Cornonavirus, covid and carrying on in business

Posted 25th November 2020

The situation with Coronavirus and Covid is arguably the worst challenge many businesses, and we as people, have had to face in a generation. In a time like this, it can be easy to lose sight of the way forward and to worry about what the future may hold. This month’s article is intended to provide business owners and managers with some positive guidance to help get you through these tougher times.

Be clear on your responsibilities

Your obligations, as an employer, are to provide a safe and compliant working environment for your staff and for any visitors. That has always been the case just with some added complications. In simplest terms, you need to put sufficient measures in place to minimise the risk of Coronavirus entering the workplace and, in the event it does, from spreading among your employees. To summarise, you need socially distanced workspaces, staff informed to wash their hands regularly (there are lots of signs online that you can print off), a policy for staying at home if anyone exhibits symptoms and a visitor form and policy for anyone coming in to see you. The first thing you have to put in place is some clear and simple, written guidance that you can refer to and also disseminate among your workforce. There are some excellent resources available online through the Government websites, also ACAS and business support organisations such as the FSB (Federation of Small Businesses). I highly recommend the £300/year fee for the FSB; they provide a raft of free documents, advice, support services and free legal advice for any situation that may arise. It is well worth the money when you consider one hour with a solicitor will alone cost you this. For your own comfort, if you simply apply that guidance in your company policy then there is nothing to debate if confusion or conflict arises – you simply refer to the authority as your source – you are following the rules.

Be clear with your people and be kind and trusting more than ever 

Once you have defined in simple terms what your obligations are, it will make managing them much easier. Whether employer and staff or customer and supplier, there will be confusion, debates and there will be disagreements at all levels so it is really important to avoid ‘us and them’ situations when that occurs. Remember that everyone is in the same boat as you and that your goal is to be ‘in this together’ rather than at odds. 

Everyone is being made to feel worried about everyone else, in all situations. You will need to, more than ever before, be empathetic to people’s fears no matter how irrational or unreasonable you may think they appear to be. I took the decision, during lockdown, to give my staff my absolute trust. I told them they did not need to tell me if they were popping away from their desk to get a bite to eat, to pick up their children or do anything they felt they had to do that was not associated with work. I simply said I trusted them to get their work done and there was no need to notify me. I can honestly say that I had an incredible response from them to this; I felt productivity was noticeably better (it was good before) and I also felt staff really appreciated the comfort that it gave them not to have to worry about their personal circumstances affecting work. Everyone was committed, open and honest with each other and it established a great foundation for being ‘in it together.’

Since we returned to the office, there have been challenges with parents whose children have shown symptoms of sickness and their nursery or school has insisted they are taken home. The best thing you can and should do is to accommodate this in the most positive way. Support them in working from home until they can get tested and you know they are safe and well to return to work posing no direct risk to others. Make things easy for both parties, not difficult, you are in it together remember. I can assure you that, by and large, people would rather be at work doing their job than at home where they feel their output may actually be judged more.

This assumes of course that everyone will be completely honest. That is not going to be the case 100% of the time with 100% of your people and is something that, within reason, you will have to accept. If the point comes that you suspect a particular individual is taking advantage of the situation then you should raise it with them, as you would any other potential disciplinary matter, BUT always err on the side of there being a good reason for what seems to be bad working. Never assume anyone is deliberately breaking rules for negative reasons and give that person the opportunity to explain and address your concerns.

If you apply the above approach, you will almost certainly see a big benefit in both the attitude and mental wellbeing of your staff.

Positivity is just as infectious as a virus 

It is really, really easy to stress and worry about lots of things and so easy to forget to focus on the positives. Without intending to, you will involuntarily exude your thoughts and feelings and others will pick up on them. You need to try to focus on things that are good and not the things that are bad and you need to spend time openly talking about them. What nobody needs is any more of a constant reminder about how bad things are or might be; the government, the media and social media are already doing an excellent job of keeping that going. Negative thoughts lead to more negative decisions, and positive thoughts to more positive outcomes. It really is that simple.

You are the person everyone looks to for security, so now is not the time to visibly stress and crumble if things are difficult. Share good news wherever you can, not bad news. Be seen as a strong leader that will steer the business through choppy waters.

Mental health matters are a huge priority right now so look for the signs of anyone who may be struggling and take the time out to talk to them, ask them if they are struggling with anything and whether you can do anything to help. Even asking will be hugely appreciated as people are rarely forthcoming until breaking point, then things are far harder to remedy.

Remember to take some time out for you

The last thing to remember is that you are a person too and have to look after yourself. People will rarely see what you go through when times are harder and, tough as it is, they need to see you focused and in control. Make sure you are getting rested properly and are switching off and relaxing when the work day is done or you cannot be at your best. You need to look after you to look after everyone else. 

Where you can, take a little time out here and there to reflect on the business and to think about POSITIVE new things you can do or try, no matter how small or simple. Think about how you can do more to make customers happier, staff happier and even your suppliers happier when all of us are being bombarded with negativity from all angles. If you are struggling, share it with people outside of the business who know you well and ask for their advice on a personal level. It is okay to do that – never ever be too proud and try to deal with the biggest challenges entirely on your own.

Trust, positivity and goodwill is what keeps the world going. These three things will serve you well in the longer term and none of them has to cost anything. All you can do is your best so, do not give yourself a hard time if there are problems just do what you feel is the right thing to do.

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