Managing the Coronavirus: Strategies for Small Businesses

Hey Dr. E. –

Ideas about how to prepare my employees for the coronavirus? I own a small business (15 employees) and we struggle at times to keep a full, healthy staff during the cold-and-flu season. Clearly the coronavirus has the potential to be even more challenging.

My goal is to be understanding and respectful of my employees, but also continue to serve our customers during this time.

Thoughts?

Would-Rather-Be-Drinking-Corona

Hey there –

I agree with you! I’d rather be drinking Coronas, too. Wanting to have a plan in the event your community is affected by the coronavirus is a wise, proactive step.

After doing a little research, the information with workplace plans I found focused entirely on the notion that employees would be able to work remotely from home in the event that they (or a family member) have the coronavirus.

 The reality of small business owners is not always so straight forward. Businesses who provide services will not necessarily be able to send everyone home to work. For example, my friend who owns a residential cleaning company will not be able to have most of her employees work from home.

What will happen to the employees – and the health of her business – in the event that employees and customers are sick?

Before you hit the “panic!” button, take a deep breath and consider implementing the following:

Step 1: Be Proactive & Anticipate Scenarios

Start by making some lists. Remember that YOU are worried about your business, but YOUR EMPLOYEES are worried about THEMSELVES AND THEIR FAMILIES. The same applies to your clients.

  • Think about this from your employees’ perspective: what would they be most concerned about?

  • What will your clients be most concerned about?

  • What are YOU most concerned about?

I like to put notes in columns in one Excel document. This lets me see all the information at once, which makes seeing patterns and commonalities easier.

After you’ve made your lists, start to look for concerns that overlap. Are any of the concerns similar? How about concerns that are competing?

The next step is to make a plan for a few different scenarios: 1) best-case scenario (minimal sickness); 2) a worst-case scenario (significant sickness); and 3) what you actually think is going to happen (usually a ‘middle of the road’ option).

Make this plan for each of the parties involved.

For example, my friend with the residential cleaning services might anticipate the following:

EMPLOYEES:

  1. Best-Case: only a few of the 25 employees are sick at a time for only a few weeks;

  2. Worst-Case: a majority of the employees (13+) are sick almost at the same time for several weeks;

  3. Likely: 6-7 employees will be out with the coronavirus for a two week stretch. This could last for several weeks. (On average, 3-4 employees are gone for a variety of reasons.)

The next step would be to figure out how each of these scenarios might impact services to clients’ homes:

CLIENTS:

  1. Best-Case: clients won’t be impacted any more than normal because the current workforce can accommodate the impact of an average 3-4 employees being sick at one time. Minimal amounts of clients will cancel because their households have the coronavirus.

  2. Worst-Case: a percentage of clients’ homes would not be serviced in a given week due to a lack of employees. Clients will also reschedule because their families are sick.

  3. Likely: All employee teams will have to pick up a few extra houses to service a week. Additionally, a small percentage of clients will have to reschedule. Depending on scheduling, a minimal number of houses will be rescheduled to the following week.

The final step: figure out how each of these scenarios will impact the business: revenue generated, payroll, supplies, etc.

Step 2: Create an Action Plan

Once you’ve considered the potential impact of the coronavirus on your employees, your clients, and your business, the next step is to make an action plan.

This action plan will look different to every business! Making an action plan is a helpful and vital step. It gives you – and everyone else – a road map to follow. Everyone will know what the plan is, so there will be minimal surprises.

Most importantly, because you have started thinking and talking about this NOW, before you are dealing with a full-on crisis, you have time to process and think about what makes the most sense for you.

That way, when you are in the middle of a critical situation, you will have already calmly and thoughtfully prepared your action plan. All you’ll have to do is start following it.

For example, an action plan might look like this:

EMPLOYEES

  1. If you become sick, call Employee X to notify them that you will not be at work for _________ days.

  2. Employee X will take the sick employee off the schedule; find a replacement; notify the team lead.

  3. Employee X will look at the team’s schedule to determine if any client schedule’s need to be adjusted.

And so on.

Step 3: Communicate Your Action Plan to Everyone Involved

Communication is the often over-looked part of this process!

No one expects you to have ALL the answers, or for your plan to NEVER change.

Be honest about what you know and what you don’t know. Others will respect and trust your honesty and will do what they can to help you.

Remember, in all of your communication, put the interests of your READER at the center of your message.

For example, here’s a message that would set a BAD tone:

Hi Employees – we are worried about losing clients with everyone being out sick.

If I’m your employee, this is going to make me feel like crap (beyond being sick!). Make sure that your employees know that you are concerned about them:

Hi Employees – It’s important that you stay home if you or a family member contract the coronavirus. Your health and wellbeing right now are our biggest concern.

Because of the number of employees that are out with the coronavirus right now, we need to make the following changes:

            Team 1:….

Please keep an eye on your email for more information in the next [24 hours]. We don’t know exactly how the coronavirus is impacting our clients, and we don’t want to expose you to the virus that way, either. 

Thank you for sticking with us during this difficult time!

It’s equally important to communicate with your clients during this time: again being open, honest, and focusing on how the clients’ are being impacted.

Hi Client – As you may know, the coronavirus has arrived in our community. The health of you and your family is of utmost importance to us, beyond providing exceptional cleaning services.

Additionally, we also value our employees and their health and wellbeing.

As a result, we are taking the following steps to minimize the spread of the coronavirus as much as possible:

  1.  Our cleaning teams will arrive on their usually scheduled days and times. If a staff member on the team is sick, another employee will be filling in.

  2. In the event that your usual team is unable to service your property, our manager, Employee X, will contact you immediately to reschedule your service.

  3. If someone in your house is sick with the coronavirus, please call or email Employee X immediately to reschedule your service. 

Your patience and understanding during this difficult time are appreciated! These are very challenging circumstances, but we also appreciate your helping in limiting the spread of the coronavirus. 

We look forward to continuing to serve you. Stay healthy! 

Final Thoughts

Be sure to show everyone – employees and clients alike – your appreciation during this time! They will be more willing to cut you some slack and be understanding if you use the powerful combination of appreciation and honesty.

Have a question that you want some perspective on? Email your situation to
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