After weeks of uncertainty, the UK Government has asked some businesses, where it is safe to do so, to re-open and restart – largely those businesses that cannot operate from home such as manufacturing and construction. Shortly, other businesses will be asked to follow suit. But with social distancing likely to be in place for many months to come, what should you as a business owner or leader be preparing to do now – even if the shutters are still down? Here are ten things you can do today to prepare your business for reopening.
There's a lot of information out there about COVID-19, so you'll need to focus on the most reputable, reliable sources to find the right guidance for your business. Government agencies and public health organisations are best places to find accurate, updated information for businesses that are looking to reopen. We recommend the following:
- Health and safety executive
- Public Health England
2. Make changes to your workspace now to protect health and safety
Some of us might not know when we will return to the workplace but there are things you could be doing now to prepare, so there is no further delay when you are given the green light. We expect social distancing will remain in place for some time so you could start to prepare by thinking now how you can operate your business with social distancing in force. Official guidance is expected from the Government but as some businesses are already operating within these rules, we can look to them and the advice that is available to understand what is likely to be required.
The first is personal hygiene. You must ensure you and your staff are enforcing proper, frequent handwashing. Stock up on the supplies you will need and look at the facilities you have to ensure this is easy to follow. Think about how you can nudge your staff, so it becomes a default behaviour. For example, do you have enough signs up with clear instructions? Will you require hand sanitising stations?
You should be assessing your business's current cleaning and sanitation practices. What procedures can you implement or upgrade to reduce the spread of the virus, and how can your staff help maintain those practices? This may include sourcing and stocking up on cleaning products and sanitizers for employee use during work hours.
Second is physical space. We are being asked to keep a two-metre distance from each other. Are desks or workspaces set up to ensure this happens? Do you have to move furniture and re-configure your workplace? Hot desking is unlikely to be permitted so where will staff work? Can they still work from home? If your workplace is small, and can only accommodate 50% of the workforce social distancing, can the other 50% work from another location – or still at home?
In other parts of the world workplaces have done the following to ensure social distancing is adhered to:
- installing physical barriers;
- changing layouts to put at least two metres of distance between workstations;
- closing communal spaces;
- staggering shifts and breaks;
- refraining from large events;
- Reducing face to face meetings.
3. Personal protective equipment (PPE)
We are still waiting on Government advice but in the absence of official guidance, prepare for the worst-case scenario and that is the requirement for your employees and/or customers to use face masks and gloves on-premises. Do you have a plan in place to enforce this regulation and can you provide PPE to employees if required?
As a minimum, you may be asked to encourage employees to wear cloth face coverings in the workplace. Be prepared for this potential outcome and think about how this might affect the way you operate your business.
4. Plan how to bring your staff back from furlough and consider what you will do if your business is not going to be operating at full capacity.
If you're one of the many businesses that have had to lay off or furlough employees during the crisis, you may not be able to bring them all back at their full capacity right away. Have you considered how you plan to bring furloughed staff back into the workplace? If schools are not open, how will this affect parents working for you? How can you accommodate staff with different wants and needs? Perhaps you can consider whether you can offer limited hours to the majority of your pre-pandemic staff, or whether it makes more sense to have a few key individuals on for their regular hours, while slowly re-expanding your employee base as business picks up again.
5. Employee health monitoring
Returning staff to work does not mean we are out danger. Until there is a vaccine, we are all at risk. It is important that you have a plan for monitoring your employees' health, with a particular focus on COVID-19 symptoms.
Decide now how you will handle a positive case of COVID-19 in your workplace after you reopen. Ensure that staff are aware of the steps you will take on how to manage and isolate employees displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
We are operating in unprecedented times. Your current workplace policies may need to be updated to respond to this crisis. For example, your health and safety policy, risk register and HR policies. As a minimum you must reiterate your sick time and paid time off policies to employees and discourage them from coming to work if they feel ill.
Job losses and redundancies is something I am sure you are trying to avoid but this is the time to ensure your policies and practices are up to date and comply with legislation and adhere to best practice. Should you have to make redundancies, avoiding an employment tribunal should be a priority.
If your business has been able to operate remotely during the crisis and plans to continue this arrangement long-term, cybersecurity will need to be a top priority. Coronavirus scams are rampant, and your employees are the first line of defence against hackers. You may have put ad-hoc security solutions in place like Virtual Private Network (VPN) access, but if employees will be working from home on a more permanent basis, consider the technical infrastructure you might need to ensure the security of your sensitive business and customer data. This may include banning personal device use for business purposes, limiting company-wide file access, making password managers mandatory, implementing multi-factor authentication and training (or re-training) employees on cybersecurity best practices.
Communicate regularly with staff and customers, updating them on your plans to reassure everyone that when you can reopen, you will be operating safety and within the rules. Here are a few other must do’s:
- Use multiple channels to ensure your message is widely received and reinforced.
- Demonstrate that customer interests are a priority and address their concerns directly.
- Create and share an FAQ document outlining specific questions around your supply chain, your health and safety practices and potential risks to your customers and how you are mitigating for these risks.
Your customers' lives have all been impacted by COVID-19, and they may need different things from your business right now. Their disposable income is may be limited right now too, so get creative and think of how you can help solve the challenges they're facing at this point in time. How can you add value to their lives? This may be as simple as changing your marketing messaging, but some businesses may need to reposition or update their core offerings to fill the needs of their market. Either way, rapidly innovating your products and services to better meet immediate customer needs is a must.
During these difficult times, customers understand and expect that your business will be operating differently. However, they still expect transparency and timely updates. Over time, they will also expect you to adapt to the current situation so patience for poor customer service, long delivery/ lead times will run out and if you are not providing your usual great service and high-quality products it may force customers to look elsewhere. Now more than ever you must be mindful of your customers wants and needs. It is very unpredictable so make sure you talk to them about what they want, need and expect and adapt accordingly.
A final word.
Don’t think you can operate as before… The reality is that most businesses will not simply be able to "pick up where they left off" when they reopen their doors. Until social distancing is stopped, and a vaccine found, the world in which we all live in is changed. And that means business has changed too.