Running a business and leading a team during times of crisis and uncertainty is not for the faint of heart. During times of public fear and anxiety, businesses suffer from a lack of patronage and are forced to take precautions to protect their employees, customers, and their families. In today’s modern age, we are not immune to being affected by local and global pandemics, but as business owners and company leaders, we have more options than ever to keep our companies running, reduce the dent to our bottom lines, and protect our staff and customers.
For Your Staff
For employees who do not have paid sick time available, taking time off recover from something as common as the cold or a migraine isn’t an option when they already live paycheck to paycheck. While I am a huge proponent of always offering paid sick time, for some businesses, it cannot be, or just has not yet been, built into the business model. As a business leader, it is better to take the financial loss of reduced staff and offer them paid sick time (even if it is only temporary) or expanding upon your paid sick time policy, than it is to force your staff to choose between being able to pay their mortgage or potentially infecting others or becoming sick themselves.
Cutting hours and reducing staff if never an ideal business decision, but sometimes, it must be done in order to save your business in the long run and protect your patrons and employees. It will always be a better decision to temporarily cut hours and reduce staff rather than permanently lay off staff down the line.
Many organizations are already supportive of flexible work hours and arrangements and offer it as appropriate to their staff. Even if remote work may lead to a slight reduction in productivity due to slowed network servers and adjustments to managing remote meetings vs in-person discussions, advertising remote work as a norm and an option for your team will help ensure that more at-risk employees stay home and that your business can still operate even if the doors must be temporarily closed.
This is an opportunity to invest energy and time into finding modernized solutions to everyday business processes that require in-person work. Begin to use virtual conference solutions such as Zoom, Loom, and Skype to keep productivity up and risk of infection down. Plus, when it is business as usual again, you can continue to utilize these options and satisfy employees who prefer quiet work days at home on occasion.
Be sure to follow all CDC protocols for sanitation and cleaning as if your life depends on it, because someone else’s might. If your teams work in shifts, mandate sanitation protocols between shifts to lessen the risk of spreading any dangerous bacteria that may be lingering. Modifying shifts to end slightly earlier than the norm and asking employees to wipe down equipment and clean before they leave reduces the spread and can increase your employee’s personal confidence and security in returning to work during this time.
Put some of the cleaning responsibility onto your teams and not just your custodial staff. Custodial staff have a hard-enough job as it is and implementing more strict cleaning protocols and upping the frequency of their day-to-day cleaning routines adds to their already rough job. Talk to your staff about keeping their workspaces clean and sanitized and tell them to treat the workplace as if it was their home: with respect and Clorox wipes.
Additionally, once the pandemic and crisis is averted, find ways to thank your custodial staff in ways that don’t hinder your business but also show appreciation for them. You can do so by offering a few extra vacation days so they can rest and recoup after the norm is re-established.
For Your Customers
Modifying your business model can help lessen the impact on your bottom line and keep you in front of your customers, even if they are avoiding public spaces. Business leaders must look for ways to offer services and products virtually or in new ways to keep the business operations running. Paid webinars versus in-person workshops, posting products on your social media/website and offering to take orders over the phone or email for quick pick up or delivery, and focusing sales on gift cards to be used later, are just a few options for businesses to take on as the community rides out and recovers from the crisis.
Food based businesses will more than likely see the largest downfall in business as patrons avoid public places and stay at home (aside from travel and venue-based businesses). Introducing free delivery, expanding your delivery hours and delivery zones, and even limiting (or completly eliminating) seating in dine-in restaurants can help keep your business running while working to ensure your restaurant is not a part of the spread of any virus. Additionally, to avoid potential contamination and spread, removing self-serve stations, such as salad bars, and offering pre-made options will ensure that the patrons that do solicit your business don’t turn away in fear or spread any lingering germs they may have.
Lastly, remember this: if you panic, so will your team and your customers. During the time of a pandemic or crisis it is more important than ever to lead with strength and confidence, even though you don’t know what outcomes will occur, the more you panic and worry, the less you can lead and guide. Be transparent about any upcoming changes to the company and how it will function, and err on the side of caution versus ego when it comes to making business decisions.
Regardless of if your business will be patronized less during a crisis or not, changes in how your business and teams’ function must be considered and evaluated to ensure that you are a leader who is part of the solution, and not the problem. This is the most important time in your leadership life, don’t cause irreparable damage to your employees lives or business by focusing solely on keeping the doors open to fill your wallet more. Don’t panic, but don’t blow it off.