This post is part of an ongoing series, aimed at small to medium-size business owners navigating COVID-19. Our aim is to post actionable advice that builds to a “Toolkit” of information to help you navigate the “new normal” business climate.
COVID-19 isn’t finished with us yet. As the virus continues to spread, its impact is being felt on businesses both large and small. So, what can you do to support your employees, whether you’re still open for business (online or otherwise), or shut down for the foreseeable future?
Morale-wise, probably the most important thing you can do as an employer is to keep your employees in the loop. By staying in contact and allowing them to feel a part of the plan, you’re empowering employees. Think of ways to expand your employees’ reach within the business, possibly by giving them remote opportunities that keep them working now, and will benefit your business later, as the nation resurfaces from Coronavirus (COVID-19).
Use these three steps to make an action plan for employees and your business.
1. Plan for best- and worst-case scenarios
The SBA recommends that businesses bring staff together to prepare a plan for worst and best case scenarios. Doing so gives employees a stake in the future and eases anxiety.
Schedule a meeting — virtually or in-person — and work together to answer the following questions:
- What do we want our future to look like? Will we be operating the same way at the the end of the crisis as we are now? If not, what does that new normal look like?
- With such uncertainty, what can we do to minimize risks?
- Where can everyone jump in to help? Are there new opportunities? Things you have been wanting to try?
- What are some creative ways we can keep operating, even at a reduced pace?
- How will your vendors and supply chain be affected?
Best-case scenarios seem to change every day. Whether we really are back to normal by Easter or whether it’s 12 to 18 months out, actively making a plan (even if it needs to be reframed every few days) can engage employees, giving them a sense of control over their lives rather than leaving them feeling victimized.
This involvement also gives you an opportunity to pay employees for their time. Involve your employees in searching for innovative solutions to cut or eliminate marketing expenses like ads or search engine marketing. In its place, schedule meetings with employees to come up with free marketing, e.g., if you’re a beauty store, create online videos or polls to show customers what a new quarantine beauty routine might look like.
These creative marketing endeavors allow you to keep employees engaged and working from home. You can use free video editing software and avoid spending money on “premium” business accounts when possible. A good article on the best options can be found here; these can be used to make everything look professional, from Facebook videos to YouTube tutorials.
Your worst case may be that no matter where you try to cut costs, you still cannot afford to keep employees working.
By defining the extremes, you can take comfort in knowing what the middle would look like: Employees must take a couple unpaid weeks, but you’re able to keep them on. Or perhaps employees agree to alternate shifts, each taking a pay-cut but still able to make an income.
- Stay informed — our Toolkit can help!
- Stay in contact with employees, whether in person or over the phone — regular meetings will add stability to the chaos
- Know who you need to contact in case of inability to pay bills — think insurance, landlord, investors
2. Provide opportunities for employees to be successful — work- and health-wise
Large companies, such as Amazon and Google, pledged to keep paying hourly employees even if services aren’t needed. But smaller companies may not be able to manage this type of employee assistance.
Even if you can’t do what big companies are doing, you can provide frequent updates to employees as the situation evolves. Provide strict guidelines to employees, reminding them to stay home if they feel sick. In addition, employees who’ve been in close contact with someone showing symptoms should stay home and self-isolate according to best practices.
Instead of sending check-out clerks home without pay, ask them to work on the company website, write product descriptions or help manage social media accounts. This keeps your employees engaged and justifies providing them at least partial pay.
Other tasks that could be done:
- Competitor research: What are other companies doing now? How have they found success in the past? Can you borrow ideas for the business’s future? How can you stand out?
- Free online courses, in things like design or code, to train employees to do tasks that you’d maybe once have outsourced or paid high prices for
- Sorting through old files and shredding client information
- Process improvement: Have employees research faster ways to get things done, whether it be projects, product enhancements or fewer vendors
- Analyzing data: You may not have had the time or resources for it before, but use your marketing analytics to maximize your efforts
- Be a customer advocate: Use a few employees as personal communicators with your biggest customers, providing customers with updates, support and attention
- The creation of an employee landing page where employees can confidently access the latest updates, along with FAQs and emails
- A new marketing strategy, complete with website traffic planning and a Yelp profile to help build your brand
Expand your health knowledge and practice
With the spread of COVID-19, deep cleaning should become part of your routine (especially if your employees are still coming into work). Here’s what to look for in your cleaning supplies:
- Solutions approved by the EPA or sanitizers approved by the FDA
- Check containers for promises to remove viruses from a surface or break the virus apart
- Alcohol-based sanitizers with at least 60% alcohol can break up the protective protein layer coating the virus, rending it harmless
- Bleach and bleach-based cleaners are effective as long as used precisely as directed; it should NEVER be mixed with other cleaning solutions as it can create toxic fumes
- Pay attention to expiration dates
Here is a list of disinfectants for use against the virus, approved by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Make sure to routinely clean all frequently touched surfaces, like keyboards and handrails. For disinfection, the CDC says the most common EPA-registered household disinfectants should be effective. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for all cleaning and disinfection products (e.g., concentration, application method and contact time, etc.).
