Main street small business is at the heart of the US economy, and the COVID-19 pandemic is upending many of those businesses, forcing their owners to think on their feet to combat its negative impact.
Now, we have been made aware of what is possible. So that we are not caught off-guard in the future, it is important that we learn from this current pandemic and develop policies and procedures that can be implemented quickly if the need arises.
As an example, Smithfield Foods, Inc recently experienced how a lack of pandemic planning led to its South Dakota plant’s closing after over 300 employees tested positive for COVID-19. Smithfield then closed two more plants, causing a significant shortage of pork, which caused global food shortages.
Working in advance to gather information about the illness and the effects that it has had on other businesses in your industry will help you prepare a Workplace Pandemic Plan. The World Health Organization also has a printout that you can use as a guide.
Understand the Pandemic
How does the Coronavirus Disease Spread?
The CDC says that coronavirus, the virus that causes COVID-19, is thought to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. It may also be possible to spread from contact with contaminated surfaces.
What Is the Recovery Time For COVID-19?
Data shows that recovery times typically range between two and six weeks, depending on symptom severity. That is critical information to have so that if an employee does test positive, you will have a good idea of how long you will need to cover their shift.
Policies and Procedures To Consider for your Workplace Plan
Educate Workers About Proper Hygiene
It is best to communicate hygiene policies in writing using company handbooks or email and creating posters for lunchrooms, breakrooms, and bathrooms. OSHA is a reliable source that will provide you with this vital information.
Increase Sanitation Measures
There has been a lot of research to discover how long the coronavirus lasts on surfaces. They have learned that in laboratory conditions, COVID-19 can be detected on contaminated surface areas for three or more days. You should communicate these findings and other concerns to your maintenance and cleaning crews. Instruct them to disinfect regularly and thoroughly clean offices, break rooms, and bathrooms, including frequently touched surfaces, buttons, and handles. They should also include computers, copiers, and phones.
How Will Your Business Handle Absenteeism?
Did you know that about 90% of employees go to work sick? Many workers are afraid of losing their job, or simply can’t afford to take time off for an illness.
During a pandemic, employees need to know that coming to work with symptoms during pandemics will cause more significant harm to the business as a whole. As a business owner, you need to encourage employees to stay home if they are sick especially if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Your employees should feel supported and be able to count on safe sick leave during pandemics. It’s also a good idea, whenever possible, to offer paid sick leave for the number of days expected for recovery.
Help keep your entire workforce and their families safe by creating a policy that requires any employee who may be experiencing symptoms to get the required testing and medical clearances before returning to work. Then work along with HR to identify high-risk workers to protect your entire team.
What Staff Changes Will You Implement?
The coronavirus pandemic is teaching employers that many back-office jobs function just as well or even better when they are remote. Allowing employees to work from a home office will enable you to reduce in-office staff, thus the risk of exposure.
There are many tools readily available to facilitate remote working—for example:
- online meeting tools like Zoom, Google Meet, or Microsoft Teams
- file sharing through Dropbox or OneDrive
- web-based accounting using Freshbooks, Quickbooks or Zoho Books
- employee monitoring software.
- CRMs like Hubspot, Salesforce or Zoho CRM for marketing, sales, and customer service.
Reducing Staff and Layoffs
If it does come down to layoffs, have your HR department work with staff to make sure they are qualified for unemployment benefits. With additional amounts offered by potential federal unemployment stimulus, you could even ask workers for voluntary layoffs. Be sure to keep a list of those laid-off employees in case you need to rehire them quickly to meet demand.
How will the pandemic Affect your Normal Business Flow?
Although it may be hard to predict, the need for some products and services will increase while others will decrease. You need to understand your customer as well as their new shopping behaviors so you can explore and implement secondary options. Some local restrictions may allow businesses to deliver their products or offer curbside pickup.
Can you consider reducing office hours? It could ensure that your business stays profitable during the duration of a pandemic.
Your vendors’ availability and lead times may also become an issue. How will you handle supply chain disruption? Plan ahead to stock up on the supplies and raw materials that you need to continue without significant delays.
Could logistics become an issue? Will you have access to a delivery service or use USPS, DHL, or FedEx? Having these alternate plans detailed in your pandemic plan will make the transition easier to implement in a pinch.
What Assistance Programs Are Available?
You should have systems in place to monitor resources such as the SBA and other Federal agencies so that you are made aware of any stimulus funds available that will be critical to daily operations.
Determine who you will need to contact and keep their contact information available for quick access. Keep notes now about your current experience to help you prepare for future pandemics. For example, make a note of any business or financial details that you need to be readily accessible so you can quickly prepare loan and grant applications.
As business owners, we must plan ahead for disruptions and employee health concerns, so we are not caught off guard. Your Workplace Plan should also include a protocol for re-evaluation and procedural changes when needed since viruses, as well as the businesses they impact, do tend to change over time.