How can COVID-19 impact a business?
Because COVID-19 spreads so quickly before symptoms begin to appear, the Australian government’s Department of Health has recommended that all people practise social distancing by avoiding crowds. Places of business where many people come and go each day are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because people who would otherwise not interact come into close contact. People can spread COVID-19 without realising that they are carrying the virus, so employees and customers at local businesses will need to take additional precautions to avoid contributing to an outbreak.
Business owners should expect employees to call in sick more frequently and prepare for fewer customers and temporary closures. COVID-19 outbreaks can last weeks or months depending on different factors including community response measures, so taking precautions for your business can make an impact on how quickly your community recovers. While the social impact of COVID-19 prevention measures may slow down business and have an economic impact, an uncontrolled outbreak with no safety measures could result in a much more severe disruption of business activities. Make decisions based on the assumption that anyone could be carrying COVID-19 and institute plans for how you will limit the spread of disease locally.
Preparing a response plan
Early intervention is key to slowing down the spread of coronavirus and mitigating the impact of the pandemic on your business and community. If COVID-19 has not yet begun to spread in your community, developing an action plan can prepare you to make the necessary changes to your business practices for keeping your employees and customers safe. Creating a response plan involves looking for community resources and doing thorough research on how to limit customer exposure in your area.
Establish an open line of communication with local public health departments so that your business can implement the best strategies and practices as information on the coronavirus evolves. Pay attention to government announcements and share any information you receive with your employees. Fact-check any information you see on social media and look for reliable sources that are supported by facts and research.
Tap into your business network and form connections with other business owners and community groups in your area. This will help you develop a support network of other people who are navigating a similar situation, allowing business owners to rely on each other and work together to access and distribute resources. Research opportunities for mutual aid, attend local government meetings and look for charities and organisations that provide crisis planning focused on keeping customers and clients safe.
Related Article: Tips for Business Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis
Determining your risk level
As you prepare to adjust your business practices, consider your company’s exposure risk based on the type of business you run. Some industries will naturally have a higher risk of exposure, while other low-risk businesses already have limited person-to-person contact and have a low likelihood of spreading coronavirus. Your business’s risk level depends on the frequency of person-to-person contact, the likelihood that customers or employees have been exposed to COVID-19, and the tasks performed in the workplace.
Businesses in high-exposure industries like healthcare and travel will need to take more advanced precautions than places with a moderate exposure risk like retail shops and restaurants. Identify the risk level of your particular place of business by considering the volume of people who interact at your place of business and possible risk factors within your customer and client base.
Encouraging sanitary work practices
When operating a business during a pandemic, sanitary work practices that limit the spread of disease are essential. Customers rely on business owners to maintain a clean environment, especially during periods when illness spreads through a community. Every individual has the responsibility to monitor their own health and regularly disinfect areas that they come into contact with. During the COVID-19 outbreak, provide additional oversight when implementing sanitation routines to ensure that customers will not contract the virus through touching an infected surface.
Clean and sanitise
Review your housekeeping and cleaning procedures to look for any places in your business that may not be regularly sanitised. Make sure that employees regularly wipe down shared spaces and set aside additional time during closing hours to sanitise all equipment that comes in contact with employees or customers.
You should also provide employees, clients and customers with hand sanitiser or a space to wash their hands with soap and water. Emphasising regular, thorough hand washing for at least 20 seconds is one of the key strategies for preventing the spread of coronavirus. Place hand sanitiser at high-traffic areas such as cash registers and make rubbish bins easily accessible so that customers can safely dispose of paper towels and tissues after use without needing to hand them to employees. Similarly, have employees wear gloves and protective clothing when taking out the rubbish or sanitising their space.
Upgrade air filters
COVID causes a respiratory illness, so air quality and filtration is a key defense for keeping customers and clients safe within your workplace. Cleaning your air filters or installing a high-efficiency air filtration system can prevent the spread of diseases like coronavirus and reduce risk for people with existing respiratory issues. People with asthma are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus. Protect customers with pre-existing breathing conditions by improving the ventilation in your workplace, allowing natural airflow, or using spot ventilation in central areas.
