The coronavirus pandemic is quickly and dramatically impacting the global economy, and small business entrepreneurs are not immune to its consequences.
Per a report from the NFIB, a member-driven organization that advocates for small and independent business owners nationwide, the medical crisis is negatively impacting about 23% of small business owners in the United States. Of those, 42% are experiencing slower sales, 39% report supply chain disruptions, and 4% have employees who aren’t completely healthy and are taking precautionary measures to prevent contracting the virus.
Clearly, it’s an extremely fluid situation, and these statistics may become stale quickly as the crisis lingers or, hopefully, begins to disappear.
For small business owners, dealing with such a serious crisis is a new experience, and there’s no how-to-book for reference. With that in mind, here’s some basic yet critical advice:
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is strongly recommending canceling all gatherings of 50 or more people until mid-May. Thus, if your business has more than 50 employees housed in the same facility, it’s prudent to promote a work-from-home policy.
Before instructing employees to work from home, devise a communication platform (such as Slack) and document remote work expectations. It’s important for employees working remotely to have the tools they need to be successful and have resources at their disposal for IT-related issues.
Video conferencing can be a valuable tool. In a Keap.com blog on that topic, Laura Dolan writes: “As we deal with the novel coronavirus pandemic, video conferencing can come in very handy for those who feel the need to socially distance themselves from coworkers by staying home or staying six feet away from colleagues. This may also involve employees just video conferencing from their respective desks instead of sharing a close-quarters conference room. They can still call in to meetings and feel productive without letting their work suffer while being safe and responsible citizens.”
For smaller companies that choose to keep employees working on-site, make certain those who have symptoms of acute respiratory illness stay home and do not come to work until they are free of symptoms for at least 24 hours.
Instruct employees at work to wash their hands often using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer or to wash their hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds. Also, regularly clean all frequently touched surfaces around the office, such as doorknobs and handles, kitchen countertops and light switches. Use the cleaning agents that are normally used in these areas and follow the standard directions printed on the labels.
Keep employees informed
Provide daily updates on the crisis and what impact it’s having on the business. Be transparent but also promote calmness.
Also, encourage employees to check in with reputable news and information sources such as the CDC website, as well as websites for federal, state and local governments, for regular updates on the situation.
Social distancing can help slow the spread of #COVID19 in affected communities. This means avoiding crowded places and maintaining distance from others. More prevention tips: https://t.co/bUyobRHpCE. pic.twitter.com/IQjSwRxIzn— CDC (@CDCgov) March 16, 2020
Keep employee morale high
Your employees are confused about what’s happening. Some are frightened. Anxiety is likely skyrocketing. They’re looking for calm and confident leadership. They’re also wanting to bond like a family. Promote that type of environment.
Perhaps create a digital water cooler, if you will. In other words, start a dedicated chat channel or video conference link that’s live all day. That way employees can visit it a few times during the day as time permits, much like meeting in a breakroom.
Keep customers informed
Last but not least, keep in touch with your customers by sharing updates about your business on your website and/or via your social media platforms and newsletters. If time allows, call or email some directly.
During this challenging time, silence isn’t golden. Businesses who choose to stick their head in the sand create a negative impression for the brand. Impress your customers by informing them how your business is managing this unprecedented crisis. You’ll likely earn more of their respect in the process.