What you need to know
The World Health Organisation has declared a pandemic of a novel coronavirus called COVID-19. The virus’s highly contagious nature has motivated governments around the world to limit crowds and citizen contact by cancelling major events, closing schools and implementing stay-at-home quarantines. Businesses can expect to see fewer customers and possibly even government requests to close physical stores and workplaces until the threat of the virus lowers.
The COVID-19 pandemic is a rapidly evolving worldwide situation. Business owners can benefit from regularly checking in with credible news and healthcare sources like these to plan and take action practically:
- Coronavirus response toolkit: This useful resource from the British Chambers of Commerce offers general, actively updated tips for employers and employees regarding COVID-19.
- Government resources for businesses and employers: the GOV.UK website provides guidance specifically for companies regarding cleaning and disinfecting workplaces and general guidance for navigating the uncertainty of COVID-19.
- WHO Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak: The World Health Organisation, or WHO, provides international updates and guidance for those looking for reliable, current information about COVID-19.
Businesses and companies can expect some interruptions or changes to operations. Keep your employees and customers at ease with clear and frequent communication regarding any changes to your business practices.
How to prepare for temporary closures
Some businesses might decide to close their doors temporarily, either of their own volition or because of government mandates. Regardless of the reason, it’s best for companies to begin considering contingency measures immediately so that employees and customers know what to expect should the business need to close for a time. Use these steps to create an action plan for your company:
1. Look ahead
First, consider the options your business has in terms of closing. The British Chambers of Commerce offers some guidance to ease the challenges businesses face during the ongoing pandemic. Consider your company’s financial health, employee well-being and customer safety as you find the best option for your organisation.
Example: Create a cost-benefit analysis to determine the feasibility of a short-term shutdown. List all the related factors like employee well-being, financial stability and customer retention. Use this to help you establish when to close your business and for how long.
2. Communicate candidly with customers
When temporarily closing your business, clearly and consistently communicate with customers the reasons why you’re closing, how you plan to remain in contact and when you anticipate a return to the market. Updating your company website and social media channels are a great way to remain easily in contact with customers. Above all, be honest.
Example Messaging: ‘Dear valued customers, Your health and safety and the health and safety of our staff are of utmost importance. We have made the difficult decision to close our doors for the next two weeks to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Please check our website and social media channels regularly for updates on our reopening. Be healthy and safe.’
Related Article: Tips for Business Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis
3. Plan with employees
Discuss the temporary closure with your employees. They will have questions and concerns, so you should prepare to converse with them and answer questions to the best of your ability. Have plans in place to navigate layoffs, severance or furloughs. Create communication paths for your employees so that you can update them on reopening.
Example: Set up a Q&A with advanced warning of the topic to give employees an opportunity to process the news and prepare questions. Gather information and resources to give to employees at the meeting.
4. Seek accounting advice
Meet with your accountant to prepare tax documents or other paperwork for your business’s temporary closure. Your accountant can provide guidance on best practices regarding financial and legal best practices during temporary shutdowns.
Example: Bring your original pros and cons list to your accountant to review. Ask them for financial advice and guidance to navigate the short-term closure of your business in an economically workable manner.
5. Offer your employees options
If you can, give your employees options regarding their employment status during the temporary closure and access to government resources and information to assist them during their time off. Some employees may prefer furlough over lay off, while other employees might want to be laid off rather than furloughed. Look into government options for unemployment to share with your employees.
Example Messaging: ‘Please review the following options during our shop’s temporary shutdown. Consider whether you would prefer furlough or lay off. We will do our best to work with you during this challenging time. Additionally, review these government resources to see what benefits you might apply for.’
Helpful Resources for Employees:
- Working families: Coronavirus (COVID-19) – What are my rights?
