The permanent members of the crisis team also include representatives of Human Resources (HR), Corporate Communications (COM), and Corporate Security (CS). Depending on the issue, other corporate units are also called in – the business units Cars, Vans, Trucks, Buses and Mobility Services, including the units’ Sales and Production departments, Procurement, Transportation, Logistics, and the various service units such as Catering and Travel Management. As the situation became more and more serious, this group of participants visibly grew, because the coronavirus was increasingly affecting the Group as a whole.
At the crisis team’s first meetings, however, the main topic of discussion was still the situation in China. China is not only Daimler’s biggest sales market but also a country where the Group has thousands of employees and numerous locations, not to mention suppliers and their subcontractors. The situation there alone would easily have been enough to occupy the crisis team for weeks. Accordingly, the most urgent questions at the end of January read: What safety measures should we recommend to our colleagues in China? How should we handle business trips – not only those to China? How could supply chains be secured, and how could we find replacements for suppliers who were closed down? Specifically, how could components be transported to the places where they were needed, and what safety criteria applied to suppliers when they have to enter the premises? And of course, what were the best ways to protect our employees, business partners, and customers from infection?
These initial measures were successful. As a result, work at almost all of Daimler’s locations continued normally for several weeks. In other words, it was still the “old normal.” In Germany especially, for a moment it looked as though the situation was calming down. In early February there were 12 confirmed cases of coronavirus, but the patients did not show any severe symptoms and were receiving medical treatment. Three weeks later, the initial optimism turned out to be unjustified. The coronavirus, which we had thought was so far away, was suddenly very near. Italy was reporting that its cases were increasing by leaps and bounds. Quarantines had been imposed on entire villages in the Lombardy and Venice regions. And on a day with normal traffic it takes only six hours to drive from Stuttgart to Bergamo.
From that point at the latest, it was clear that the situation could become really serious everywhere in the world. The crisis team decided that Daimler employees returning from a region that the Robert Koch Institut (RKI) had categorized as a coronavirus risk area would have to initially work from home for two weeks, to be on the safe side. If working from home was not possible in their jobs, these employees would be furloughed for 14 days. Throughout the Group, employees would refrain from handshaking. In addition, the crisis team established a reporting procedure: Managers were required to report whether any of their team members had just returned from a risk area or had been in contact with an individual who had tested positive for COVID-19.