Post clear messaging
Place posters around your business that encourage customers and employees to take extra precautions to avoid transmitting disease. The Australian government’s Department of Health recommends that people avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth and stay 1.5 metres away from others whenever possible, so remind your employees to follow those guidelines by posting notices in high-traffic areas. Choose information that is easy to read and include graphics and diagrams when possible. Share reminders to cover a cough with your elbow, wash your hands thoroughly and other best practices for reducing the spread of disease.
Adjusting policies to promote social distancing
Social distancing is one of the best methods for preventing the spread of COVID-19, and businesses should promote this behaviour by changing their regular policies and practices to decrease the number of people in close quarters. Businesses can encourage customers, clients and employees to follow social distancing guidelines by modeling cautious behaviour in the workplace that allows sick individuals to self-isolate and enables healthy individuals to avoid situations where they could contract COVID-19.
Institute flexible sick policy
Create a sick leave and time off policy that allows employees to take extra time off if they show any signs of illness. Plan to have a reduced number of employees by shifting scheduled hours. Adjust your expectations for the volume of work you can achieve with limited staff so that anyone exposed to the virus can simply rest and recover.
Encourage remote work
If possible, encourage employees to work from home to reduce the chance of spreading COVID-19 at your workplace. Using video conferences, phone calls and online communications instead of operating out of a physical workplace allows you to continue business operations while reducing the chance of coronavirus spreading through your business to customers. For employees who need to come to an office or other workplace, rearrange their workspaces to increase the distance between them. Employees should have a minimum of 1.5 metres between desks.
You may also consider delivering services to clients and customers, which would allow them to limit social contact and avoid public spaces. Offering in-home services and delivery can help you continue to operate your business while complying with social distancing suggestions.
When remote work is not possible, adjust employee schedules so that their shifts are staggered throughout the day, reducing the number of people gathering in your business at any one time. Instead of having a swing shift where multiple employees trade off their responsibilities over multiple hours, schedule employees one after another and create procedures for sanitising workspaces between shifts. By spreading out when people work, you can limit any cross-contamination if anyone on your team gets exposed to the virus.
Limit hours of operation
Closing early and limiting when your business operates can encourage people not to gather around your business and promote social distancing. If you have a storefront where customers have to come inside, consider designating a few hours each week where elderly and immunocompromised people can visit your business without having to interact with the wider public like opening an hour earlier in the morning. Post clear information so customers understand when they can visit your business and avoid peak traffic hours.
Close public spaces
Closing retail or restaurant spaces and instead doing business through online orders, take away, and curbside service can help customers practise social distancing while still supporting your business. Train employees on how to complete business transactions in a flexible way through physical barriers like plexiglass cough guards and drive-thru windows.
Adjust social rituals
Many workplaces are social environments with standard rituals like shaking hands or having conversations in close quarters, so it is important to encourage customers and employees to adopt new rituals that allow for people to have more personal space. Train employees to reduce contact during transactions with customers by waving instead of shaking hands, using hand wipes and sanitiser after handling money, standing farther apart from clients, avoiding sharing equipment and staying away from other people’s private workspaces.
Communicating with the public
Keep an open line of communication with customers and clients so that every member of the community can take the necessary measures to stay safe in your place of business. Social media websites are a great way to send out updates to customers and clients about the steps you are taking to limit the spread of coronavirus to your business. Provide clear guidelines for how customers should interact with employees and each other, and train employees to reinforce those guidelines. Anyone working at your business should have a clear understanding of how daily operations will change so that they can share the appropriate information with clients and community members.
One of the most important steps you can take to keep your customers safe is to cancel or postpone any gatherings and events. Coronavirus can travel quickly through groups of people, and large gatherings could create a situation where many people are in close proximity sharing germs. The Australian government has issued a limit on most non-essential gatherings to 2 people, so it is wise to cancel all events until more information is available.