- Mental Health Europe: Coronavirus: 8 ways to look after your mental health
- GOV.UK: Tax helpline to support businesses affected by coronavirus (COVID-19)
What to do to navigate reduced hours
Rather than closing for a temporary period, some businesses might choose to reduce hours. Reducing opening hours lowers overhead costs but still provides some profits for the company. Much like preparing for a temporary shutdown, it’s prudent for businesses to consider the downsides and benefits to a reduction in hours. Use these steps to establish best practices for reducing business hours:
1. Talk to employees
Let your employees know that you plan to reduce hours. Discuss the reasons why and the impact shorter work hours will have directly on the employees and their pay. Prepare for your employees to have questions about the process and personal impact.
Example Messaging: ‘Team, we will reduce our hours of operation starting next Monday. This will impact all staff, but particularly the customer-facing team. I know you have questions about this, but I ask that you please read the overview I’ve provided before asking. I’ll take questions after we’ve gone through all the information.’
2. Be transparent
When you publish your reduced hours, provide an explanation for customers. Explain why the business has to limit hours and the precautions you intend to take to protect your employees and your customers from COVID-19. Give resources for keeping in touch with the company online, through your website and social media. Update these sources regularly with your opening hours and any other business changes.
Example Messaging: ‘Dear customers, we will begin shortening our business hours next week. The shop will open at 10:00 a.m. and close at 4:00 p.m. effective Monday. Your health and the health of our employees is our top priority. Shortened hours give us the opportunity to sanitise our shop thoroughly and restock our shelves. Please follow our social media channels for any other changes to these hours.’
3. Offer flexibility
Find ways to provide flexibility to your staff. If it meets your company’s needs, give your staff an option of the hours they work. Some employees may have children out of school, which might impact their regular work hours. Ask your employees what hours work best for them during your reduced hours time frame.
Example Messaging:“Team, I know that due to school and childcare facility closures some of you may not be able to work your regular hours. Please see me before the end of the week if you want to try to work off-business hours. We’ll do what we can to accommodate your needs and work with you as best we can.”
4. Move to an online marketplace
If you’re limiting hours at a retail outlet, consider moving your operations online. You can increase your brand awareness and potentially convert new customers. Online sales do not involve face-to-face interactions, so they’re safer for both employees and customers.
Example: If your company makes its primary sales in-store, begin posting messaging about an online move in your retail location as far in advance as possible. Use email lists, social media and your website to get the message about your online marketplace to your current and potential customers.
5. Consider remote work
If possible, offer your employees the option of working remotely. Set up online communication systems for your employees. Create accountability and task management systems to monitor productivity from a distance.
Example Messaging: “Team, if you’re interested in working remotely, please attend the online training session this Wednesday. If you’re not sure whether you can successfully complete your job from home, call into my office to discuss other options.’
Tips for workplace changes
Whether your company decides to close temporarily, reduce hours, change operations in some other way or continue business as usual, expect to see some changes in your normal services.
Use these tips to prepare for and manage your company during this time:
- Cancel business travel: stop all non-essential business travel. Instead, communicate with stakeholders online through video chats or move the travel a few months into the future.
- Hold virtual meetings: hold virtual meetings rather than in-person meetings. Websites and apps dedicated to large groups meeting online can streamline the process.
- Clean your workplace: regularly deep clean and sanitise your workplace. This should include any front-facing areas that customers visit and all employee facilities.
- Talk to your supply chain: keep in touch with your supply chain. There might be disruptions along the line, which might impact your ability to make your product and deliver it to consumers.
- Review your business interruption insurance policy: Many companies purchase business insurance policies for help during business hardships. Review your policy carefully, as some insurance companies do not include communicable diseases or pandemics in their coverage. Check with your insurance company to see what your options are should COVID-19 impact your profits.
- Create a task force: set up a team of employees to address COVID-19 issues as they arise. Assigning a team ahead of any business changes gives your business time to create contingency plans and prepare for immediate action if needed.
- Monitor the situation daily: check reputable sources like the ECDC, WHO and government channels for updates to policies regarding business practices and quarantine measures.
- Talk with HR: make plans with your human resources department to handle employee questions regarding changes in pay, hours or benefits as your business weathers transitions triggered by COVID-19.