who had a cold or the flu. Back then, it was unpleasant to hear a colleague sneezing or coughing in the halls, but it wouldn't prevent me from being in the office, nor would I be upset that they were coming to work sick. But now, coughing in your elbow is not enough to prevent the spread of dangerous, highly contagious diseases like the H1N1 virus. We must change the way we do business to stay healthy.

I am not alone in arguing this way. Several institutions and government entities such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration are calling for a cultural change to how we communicate in the workplace this cold and flu season. One recommendation is that businesses replace workplace meetings by communicating by phone, using email or other technology tools.

What's more, there is a paid sick leave bill being considered that will require businesses with more than two-dozen workers to give people sick leave. Rightly so, I think. When you are sick, you are no good to anybody. You can spread it to your colleagues, you can spread it to your customers. But the legislation isn't expected to pass until later this winter.

Until then, the pandemic may reach your office. What then? How do you make sure your employees will stay healthy and make sure that if the pandemic becomes worse, that you can stay in business.

As the CEO of Dimdim, a start-up with more than 60 employees, I understand how important it is that each and every one of them stays healthy. One day of lost time can cause a significant set back to our product development, customer support and sales efforts, let alone an entire week which is often what's needed to recover from a bad cold or flu. In this volatile economy, it's difficult think about employees not coming to work. However, I realize that I need to take the necessary precautions to keep my staff healthy, while giving them an option to work from home if they feel more comfortable doing so. One of my employees has already experienced the flu-induced challenge and opportunity of working remotely, which you can read about here.

Here's my prescription: Create an H1N1 preparedness plan. It doesn't have to cost anything other than a little time, there are many free services (such as Dimdim) that emulate the face-to-face aspects of working and allow for safe, healthy and highly interactive communications. Cleveland Clinic Lerner College has recently adopted as part of its H1N1 preparedness plan, so they have a back up if one of the students in a study group falls ill. A Dimdim web meeting is exactly like an in-person meeting, without being coughed or sneezed on. All attendees can simultaneously annotate a presentation, mark up a whiteboard, send instant messages and broadcast their audio and video if permitted by the host.

We've worked hard to hire exceptional people who value their colleagues, for their ability to provide insightful contributions, as well as to care for their personal health and well-being. Our employees are encouraged to stay home if they have the slightest signs of an illness coming on, because we know that they can use Dimdim to keep our business going.


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