Whether your business has remained open, scaled back, temporarily closed, or even ramped up during the coronavirus pandemic, there’s one thing we all have in common: Commerce as we knew it has—perhaps forever—changed.
The organizations that adapt their policies, processes and customer outreach to meet the needs of this new normal will survive and grow stronger. Those that don’t are risking extinction.
Establishing thorough, systematic protocols to protect your employees and customers are crucial during this time of rebuilding and reopening.
The coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is the virus that causes COVID-19. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the virus spreads through droplets of saliva or nasal discharge produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. These infected droplets can enter the mouths or noses of others. People can also be infected when they touch a surface with the virus on it and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth.
Everybody can protect themselves by thoroughly washing their hands frequently and not touching their faces.
Most governments and industries have distributed targeted guidance on limiting the risk of infection.
For example, in the US, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has developed the following recommendations, among many others:
The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has compiled information resources on COVID-19, organized by country.
There are also broader recommendations that any employer can follow in order to protect their workers. Consider these tips:
1. Assign an infectious disease task force, made up of staff members from various levels and departments—including at least one employee from your human resources department. The team can report to a group of leaders and, as appropriate, present best practices and policies to the entire organization.
2. Develop an infectious disease preparedness and response plan, advises the US Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). This document should identify potential sources of coronavirus infection (both inside and outside the workplace), assess workers’ risk factors, follow government recommendations and clearly lay out steps for limiting the risk of exposure.
3. Assess every aspect of both your physical workplace and your workflow as you determine the right steps for reducing risk to your employees and customers. Consider updating your employee handbook and policies related to sick leave and family leave.
OSHA explains, “the best way to control a hazard is to systematically remove it from the workplace, rather than relying on workers to reduce their exposure. During a COVID-19 outbreak, when it may not be possible to eliminate the hazard, the most effective protection measures are (listed from most effective to least effective): engineering controls, administrative controls, safe work practices (a type of administrative control), and PPE.”
4. Establish procedures for identifying and isolating sick or exposed staff members. Identify colleagues who may have been in touch with a sick worker and follow up with appropriate distancing and screening.
Consider these options for safeguarding your team:
• Hold brief daily team meetings to remind staff about the keys to being safe—stay distant from one another, stay at home if you’re ill, wash your hands frequently and disinfect your space regularly.
• Provide every worker with tissues, a trash can, disinfecting wipes, alcohol-based hand sanitizer and a mask. (Check out options for customizing reusable face masks with your company branding!) Switch to no-touch hand soap dispensers and trash cans.
• Limit the number of customers and staff members in spaces. As a general rule, allow for 6 feet between individuals and workspaces. Explore flexible shift possibilities, creative scheduling and work-from-home options. A “10-4” plan that directs employees to work 10 days at home and 4 days in the office is gaining traction in some countries.
• Consider long-term approaches to creating distance between staff. COVID-19 has made us more aware of how germs spread, and many people predict that the workplace will be permanently changed. Is it time to look into higher cubicle walls? Do you need additional space in order to safely distance employees? Which departments can transition to permanently working remotely?
• Do not require a doctor’s note for employees who are sick with acute respiratory conditions to confirm their sickness.
• Install high-efficiency air filters, increase ventilation and utilize physical barriers where appropriate.
• Do you already have regularly scheduled housekeeping? Ask about increasing the frequency and check that the products being used are recommended for tackling emerging viral pathogens.
• Encourage virtual meetings—and follow up with appropriate tech support and organization-wide training for video call etiquette. Get in the habit of asking yourself, “Does this meeting need to happen in person?”
• Evaluate the IT team and tech resources, making certain your organization is up for the challenge of more employees working remotely.
• Create an online forum for answering questions and communicating new policies.
• Train workers on how to use protective gear and properly wash hands. Post visual reminders and resources around the workspace and in your COVID-19 forum. Infographics can make information more accessible.
• Update marketing and customer messaging to feature your latest safety protocols. Customers will expect changes to your business and appreciate your transparency.