It’s almost a year now since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 a global pandemic.
From that day onwards, things have never been the same. Just as it heavily impacted public health, COVID-19 prompted challenges to the business sector. None are immune. Even some of the biggest, most financially stable companies felt the blow of the pandemic.
Much worse, it caused thousands of small businesses to shut down across America. Luckily, as the country adapts to the “new normal” and local governments loosen up restrictions, more and more business owners are taking the baby steps to get back on track.
Small businesses employ 59 million people in the U.S. alone. There’s a dire need for them to re-open, even if the future looks very different… and in most cases, unclear.
As a business owner, you might be concerned with a lot of things. How will I ensure my employees are protected? How can we restore operations without compromising our health?
Fortunately, there are many strategies that your small business can employ to get back on track without anyone among your staff or customers getting infected by Coronavirus.
According to WHO, the risk of COVID-19 exposure in the workplace is reduced when people stay at least one meter apart from each other, and disinfect surfaces regularly.
Before resuming operations, it’s necessary to conduct rapid assessments of your employees to determine the possibility of exposure risk.
Below are the WHO’s guidelines to getting your workplace ready for COVID-19:
- Develop a plan when someone becomes ill or suspected with COVID-19. This includes setting up an isolation room or area to limit exposure to others and contacting the local health authorities.
- Promote teleworking. Employees who work on the back end, such as accountants and bookkeepers, marketing analysts, and admin staff can be encouraged to work from home, and just come to the office at specific schedules.
- Develop a contingency business continuity plan.
A very important health protocol that small businesses should follow is social distancing.
You have to make sure that your workspace is structured to promote this safety requirement. How can you practice social distancing at work?
- Reconfigure desks and workstations. Place each desk at least 6 feet apart. Discourage workspace-sharing among your employees.
- If your commercial space or office is small, stagger work schedules to minimize the gathering of people. Have a percentage of your workspace come to work for the week, and the remaining percentage the next. Those who are not scheduled to come to the office can work from home.
- Repurpose communal spaces, conference rooms, and cafeterias so your employees can spread out.
- Set lower capacity thresholds for areas where more people usually come in. This may include limiting the number of clients to be entertained per day. To ensure continuity of business, set up online/virtual appointments.
Encourage employees returning to work
Your employees are likely looking forward to returning to work, but they are unsure about how it’s going to be. There will also be concerns on health and safety, all of these can be demotivating.
The best way to encourage them is to create clear health protocols that will give them peace of mind, upskill them, and provide support.
As your company adapts to the new normal, you may need to offer training and mentoring so they become familiar with the new processes, tools, and systems that will help them become successful at work.
You should also set expectations about how their performance will be measured, according to the new processes.
Any changes in pay, bonuses, savings, and benefits should be tackled beforehand. Since you’re still recovering, it’s normal for your business to cut costs and that may affect the perks and benefits your employees used to enjoy. Help them understand the situation and devise a plan to increase engagement, perhaps by offering cost-effective employee benefits programs.
Get them excited about the future
This pandemic will not be forever. Your company will soon get back on track. And it will grow, with their help. Recognize your employees’ valuable contribution. Show them where your company is headed and what their new role will be in shaping that future.
Support employees emotionally
Being laid off or furloughed can be traumatic for most employees. Just as you want to prepare them for the new normal by offering support, you should also “fire-up” and motivate them to overcome the emotional impact of COVID-19 and become more optimistic about the future. Help them connect with authorities that offer mental health support, such as the Department of Mental Health.
Show empathy and understanding
After several months of getting stuck in their homes, your employees will need time to adjust. It can be challenging for them at first. But with your support, empathy, and understanding, they will become more efficient at work.
Whenever possible, offer one-on-ones and check-ins with your staff.
Recognize their efforts
A tap on the shoulder, a shout-out on your company email or bulletin board, or directly telling them they did a good job, can boost employee morale and get them through a difficult day.
Keep them connected
As some of your employees can’t be at the office for certain periods, you need to devise a way to keep them connected and still get support as they work from home. This may include investing in some collaborative software or scheduling virtual check-ins.
Develop a cleaning policy
As part of your health and safety protocols, you will need a more thorough and strict approach to keeping your business premises clean.
According to the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention (CDC), your plan should be based on the following:
- Routine cleaning of floors, objects, and surfaces with soap and water. The WHO identifies it as the best method to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.
- Disinfection using EPA-approved cleaning products. Ensure proper ventilation during and after application.
- In case the listed cleaning products are not available, using a bleach-water solution is to disinfect objects and surfaces. Dilute 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of room temperature water, or follow the dilution steps provided on the packaging.
- Moving or completely removing items to reduce frequent handling or contact from multiple people.
- Determining areas that need to be cleaned or disinfected. Outdoor areas require normal cleaning and do not need disinfecting. Additionally, cleaning products must be stored properly, and diluted cleaning solutions labeled accordingly.
Those in charge of cleaning your business premises should take proper precautions when handling disinfectants as they can be dangerous to one’s health.
Invest in safety equipment and technology
Around the world, tech start-ups are introducing innovative technologies that help businesses fight COVID-19. Some of these technologies utilize artificial intelligence and cloud computing while others are mainly software programs that automate processes and eliminate the need for in-person transactions.
While it may sound like an additional expense, investing in safety equipment and technology can greatly lower your future costs by lowering the risk of exposure in your company. They also ensure that all your health and safety protocols are strictly implemented within your organization.
Some of the technology that you should consider are:
Time and attendance clocks
With this technology, your employees can clock into work in just a few seconds (maybe less). These systems are adopted to detect abnormal temperatures as well as employees coming in without face masks.
These devices can also limit the number of persons allowed to enter your business facilities. Time and attendance clocks are ideal for a wide range of industries, from retail to food, medical, and education.
Project management systems
Online collaboration tools can help your employees remain productive even if they are working from home. It helps them stay connected, work on projects, find support, ask questions, and get real-time updates from your company.
Ordering and delivery apps
Fulfilling orders can be tough when your staffing is tight. This is why online ordering and delivery apps are very popular right now. These technologies allow you to hit your sales goals without compromising the health and safety of both your customers and employees.
If your HVAC system has been around for more than a decade, consider giving it an upgrade. Filthy air conditioning systems and ventilating systems are home to bacteria and viruses which can cause the spread of different diseases.
In addition, consider using a desk fan to create a nice breeze in your workspace and increase your comfort.
A safer and healthier workplace is all you need to get your business back on track. By devising a solid strategy to protect your employees, it'll be easier for your business to adapt to the new normal.
Your plan should include reorganizing your workplace, encouraging employees to return to work, promoting their physical and mental health, and implementing a new cleaning policy. It’s also a good idea to invest in safety equipment and technology that protects you and your employees. At the same time, promote productivity and increase your sales.
Reopening your business can be a challenge. Hopefully, with these steps, you can slowly transition into the new normal and get your business up and running again.