How to Navigate Business Uncertainty During COVID-19

Learn how to deal with temporary closures, navigate reduced work hours, and tips for workplace changes.

 

What you need to know

The World Health Organization 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 canceling major events, closing schools, implementing shelter-in-place quarantines and closing non-essential companies.

 
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:

 

  • Government of Canada: The site has the latest information on outbreaks and information on how the government is monitoring and responding to Covid-19.
  • CFIB’s Covid-19 Small Business Help Centre The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) provides expert advice and ensures that you have all of the latest information on government announcements and available support during Covid-19.
  • WHO Coronavirus disease (Covid-19) outbreak: The World Health Organization, or WHO, provides international updates and guidance for those looking for reliable, current information about Covid-19.

Businesses and companies have experienced interruptions or changes to operations. Keep your employees and customers at ease with clear and frequent communication regarding any shifts to your business practices.

 

How to handle temporary closures

Some businesses have closed their doors temporarily, either of their own volition or because the government has mandated to do so. Regardless of the reason, it’s best for companies to  consider contingency measures immediately so that employees and customers know what to expect. 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, including your company’s financial health, employee well-being, and customer safety as you find the best option for your organization.
 

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 and for how long to close your business.

 

2. Communicate candidly with customers

When temporarily closing your business, clearly and consistently communicate with customers the reasons why you’ve closed, 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 regarding 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 have ongoing conversations with them and answer questions to the best of your ability. Have plans in place to navigate layoffs and severance. Create communication paths for your employees so that you can update them on reopening.

 
Example: Set up Q&As with advanced warning of the topic to give employees an opportunity to prepare questions. Gather information and resources to give employees at the meeting.

 
Related Article: A Business Owner’s Guide for Keeping Customers and Clients Safe During the COVID-19 Outbreak

 

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.

 
Helpful Resources for Employees: 

 

 

What to do to navigate reduced hours

Rather than closing for a temporary period, some businesses have decided to reduce hours. Reducing store 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 beginning next Monday. This will impact all staffers, but particularly the front-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 publishing 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 the hours and any other business changes.

 
Example Messaging: “Loyal customers, we will begin shortening our business hours next week. The store 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 sanitize our store thoroughly and restock our shelves. Please follow our social media channels for any other changes to the 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 with school and daycare 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’ve limited hours at a retail store, 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 messaging a move online 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, let your employees work 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, stop by my office to discuss other options.”

 
Related Article: “Navigating to a Remote Workforce During the COVID-19 Outbreak”

 

Tips for workplace changes

Whether your company has closed temporarily, reduced hours, changed its operations in some other way or continued 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 sanitize your workplace. This should include any front-facing areas 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 pass it on 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. (Also see: Tips for Business Communication During the COVID-19 Crisis)
  • Monitor the situation daily: Check reputable sources like WHO and local 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 because of Covid-19. 
  • Remain transparent: Continue to communicate with your employees and customers often. Remain transparent and provide updates as frequently as you can.
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