Take a quick look. What’s trending on your news and social feeds right now?
We bet it has something to do with the novel coronavirus, the nebulous name given to the pandemic that’s currently making its way across the world. Since the first case was reported in the U.S. in January of 2020, the virus has dominated the national news, sparking fear and causing an economic backlash that has some business owners in a panic, wondering what’s coming next for their companies and organizations.
Educating yourself is the first step toward taking effective action, so let’s take a step back and look at what the coronavirus actually is, as well as ways you can augment your business to shield it from the effects of the illness.
And to make sure you’re getting the latest information on the novel coronavirus, travel advisories, and ways to protect yourself and your loved ones, follow the Center for Disease Control (CDC) on social media platforms and continually review their 2019 novel coronavirus update page.
What even is the coronavirus?
The term “coronavirus” refers to a family of crown-shaped viruses (corona meaning crown). The coronavirus disease 2019, commonly referred to as COVID-19, is a respiratory illness that is spread person-to-person through close contact. It manifests with fever, cough, and shortness of breath, and in some cases has led to pneumonia, multi-organ failures, and even death.
Today, you can’t watch the news for any length of time without hearing a mention of COVID-19, and for good reason. Schools are closing and events are being canceled on a regular basis. And businesses are bearing the brunt of the pandemic as more and more customers (and employees) are staying home to avoid catching the illness, making it hard to keep doors open and operate efficiently.
Tips for staying in business in spite of the pandemic
So how can you foolproof your business to remain operational in spite of the spread of COVID-19? Doing things like activating your continuity of operations plan, focusing on the eCommerce side of your business, putting a hold on business travel and on-site meetings and events, accommodating remote work for employees, and staying flexible go a long way toward keeping your doors (virtually) open and your workforce and bottom-line healthy.
Activate continuity of operations plans
Does your business have a continuity of operations (COOP) plan? If not, you’re already at a significant disadvantage when it comes to business continuity. A COOP plan is a great resource to have in your back pocket, and some would argue that they’re absolutely essential to keeping your lights on when disaster strikes, such as a natural disaster, man made incident, or the abrupt rise of a global pandemic like that of COVID-19.
COOP plans are developed for organizations that range in size from the entire U.S. Federal government to startups in their infancy, so no matter how big your company is, a COOP plan is right for you. They address things like how employees will be alerted and notified during disasters and emergencies, such as pandemics. When you develop a COOP plan, you’ll also need to identify your most critical business functions and create a roster of people that can serve in other roles should the need arise to activate the plan. Once you write the plan, be sure to keep it updated in case individuals named in it leave the organization or positions are added or eliminated.
If you do have an updated COOP plan, now’s the time to activate it. Follow the directions you’ve outlined and shut down non-essential operations, assign remote work for the personnel you’ve designated as essential (or for the entire organization if you’re only partially activating your plan), and delineate your chain-of-command in case someone in your organizational chart falls ill and is unable to return to work for an extended period of time.
Want to know more about putting together a COOP plan but not sure where to start? Check out this resource from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for great tips on managing essential and non-essential personnel, delegating authority, and creating orders of succession, as well as other critical components of an effective continuity of operations plan.
Focus on your online business
If you operate a brick-and-mortar establishment, try shifting your focus to eCommerce as fewer and fewer people venture out into public to make non-essential transactions. This is especially pertinent if you’re finding yourself short-staffed at your location or you need to close the location to focus on your own health or the health of your loved ones.
Turn your attention to online sales and advertise accordingly, making it clear that customers can purchase from you online and get it shipped to their door without stepping foot in a store front, or offer to place orders over the phone so that you (and your customers) can stay home and still conduct business. Just bear in mind that there could be a delay in shipping as the freight industry, like most others, continues to be impacted by the spread of COVID-19.
Put a moratorium on business travel
In today’s increasingly global world, more and more of us are traveling for business, whether we’re jaunting across the country for a client meeting or across the world for a conference. But now, with pockets of COVID-19 popping up all over the globe, “safe travel” is nearly altogether out of the question.
