Independent retail advisor Henri Davis shares her blog post on things to consider when preparing to re-open your doors.
After various news briefings over the last few days we know that the government is seriously considering how they can start to ease the lockdown and allow businesses back to work. While we don’t know exactly who will be first or how and when it will be allowed to happen, business owners of all types of businesses need to start working with the information we do have to understand how this could work for our companies, to ensure we are following government guidelines, our teams feel safe and are happy to be back at work.
PLAN PLAN PLAN
For me the biggest single change is social distancing and how it impacts on every aspect of how we work and what we can achieve within those limitations. This starts with our staff getting to work right through to getting our products and services out of the door and/or welcoming customers onto your premises.
We need to plan how we will keep our teams safe with social distancing, between themselves as well as customers and suppliers, during a working day. By identifying the ‘pinch points’ you will start to understand how you are going to have to re-engineer each task. Then you can build them back up into a new working day so you can identify who you need in the business, when and for how long. Each day may be different, weeks may be different too but the government are suggesting that we try and create teams and rotas to make sure the same groups are working together, so if anyone does become ill the spread is limited within one group of workers and not spread across the whole.
Once you have the processes in place, you need to think about everyone in your team and their personal circumstances: who has a care role for relatives or children; if they have children are their childcare providers or schools open; who is shielding because of their health; who is with an essential worker; who is ill or has been ill with the virus and is recovering? All of this will influence who can come back to work and when. Check your assessment is correct and talk to your team members before you start to plan who should come back to work or could continue to work from home (WFH).
CLEAR AND CONSISTENT COMMUNICATION
Scheduling and communication are going to be critical so everyone knows what to expect - where they need to be when, what they need to bring with them and throughout it all they must all feel safe. If someone is more nervous than others you must not rubbish how they feel, this is real for them. Likewise if some of your team are very blasé about the whole thing they must respect their colleagues’ feelings and the processes you are outlining. Your leadership on this is going to be critical your communication must be clear, consistent and followed through. We really do need to be kind to one another.
THE PRACTICALITES OF SOCIAL DISTANCING
Safety of staff and how they feel about coming back to work affects all businesses. Unless they need to be at a place of work to carry out their role, many who are WFH will only be going out to do their daily exercise and nothing else. It is not reasonable to suggest that all businesses WFH will carry on doing this indefinitely, but the government’s recent statements suggest that employers will be encouraged to have some or all of their teams based at home for a lot longer particularly in city centres where large numbers using public transport is not going to be possible. From your perspective it may be that keeping staff socially distanced at work means that they cannot all be back in the workplace at the same time anyway, so you will need to think through how this might work. For example on a bank of 4 desks it may only be possible to have 2 at opposite diagonals to keep them apart without having to put up screens.
But of course, depending how busy you think your business will be in the next 3-6 months you may not need all of your team so you will have to consider whose skills you will need first to get things going effectively. Currently the furlough system is set to last until the end of June and at the moment beyond that there will be no further government support for wages. If this continues to be the case, then come mid-May you will need to be thinking about who within your team you will need to make redundant. This is not going to be easy but if it is something you need to do it is vital that all the proper processes associated with redundancy are followed so staff are treated fairly.
KEEPING EVERYONE SAFE
Once you have thought through who you will need in the business, you then need to consider how you can keep them safe at work in all areas of your premises. You also need to be sure that those you are asking to come to your premises are happy and able to do so safely. It may be that you need to allow them to travel at less busy times or for fewer days each week initially until they are sure they can get there safely.
In getting them back on site you will first need to do an assessment of workspaces and how this needs to change to comply to keep your team safe, will you need to put screens between workers?
You need to know which of your staff have underlying health conditions that may mean they are more vulnerable if they come back to work, given government guidance on staying at home they may not want to leave their homes so you will need to ensure that you can put in all the safe guards necessary, including screens and PPE to keep them safe. If they really don’t want to come into work you should accommodate this and find a way for them to continue to WFH. If this causes you a major issue you should take advice on how to handle this, but I would suggest that you should not make this a reason for redundancy. Discrimination could be a real issue here so you would need to take advice if it happened that these employees were not needed in the business going forward.
TEACHING THE NEW WAYS OF WORKING
It is going to be vital that all those coming back into the workplace completely understand how they need to behave in the space and you will need to spend time training them in new ways of working. It might be they have to do things differently and if this involves machinery as well then this may take time and will need to be documented. There will be training for everyone relating to hygiene and social distancing and if you have limited space in communal areas like kitchens, how many can be there at any one time and what about toilets and ensuring they are clean between users? If you share some of these facilities with other businesses you will need to agree on how all employees will behave.
KEEPING THINGS CLEAN
In addition, cleaning all spaces every hour or so using the right strength of sanitiser is advisable, to try and ensure that staff members that are more nervous about coming into busier spaces are not traumatised by being close to others. You need to take their fears seriously, different people will react to this threat in different ways.
Things like bringing personal cutlery and crockery to work, taking it home each night and not leaving it lying around should probably become a new way of working. It will be important to take proper advice on this so that you are seen to be fulfilling your duty of care for your staff.
CUSTOMER FACING BUSINESSES
If your business means your team have to meet customers or suppliers face to face, then this adds another dimension. You have to keep your staff safe and your customers safe while they are on your premises and everyone will expect you to be following the government guidelines on social distancing, PPE and all other aspects of health and safety.
For all of us this is a new world we are entering, it will be challenging and we will need to be flexible, open minded and kind.
Henri Davis is an Independent Retail Advisor with over 35 years experience in new product development and buying roles, specialising in stationery, gifts, cards and souvenirs.