There has been a lot of uncertainty over the last couple of months, but there is one thing we know for sure: Cayuga County businesses will reopen. We don’t know for sure when and how reopening will happen for different types of businesses, but it is likely to happen gradually over time. We do know that life, work, and business will look different for a while. Despite some of this remaining uncertainty, businesses can and should start to plan for their returned operations. There may be aspects of plans that need to change or adjust as time goes on and information advances, but that is not a reason to put off planning all together. There are a lot of things to consider, so we wanted to provide a few high level ideas to start thinking about as we approach a reopening of our economy.
The first thing to keep in mind is that no matter what you read here or in any other source, you will need to keep up with and align your plans with local guidance. Keep an eye on direction coming from the Cayuga County Health Department and New York State to ensure that you are meeting those standards.
Second, there is no question that you need to be planning for safety, sanitation, and cleaning. Start to think about your workplace: what are the common touchpoints (light switches, railings, doorknobs, elevator buttons, water coolers, cabinets, that one desk everyone congregates around for a morning chat, etc.)? Start to think about what additional cleaning protocols need to be put into place (CDC is a great source for this type of information), and if employees need to change how they interact with the space.
You will also need to create a social distancing plan and consider how employees need to change how they interact with each other and the public. How close together are work areas, and what separation exists between them? Where do people tend to have close contact? You’ll need to address these areas of close contact and instruct employees and visitors on how best to maintain appropriate distance. You should also look at public access to your workplace and consider reducing outside foot traffic to the extent possible. If you do need to have visitors or customers come in physically, consider what safety measures need to be added to encourage social distancing or protect your employees interacting with them. Perhaps you need a sign and tape marking six feet from a reception desk, or maybe you need to install a Plexiglas barrier. Also think about what types of interactions happen in your office. Are there meetings that happen often? What steps do you need to take and policies do you need to implement to ensure that meetings are conducted in a safe manner? Consider how you can rearrange public and gathering spaces to maintain social distancing.
You’ll also want to start thinking about what personal protective equipment (PPE) your employees might need, and how much of it will be necessary for your operation. With these kinds of items in short supply, there may be a longer lead-time than usual to procure PPE, so plan ahead. If you’d like to learn more about what PPE is needed for various scenarios in your business, we are hosting a free webinar with the County Health Department on May 14 at 11am. For more information or to register, visit www.cayugacountychamber.com/events.
The next thing to look at again is your sick leave policy. Even after we are back to work, you will want to ensure that your employees can and will stay home if they are feeling ill. That means offering paid sick leave and perhaps remote work options that will make staying home more feasible for individuals. Having one person stay home because they are ill is better than having your whole office infected. Remember this last flu season? It was rough. Plan to avoid that. On the other hand, also take another look at and update your operational contingency plan. How will your business operate if over half of the employees are out sick? We all hope that will not happen, and that’s the whole point of planning for a safe reopening. However, it is better to be prepared than have to scramble.
Another thing to consider is how your employees with children might continue to be impacted by this situation. Schools are closed until the fall, but your business might reopen earlier. Parents will have to find an appropriate alternative for their school aged children. There was a severe shortage of childcare before the pandemic, it certainly won’t be any better after. Furthermore, workers relying on family for childcare may not have the same options for a while as social distancing continues. This will be especially true if their family members fall in vulnerable populations, like grandparents that are over 60. What will you do if your employees aren’t able to find safe childcare options?
All of these lead to the next consideration. If your employees are working from home now, consider whether maintaining some level of remote work in the coming months might help accomplish some of these other aims. Do all of your employees need to return at the same time? Or can you stagger the return of different groups or departments? This type of gradual return may very well be mandated, so it would be good to have a plan even if you’d prefer to bring everyone back at once. You will need to be prepared to give clear direction to your employees about who is coming back when, and what new procedures they need to follow when at the workplace. Continuing to have a reduced in-office workforce will help in maintaining social distancing, allow individuals to work from home if they are feeling mild symptoms but feel well enough to work, and provide a partial – although not perfect – solution to childcare challenges. Continuing some remote work is certainly not a perfect solution for any issues, but it could be a help in some ways.
Finally, each business and industry is going to have unique needs when it comes to operating safely in a COVID-19 world. Industry specific guidance and best practices are starting to come out from various sources. Check the websites and join the mailing lists of relevant industry and trade associations or other industry-specific organizations. We’ve already seen documents like this from the National Restaurant Association, the National Association of Homebuilders, the American Med Spa Association, and others. More are sure to come. There are local industry groups working to create guidance as well, including Child Care Solutions of CNY which is preparing guidance for local childcare providers.
On another note, our office is also considering how to build relationships with customers, stakeholders, partners, and the community when physical connection will be limited for a period of time. While the Chamber is doing some virtual networking events that are helping people stay connected, it isn’t a perfect replacement for face to face relationship building. We’d love to hear your ideas for how you plan to connect with your audiences in the coming months in lieu of your typical practices that require a physical presence. If you have ideas to share, send them to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ll start to compile some ideas and share them with the business community so that we can all see more success as we move forward.
There are many reasons to plan ahead. Planning ahead will allow you to communicate with your employees, customers, and stakeholders about how you are doing business in a way that is safe for everyone involved, and will instill confidence with those audiences. Furthermore, it will allow you to focus on work when you get back to work, rather than constantly reacting to the environment. You will certainly have situations you didn’t plan for, and there will be times you have to pivot unexpectedly, but being prepared to the extent possible will limit your need to be in a reactive state. Again, remember to stay up to date on local and state guidance to ensure that you meet local standards, but there will be many resources out there to help you generate a plan. Keep an eye on the Chamber’s Resource Page, https://cayugacountychamber.com/coronavirus-resources-covid-19, for some information, and seek out industry specific guidance as well. I’m truly looking forward to getting out there to #SupportCayuga in person again soon!