In order to keep your workforce safe, consider putting a moratorium on business travel until the situation is under control. If you or someone in your business absolutely must travel, follow the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) recommendations for travel. As of right now, there is a Level Three warning (which means to avoid non-essential travel) for China, South Korea, Iran, and most of Europe due to COVID-19, though this could change at any time, with countries being added and removed as the threat evolves.
If you absolutely have to travel, take precautions by avoiding the sick, practicing good hygiene (more on that below), avoiding the urge to touch your face, eyes, and mouth, and using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer whenever possible and when hand soap is not available.
Once you’re home, especially if you’ve travelled to a place impacted by COVID-19, quarantine yourself by staying home for 14 days and practicing social distancing to make sure that you’re not incubating the virus and potentially spreading it to others without being cognizant of it.
Practice good hygiene
If you’re continuing to work on-site, it’s worth gathering everyone together to give a demonstration on proper handwashing and how to sneeze without spreading droplets everywhere (or, even better, skip the meeting and send out videos on handwashing and properly sneezing). Even if everyone’s already informed, it’s a great time to blast a reminder so that hygiene is top of mind.
To wash your hands the right way, wet your hands with running water and apply soap. Lather your hands and scrub for 20 minutes (think the “Happy Birthday” song twice), rinsing in clean running water and drying them with a fresh towel. And to properly cover your sneeze, use a tissue when you can, or put your nose in the corner of your bent elbow when tissues aren’t available. Simple stuff, right? But don’t assume that everyone on your team knows it—providing this information to everyone goes a long way toward keeping yourself and your employees in good health.
Cancel or postpone on-site meetings and events
Whenever you can, shift meetings and events to virtual settings, and cancel or postpone those scheduled to be held on-site. Chances are, you’re already regularly making use of a virtual meeting software, such as Zoom or Skype, so rely on it as a solution as COVID-19 spreads and move your meetings to the cloud instead of the conference room.
Major meetings and events can be rescheduled for a later date (although when this will start to clear up, no one can predict for sure, so remember to be as flexible as possible with the new date). Regular meetings, such as all-hands briefs or sales team meetings should be rerouted through your choice of online meeting software.
Accommodate remote work as much as possible
If remote work’s not already part of your business operations, there’s a lot of evidence out there that says it should be. And there’s no better time than during the present pandemic to adopt remote work at your organization. As much as you can, to avoid interruptions and prevent the spread of COVID-19 across your company, allow and encourage employees to work remotely, or enforce it as a blanket policy.
It might be difficult at first to get everyone on the same page, but it will do wonders to reduce your absenteeism and allow for both essential and non-essential personnel to continue to do their jobs. And remote work is becoming even more of a necessity with some public schools in the U.S. starting to close their doors for extended periods of time as COVID-19 continues to spread.
To make operating remotely work for your team, consider using a communication channel like Slack to keep conversations streamlined. Use channels to organize communications, and consider creating an “off-topic” channel to facilitate the water cooler feeling and keep your team’s social spirits high.
Patience and flexibility will go a long way toward safely navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent panic. Your employees will be worried about their safety, as well as the health and safety of their loved ones, especially small children and older adults. Those that are caregivers for these vulnerable populations may require additional time off and protected job leave to allow them to adequately care for their charges, so prepare for this before it becomes a crisis situation by allowing for remote work, altering job roles, and activating your COOP plan.
Now’s the time to be understanding and patient with your team as they try to protect themselves and their families. Recognize that meetings and events might need to be canceled or rescheduled and non-essential projects delayed and put on the back burner to ensure the safety of your workforce. It may feel like you’re moving one step forward and two steps back, but taking precautionary actions will actually keep you ahead of the curve by preparing your business for the changes coming in the days, weeks, and months ahead.
Stay sharp and play it safe
The more steps you take toward being proactive as COVID-19 continues to spread, the healthier your business will be when the dust finally settles and we emerge on the other side. By eliminating unnecessary travel, on-site meetings, and events, and encouraging employees to work from home, you are setting a high standard for your business and positioning yourself for success, regardless of the current state of affairs.
Need help making the transition from on-site to remote work? We’ve got a challenge for that. Learn how to manage your remote team, get everyone on the same page, and streamline your communications, making the transition as smooth as possible in the face of these uncertain times.