As governors begin to open states, business owners find themselves questioning if they should hit the brake or stomp on the gas. Unfortunately, there are no how-to videos on YouTube.
Safety guides from OSHA are available for manufacturing and retail, but they can only carry you so far when assessing the risk to business and persons. As a business owner, your state’s reopening guidelines are required reading – as is the White House guide for reopening. Regardless of our political leaders’ confidence in our ability to safely reopen our country, the business community seems less so.
A New York Times article outlines that despite “open orders” many businesses, like McDonald’s, aren’t rushing to throw the doors open and return to “business as usual.” It’s simply not as easy as it sounds. In an interview, Rich Lesser, chief executive of the Boston Consulting Group said, “Shutting down was hard, but opening up is going to be harder.” And if you take that one step farther and consider the impact of reopening, stopping and starting again if we open too soon, it is crippling.
So, what is a small business owner in the furniture industry to do? Especially when trying to strike the tenuous balance between opening too soon and risking your reputation or opening too late and being financially vulnerable. Assess and prepare at your own pace.
Reopening Assessments and Evaluations
Rules vary from state to state, making it impossible to find a one-size solution for a safe and thoughtful return to work. After all, safety and fear factors are very real right now. Not only for consumers, but for employees, too. That’s why it’s imperative to:
Recognize your industry’s position on the hazard hierarchy. OSHA prepared a Hazard Recognition page to help companies identify the level of risk inside of their own companies based on things like distance and interaction. Essentially, elements like your facility’s floor plan will determine your ranking.
The challenge with Hazard Recognition and Risk Assessment is that it’s possible to change from person to person within your organization. For example, your remote working accounting manager is at lower risk than your delivery driver. This presents a challenge when retrofitting your facility in answer to improved distancing.
But if your facility is prepared to protect the highest risk person on payroll, everyone will be adequately protected. This includes, but isn’t limited to, continued distancing, handwashing, disinfection, protective equipment and barriers. Just be sure to have adequate supplies in stock, including soap, towels and masks, to protect your teams.
Learn from essential businesses. With grocery workers and healthcare professionals falling ill, it’s important to learn from their environments. With that in mind, some areas of consideration for your company include break rooms, crowded shift change areas, biometric time clocks, cash registers, employee restrooms and other areas where they may be in close proximity.
Likewise, the customer must be considered. Grocery workers commented on the way customers congregate around meat counters. For your business, this could be the check-out line or the store’s entry. A successful strategy may be to limit the number of people allowed into your business at once.
With all of this, the measures you implement will be specific to your place in the furniture supply chain. Manufacturers and retailers will have challenges to tackle individually but have many common concerns – especially when it comes to protecting the health and safety of employees.
Plan to operate at a fraction of your former budget. Creating a micro-budget now helps manage the gap between where we are and where we were prior to the pandemic. Obviously, it will be a squeeze for some, but it’s important to remember that the supply and volume won’t be there the minute we unlock the front door.
Your supply chain is also a key piece in the return puzzle. Will you have the raw materials and goods you need to open your doors? Do you have a safety plan in place for shipping and receiving? Are you able to stagger your reopening or change your product offering? Will you be able to open with a limited product set rather than your full catalog?
Bring people back – carefully. In an interview with Inc., Travis Vance, a partner with labor and employment firm Fisher & Phillips said, “We’re going to see a lot of claims filed related to coronavirus, and while workers’ compensation may cover you for many of them, negligence claims aren’t covered. That means you need to be ready to show you’ve taken steps to preemptively reduce the risk in your facilities.”
In the article, Vance offers a few tips that employers can take to protect and prepare their businesses, including:
Outsource temperature taking and health screening prior to shift start if it is imperative for your business. Most employers don’t have the equipment to safely carry out assessments.
Remember that social distancing isn’t easy. Put measures in place to help employees help themselves.
Don’t assume your workers feel safe about coming back to work. Overcommunicate your protection plans and have benefits in place to provide necessary care.
Have a mask policy and communicate it to your teams prior to your return to work, including someone’s desire to wear a bandana rather than a medical mask. Know your answers and be prepared to take questions.
Put a visitor plan together prior to your return. This includes deliveries of all kinds, including lunch, business guests and the families of employees.
We are operating in uncertain times and the ever-changing scientific data around Covid-19 makes it hard to understand if opening business is in our best interest. While it’s exciting to dream about a return to normal, bringing people back to work safely amid an unpredictable virus is terrifying. That’s why we understand those who choose a more cautious path right now.
It takes courage to press pause. It takes nerves of steel to say no. Especially with being sidelined with quarantine fatigue, a dwindling bank account, misleading news and a general lack of direction. After all, no one pulls you aside and says, “Here’s a playbook for handling a pandemic as a business owner.” Until now.
We are honored to have your readership and camaraderie during this trying time. We salute the workers who make the home furnishings industry as amazing as it is. And we know, without hesitation or doubt, that we will make it through this crisis stronger, better and – best of all – together. Thank you for allowing us to serve you. We do hope you continue to visit our blog long after everything settles into our new normal.
This is the final Pandemic Playbook post. See the previous post in this series, Forging Ahead in Financially Trying Times.
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