While we’re still learning about COVID-19, commonly called coronavirus, its potential impacts are dominating the media. When we see the effects overseas and outbreaks in the United States, we have good reason to become concerned about what will happen locally.
We’re being told that the best preventive measures for now are all the things you’re supposed to do to avoid the common flu – wash hands frequently, cover coughs and stay home as soon as you begin to feel bad. Staying away from crowds is probably not a bad idea but is likely overkill until we know more about contagious cases nearer our region.
Businesses most disrupted are those dependent on China for production, and the ripple effects will increasingly affect our daily lives. “What do you mean there’s no Diet Coke?”
Obviously, if travel and gatherings are risky, hospitality businesses will suffer and the tourism industry has begun planning accordingly.
At the White House press conference last week, the head of the Centers for Disease Control said it was a good time for businesses to dust off their pandemic preparedness plans, but let’s get real. Few small businesses have emergency plans on the shelf. Yes, we should all have them but those are often among the smart practices we’re perpetually hoping to get to next year.
There are, however, some really worthwhile things that business owners can start thinking about now that might help out if circumstances worsen locally – and, incidentally, these are smart preparations to undertake at any time, so you’re not wasting effort.
The listing below is pulled from a variety of experts and reputable sites. To echo the comment of one of those experts, Patricia Frame, a human resources consultant frequently engaged by Alexandria SBDC, “There is no reason to panic. There is every reason to plan.”
First, owners should consider their business’s essential functions, and evaluate how those might be impacted by significant employee absences. Now is the time to cross-train employees on one another’s responsibilities.
The next step is to evaluate logistics required for employees to work remotely, and those might require enhanced communications such as providing a phone and computer.
Owners need to review their HR policies for possible changes to encourage employees to stay home if they’re not feeling well; paying employees during extended sick leave for themselves or sick/quarantined family members; or dealing with having to close for a temporary period. Perhaps you should establish special HR provisions just for COVID-19 circumstances.
Also important is identifying credible sources of information. You’re already hearing misinformation about con artists taking advantage of the situation. Our local Health Department website is constantly updated with the most current and valid information and will also have links to other key sites. Go to: https://www.alexandriava.gov/Health and search “coronavirus.”
Alexandria SBDC staff has advised businesses through similar circumstances in the past and will provide updates and suggestions as conditions develop. To review our tip sheet on how businesses can manage the coronavirus, see our website at alexandriasbdc.org.
Though much is still unknown, it makes sense for you to begin thinking and planning now.
The writer is executive director of the Alexandria Small Business Development Center.