BACK TO BUSINESS IN A POST-COVID WORLD
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Since the arrival of the 2020 lockdowns, the phrase “business as usual” will likely never quite mean the same thing for the majority of businesses around the globe.
With the sudden implementation of near overnight restrictions, business owners have been forced to make just as rapid changes to the way in which their companies operate. Now with the easing of restrictions in many countries, various sectors of the global economy that were suspended prior have been slowly re-emerging.
In many countries, as rates of coronavirus start to stabilize, offices are open at 100%. While in others some countries, only those employees that cannot work remotely have been allowed back to work. Regardless, in both scenarios, businesses need strict precautions that employers need to observe. In light of the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, it is not so clear how business owners ought to proceed.
4 Pro-Active Tips for Business Owners
The main concern during this time is how can companies maintain stability in the face of constant flux?
Since every day could bring about either the implementation or phasing out of lockdown restrictions (which may or may not have an impact on your business), it is important to devise a strategy that takes this unpredictability into account.
Here are four major tips for business owners who are struggling to re-organize their operations in preparation for a post-COVID world.
1) Keep in the Know
Naturally, the first port of call should be about keeping yourself up-to-date with the latest version of lockdown restrictions that apply to your business in your country.
Current global trends for lockdown restrictions are reflecting that things are generally easing up. However, in many countries planning has proven difficult as the restrictions are either extended or made more stringent, depending on the viral curve.
If you take into consideration all forms of restriction, from the least strict to the most, and are able to work a flexible plan that can accommodate all of them at any given time, then your company will be on its way to achieving glorious stability during this time.
Aside from keeping up with global trends and applicable national restrictions, it’s equally a good idea to keep up with innovative strategies that other businesses are instituting to remain salient.
2) Implement Health Safety Precautions
In general, lockdown trends worldwide have typically insisted that businesses (at the very least) implement the following basic health safety precautions in order to quench the spread of coronavirus.
While most businesses understand this and have already implemented such health precautions, it’s important to keep them in mind in order to create a stable structure that works with the times.
A. Keeping Things Sterile
Meticulous cleaning and scrupulous hygiene practices will need to be undertaken in order to ensure little to no viral contamination.
Continuous disinfection is a must for staying afloat during this turbulent time. The beginning and end of business hours are the most important times to decontaminate for non-remote enterprises.
In spite of all the hype about hand sanitizers and anti-microbial sprays, one ought to consider that overdoing it could equally lead to compromised employee and customer health. Many people already suffer respiratory, skin and other conditions (e.g. multiple chemical sensitivity) to which aerosolized sprays and harsh cleaning detergents may not provide an optimal solution.
Sensitive and high-risk individuals (the elderly, healthcare workers, immune compromised, etc) ought to wear gloves and avoid unnecessary chemical decontamination.
Cost-Effective Green Solutions
It is likely that nobody has spent as much on hand sanitizer in the whole of human history as has already occurred in 2020!
There are other cost-effective methods one can use to keep things clean and promote individual health simultaneously. Allowing fresh air to circulate and letting more sunshine into any cleaning operations are two natural (and free!) antimicrobial precautions you could take to enhance microbial clearance from the work place.
Sunlight, and UV light in particular, have antimicrobial properties and this is one of the main reasons hospitals take advantage of UV lighting. You may want to install extra ventilation and allow for some work to be maintained outside in the sunlight.
Investing in more office plants for the workplace can also help to offer extra oxygen to staff and customers, as well as helping to lower anxiety and improve the quality of the air. Some plants like trees “sweat” natural chemicals into the environment around them that have been reported in scientific data to support immunity and lower stress.
Staff members need a way to keep hygienic at all times in the workplace. Placing reminders up is useful to ensure that people wash their hands as much as possible and keep clean.
