The best way to avoid getting COVID-19—more commonly known as coronavirus—is to stay home and steer clear of social interaction. But what does that mean for a small business and the employees that work with you?
As Homebase’s Head of People, I’m experiencing firsthand what it takes to develop a coronavirus plan when the whole world is in uncharted territory. It may seem like an overreaction to some, but it’s crucial to prepare so you can show employees that you’re doing everything you can to protect them.
Here’s some insight on what you should do now as a small employer, what you should tell your employees, and how you can modify your operations to adapt.
First, make some immediate changes.
We’ve implemented a temporary policy here at Homebase banning any travel to infected areas. In fact, if a trip—either domestic or international—is not deemed business-critical, it has been canceled.
The coronavirus can easily spread, so be sure to disinfect all shared surfaces in your office daily, if not more often. Remember to clean areas you wouldn’t normally think about, like elevator buttons, shared iPads, faucets, coffee pots, kitchen handles, keyboards, and doorknobs.
It’s common for your everyday vendors to be on backorder during a health scare, but I was able to secure supplies for Homebase through an industrial supply company. However, some companies like this will only serve current customers, so you might have to check out a few different options. Here are a few you can start with:
If you are unable to obtain cleansing wipes, use traditional cleaners. If you are unable to get hand sanitizer, load up on soap and encourage more frequent handwashing. You also have the option of making your own homemade hand sanitizer.
Give your team reputable sources to reference for accurate information about the virus. Here are some good ones:
Remind employees to stock up on in-home supplies in case there’s a need for social distancing, and urge them to increase their personal cleaning practices.
For example, we have a sign in our office that says “How was public transit? Please clean your hands!” We also have placed hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies all around our office for everyone to use.
Encourage alternatives to handshakes. Take a page out of the NBA contingency plan by suggesting fist bumps, or even better, air fives. Get creative with it.
Ask all employees who are feeling the least bit unwell or exhibiting any signs of illness to stay home, even if their symptoms do not mirror the known coronavirus symptoms.
Outline what you know and what you’re doing in terms of a contingency plan if people have to start taking coronavirus isolation precautions.
Coinbase CEO Brian Armstrong publicly shared the company’s policy and strategy for mitigating the effects of the pandemic. His plan consists of a tiered system, and the different levels are triggered by how serious the virus transmission is in the area.
We’re using a similar strategy for our operations here at Homebase. It looks something like this:
When crafting a policy for a pandemic, it’s important to remember that you still need to comply with the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), making accomodations for employees when necessary.
If people request time off due to a serious medical condition or to care for a family member with a serious medical condition, depending upon your company size and their tenure, they may be protected under the FMLA.
Additionally, it could be considered a “reasonable accommodation” to allow employees who are disabled or immunocompromised to work from home sooner than other team members. Personally, I would also offer extra consideration for employees who live with higher risk individuals, like the elderly.
If your business model doesn’t allow for your staff to work from home, think about ways you can adjust your business.
This might be the time to task your team with projects outside of their normal day-to-day activities.
Social distancing means exactly what you would think: people living in an impacted area are not going to want to go outside and interact as much. This is where your adaptation strategy should come into play.
Revisit your business operations to minimize external touchpoints.
If you run a restaurant, consider offering more pickup or delivery options. For example, restaurants in China (like McDonalds) are implementing “contactless” pickups to keep people safe. Customers order via an app or in-store computers, workers put the orders in sealed bags, and they are placed in pickup spots where no human contact is required.
Do you have a retail shop? Think about increasing your online presence and offer more products to be delivered. Or roll out an online promotion, so you still have a steady stream of revenue if social distancing becomes a reality.
The truth is that the future impact of coronavirus is still up in the air, so hold off on making plans that could potentially be ruined by a pandemic.
Pause on signing any large contracts that could potentially be affected. Anything that is not business-critical should be considered carefully at this time, as none of us really know how the coronavirus will impact our businesses.
If you anticipate a significant loss of income, ask an insurance broker about your options with business interruption insurance.
Your bottom line should never come before the safety of your employees when dealing with a public health emergency like coronavirus.
Refusing to make any accommodations to protect your team’s health is shortsighted. You don’t want to lose your staff because they don’t feel like you have their back, and if you wait too long to address the situation, it will be much more difficult to implement a plan if things get worse.
Still, it is important to prevent any fear mongering in an age when there is lots of fake news about COVID-19. Keep a pulse on the situation in your area by following reputable sources like the CDC, and proceed accordingly.