Protect your employees with the following CDC tips for maintaining a healthy work environment:
- Increase ventilation rates or the percentage of outdoor air that circulates into the system
- Support respiratory etiquette and hand hygiene for employees, customers and worksite visitors
- Provide soap and water in the workplace; if soap and water are not readily available, use alcohol-based hand sanitizer that is at least 60% alcohol
- If surfaces are dirty, they should be cleaned using a detergent or soap and water prior to disinfection
- Discourage workers from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices or other work tools
- Provide disposable wipes
If a sick employee is suspected or confirmed to have COVID-19, close off areas used by the ill person and wait as long as possible before cleaning the site; open doors to increase air and disinfect all areas.
For more detailed information on COVID-19 and your workplace, use this guide put together by OSHA.
Work from home access
In addition to preventing the spread of the virus, reducing office space may save your business unneeded expenses. To successfully have employees work from home, your business needs to have the technology, systems and processes set up to be efficient.
As employees increasingly work from home, you need to foster a sense of mutual trust and respect. Trust that employees will complete work on time and respect that their schedules might include new additions, such as doctor’s appointments or caring for children or aging parents.
To make employees feel comfortable coming to you with their concerns, make sure to be empathetic and listen. Answer questions, even the seemingly small ones, and make a habit of asking for feedback. Remind employees that, like them, you’re just trying to be successful. When you speak to employees, don’t multitask or forget important follow ups.
Some ways to emotionally support employees, who may feel lonely during the transition, are:
- Using technology to regularly check in and offer support
- Tackling new struggles, such as a lack of motivation, together by assessing the employees schedule
- If possible, allotting some extra money for employees to make home adjustments, such as a new monitor or ergonomic chair
- Building a community of trust by allowing employees the flexibility of getting their work done at home
To make remote work effective, you’ll need to make use of new communication styles and technologies, such as video conferencing software and collaboration tools. Consider which tools might enhance your remote capabilities, such as:
- Slack allows quick collaborating between teams and individuals
- Microsoft Teams brings together “people, content and tools” so your team can be more engaged and effective
- Zoom is an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chatting and webinars
- G Suite works great for documents and spreadsheets that require collaboration instantly
To keep things running, make sure you have these four essential security measures in place:
- Ensure all employees have access to VPN
- Encourage the set -up of two-factor authentication
- Remind employees to lock computers when not using
- Have employees shred paperwork with client information
Define a new process
To make the transition as smooth as possible, make sure expectations are shared throughout the company. Managers and owners should provide encouragement and feedback to bring a sense of normalcy to working from home.
Think through expectations; here are six important things to cover:
- What is the cadence for communication; is it a weekly video call or a daily check in?
- Do you expect employees to be online at the same hours, or will you need to stagger them for VPN usage?
- Will employees need to set up a dedicated workspace? Leave kids in another room?
- Is it your responsibility to pay for network access?
- Which tools will employees use, and how?
- Do you have tech support readily available to help struggling employees?
Work with leaders in your company to create a work from home policy or update your existing one for current needs. In the plan, you should have answers to the above questions clearly expressed to employees.
3. Clearly lay out expectations and policies
As tensions rise, so should your communication frequency with employees. SMBs should create, and share, the new policies for touching base on virus updates as well as their work. This includes setting clear expectations of how priorities and timelines and roles might shift.
Decide on work policies
Creating policies for touching base will help your business navigate COVID-19 ethically. In it should be:
- A clear definition of how you plan to make wellbeing a priority
- Resources for reaching out, such as numbers to call for information and details about sick time off policies
- The hours you expect employees to be available
- How your business will continue to operate during this time (this will be easier if you’ve made plans with your employees, as suggested above)
- Expectations for absenteeism
- How to work from home
- Counseling resources
Once you’ve communicated your policy, ask what employees need to be successful and what questions they have.
The CDC has recommendations for maintaining healthy business operations:
- Ensure that sick leave policies are flexible and consistent with public health guidance and that employees are aware of and understand these policies.
- Maintain flexible policies that permit employees to stay home to care for a sick family member or take care of children due to school and childcare closures. Additional flexibilities might include giving advances on future sick leave and allowing employees to donate sick leave to each other.
- Employers that do not currently offer sick leave to some or all of their employees may want to draft non-punitive “emergency sick leave” policies.
- Employers should not require a positive COVID-19 test result or a healthcare provider’s note for employees who are sick to validate their illness, qualify for sick leave or to return to work. Healthcare provider offices and medical facilities may be extremely busy and not able to provide such documentation in a timely manner.
- Review human resources policies to make sure that policies and practices are consistent with public health recommendations and are consistent with existing state and federal workplace laws (for more information on employer responsibilities, visit the Department of Labor’s and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s websites).
- Connect employees to employee assistance program (EAP) resources (if available) and community resources as needed. Employees may need additional social, behavioral, and other services, for example, to cope with the death of a loved one.
During times of crisis, the best thing your business can do is be upfront and respectful of employees. Ease their worry by including them as much as possible and lay out expectations to help them be successful.
The information provided in this blog does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal or financial advice.
Toolkit: Coronavirus (COVID-19)
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