Furthermore, it is important to encourage employees to maintain adequate personal hygiene (showering every day, brushing teeth, washing hands, etc). Without getting into everyone’s personal details, make your employees aware that hygiene is important. Any employees that lack access to basic sanitation ought to be able to talk about it and a plan ought to be made to ensure team safety.
B. Social Distancing
Social distancing is an effective measure for preventing the spread of infections and is one of the main restrictions being imposed worldwide.
It ought to be mentioned that points of contact are being discouraged as much as possible and hence social distancing is a measure for only essential staff that are absolutely required to maintain a physical presence in the workplace.
Maintaining Personal Space
Employees need to ensure they respect their own and everyone else’s “personal space bubble”. In the era of coronavirus, this could be anywhere from 1.5 to 3 meters (5 to 9 ft), depending on local restrictions. Office and classroom seating, checkout queues, factory worker assembly lines and any other point of contact you can think of between staff should strictly adhere to this principle.
Points of Staff Contact
There are always going to be activities that demand people work closely together, such as the exchange of goods. It’s important to highlight where all points of contact are and to remove as many as possible from the operation.
One way of achieving this is by converting all contact points into collection points. For example, disallowing employees to physically pass objects to one another and rather having them place things in a spot the other can reach at a later time (after necessary decontamination and sterilization precautions have been put in place).
Working in Smaller Teams and Sub-Units
On the note of keeping things as sterile as possible, staff ought to be divided into neat self-contained units.
This ensures that the same people maintain contact with one another on a daily basis, which helps to lower infectivity. If one person in a unit gets sick and has been working closely with the others, then the whole unit may have to quarantine. In this sense, you may want to circulate small teams of staff in the roster which allows for this kind of flexibility without damaging business operations.
C. Wearing Masks All Day
Face masks are the other mainstay restriction put in place globally.
Contrary to popular opinion, only the most sophisticated face masks (level: hazmat) are capable of fully preventing the spread of infection. This measure is more effective as a means to keep everyone’s unique microbiome self-contained, preventing the accidental exchange of saliva droplets and other potentially contaminated bodily media.
Taking a Low Oxygen Work Force into Consideration
Wearing a mask all day can be quite draining on the body as it induces mild oxygen deprivation. Short periods with less oxygen are not necessarily damaging to health, however they may start to add up.
Oxygen is vital for energy production; thus less could give rise to states of reduced mental clarity, lethargy and lower productivity. Workers ought to take literal breathers (in isolation), where they can take the mask off and soak up some fresh air to get their oxygen levels normalized. Take care to allow those with respiratory issues to take more frequent breaks.
On this note, data collected from the 2003 SARS breakout revealed that face masks caused many healthcare workers to experience headaches on a frequent basis. Encourage people to eat and keep hydrated to avoid this outcome as much as possible.
D. Staggering Shifts (And Breaks)
Mask breaks bring us to the next point: shifts and breaks should be staggered to allow for continuous work and minimal points of contact. Staging the times people start work and leave will minimize contact when they enter and exit the premises. Smokers should perhaps have individually designated smoking areas if this is a requirement amongst your staff.
It can be useful to create a structure in which employees take shorter breaks more frequently versus one long break at lunch time.
For example, if everyone took a 5-10min break every hour and arrived at work within 15-20minutes apart from each other, nobody will have a break that coincides, presuming they stick to the schedule.
E. Screening for Infections
Whether your company will have to institute screening precautions or not entirely depends on the restrictions that apply in your area.
However, many businesses are partaking in screening their staff for optimized health safety. Checking staff temperatures fall within a healthy range on a daily basis as well as encouraging individuals to do routine health checkups with doctors are both helpful preventative measures.
Mya Care offers access to remote healthcare service providers from all over the globe, allowing for efficient screening without any points of contact.
3) Commit to an Adaptive Structure
After surveying global trends and doing an overall meta-analysis of the situation, the next step is to identify the most important factors that are susceptible to sudden change. All faucets of a company that have been affected by restrictions are essentially the new weak links in the chain. Devising an adaptive structure that can accommodate any such sudden changes is one way to ensure stability.
The focus of such a structure should inherently respect what the lockdown is all about. According to health officials, it is of utmost importance that the “viral firewall” established by the lockdown is securely maintained. In this regard, health precautions and minimal points of contact will largely define business operations moving forward. As restrictions ease, health precautions will still remain a high priority while more points of contact will be slowly phased back in.
Two of the best micro-strategies that have been utilized by businesses during the pandemic include:
A. Remote work, where possible
Companies that were already set up for remote work have generally done a better job at adjusting to the new normal.
For all aspects of the business that can run remotely, it is highly advisable to make the transition if you haven’t already. Remote work ensures that health precautions are adhered to with minimal expense and that operations maintain stability irrespective of what restrictions are being rolled out at any given time.
B. Taking things slow
Patience is key.
This is not the time to take drastic action or make sudden movements. This is a time to be patient and wait until the dust has settled around what the new normal will be post-COVID. Any new structural changes that take place need to be carefully thought out with this understanding in mind.
Everyone has had to already make a sudden adjustment to this unexpected turn of events and just as much as business owners are reeling right now, so are employees. When designing an adaptive structure that is already subject to working with lockdown fluctuations, try not to overcomplicate it for employees by minimizing transition stress. If your solution demands them to keep chopping and changing, it may result in less productivity and more confusion.
Devising Flexible Strategies for Each Arm of the Business
Naturally, every part of the business will demand unique strategies to compensate for potential restriction flux. As a business owner, you will know the ins and outs of your company the best and are ultimately the only one who can come up with the perfectly tailored solution.
The following are examples of different arms of business that will have to implement the above restrictions in unique ways:
- Transport/ deliveries
- Office work
- Establishment fronts (stores, sales, reception, classrooms)
- Cleaning staff
When strategizing for the different arms of your business, consider both the strengths and weaknesses of the employees and operations contained within each. The factors that are more resilient to sudden changes are going to be anchoring points in your design, with the rest needing to be tailored for extra flexibility.
Some arms of your business may not be able to function at all during lockdown restrictions. In this sense, it can be useful to devise a plan that allows for de-activation and re-activation of relevant business operations.
While each country has presented its own unique restrictions, the UK government has uploaded some helpful guidelines for business owners that are struggling with this. Much of the advice pertains to companies at large.
4) Encourage Team Morale and Support
Be sensitive to the needs of staff and try to encourage team support during this time.
Donning a mask every day, suddenly adapting to remote work after years of physically being in an office and being made to distance for the sake of global unity are not exactly easy transitions for people to make.
The nature of the lockdown restrictions may have people feeling on edge in general, with tensions running at an all-time high. Arguments and miscommunication may arise as a result of this tension, which naturally affects the internal flow of your business operations.
In spite of social distancing to reduce transmission, being social is also very important for our health.
Lack of connection, loneliness, the psychological aspect of covering ones mouth all day long and having to stay away from other people can all trigger heightened levels of anxiety, amongst other more severe symptoms. It has been shown that social isolation and chronic loneliness can be worse for our health than smoking. Emphasizing being social (from a safe distance) is a required counter strategy in order to keep the health of your staff salient.
Not to mention, your staff members could come off as better work colleagues post COVID measures if everyone agrees to support one another through this time instead of inciting division. This is a good thing as better relations encourage better work flow amongst people and therefore enhanced productivity.
-  https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1280232/
-  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31210473/
-  https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/12733081/
-  https://www.researchgate.net/publication/7332926_Headaches_and_the_N95_face-mask_amongst_healthcare_providers
-  https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20180504/loneliness-rivals-obesity-smoking-as-health-risk
As we enter the new year, countries around the world are preparing to start mass vaccination in an effort to end the COVID-19 pandemic. Multiple vaccine candidates have been approved by different health authorities worldwide, and some countries have already started vaccinating their citizens.
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