COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has created emergencies worldwide due to its high transmission rate among individuals and a relatively high mortality rate as compared to other similar viruses. As more countries are afflicted with this virus, local and federal governments are mandating that non-essential businesses close their doors to keep communities safe. But for business owners and employees, these mandates seriously affect fundamental business and workplace practices.
From in-person team meetings to work that needs to be performed in a physical location, most aspects of professional life have been suspended temporarily. And with the situation evolving daily, business owners and employees must be ready to adapt and overcome new challenges in the professional space.
Real estate tech founder Roy Dekel has experienced this firsthand, as his startup SetSchedule is based in Los Angeles. Under a stay-at-home order, non-essential businesses are required to have employees that can work from home do so, but otherwise shutter. To deal with this situation, business owners and employees must plan accordingly and be able to adapt on the fly. This can be difficult, but Roy has pinpointed some key navigation methods companies can use in response to this pandemic, partly based on his successful experience during the 2008 recession.
Check In With Employees
It’s always important to forge connections with employees at your company, but in this time of uncertainty, it’s more relevant than ever. Both Roy and serial entrepreneur Mark Cuban strongly recommend this approach, as taking the time to talk with as many employees as possible creates strong bonds and a sense of unity even when economic burdens are occurring. Roy has used this approach from his time running a real investment firm to now at his company SetSchedule to foster connections and adjust company strategies. The unique employee viewpoints help business owners create solutions to upcoming issues by allowing for a larger collective pool of insight to draw. More concretely, government stimulus benefits and small business loans may have stipulations based on your employees, so understanding exactly what your fellow workers are dealing with is timely.
Outside resources can also be leveraged to check in with employees. In the United States, the Small Business Administration has local offices distributed around the country that are specifically tasked with helping small businesses assist and reach out to employees. These resources include OSHA assistance, online training, and loan assistance through low-interest loans that can help keep small businesses functioning as normally as possible.
Plan for Multiple Timelines
While the exact transmission modes of this novel coronavirus aren’t entirely understood yet, it is known that person-to-person contact is required for the virus to spread. This means that any gathering of people leads to a higher rate of transmission, which in turn prolongs the spread of the virus. With so many people in areas of exposure, how fast the pandemic recedes depends entirely on people staying spread apart – but the timeline for abatement is still uncertain.
That’s why Roy emphasizes the critical nature of planning. Recent modeling efforts by researchers at Columbia University show that different control measures (e.g., social distancing, no orders, or extreme enforcement of self-isolation) all have different outbreak timelines. With the current orders in the United States, the outbreak is expected to peak in mid-June and stretch until August, while with minimal measures cases will surge by mid-May. The uncertainty in which of these timelines is likely to occur means that businesses must be ready to re-open any time between mid-May and even late August, which means that business plans, hiring, and research and development timelines must all be adjusted accordingly and communicated to all relevant employees.
Find Unconventional Opportunities
As strange as it may be to say, the mandated work-from-home orders likely free up time in your schedule. That means you can seize the opportunity to think deeply and experiment with new ideas for your business. Roy likens it to the opportunities opened up during the recession of 2008. During this economic downturn, Dekel’s real estate fund was able to leverage company resources to expand into residential markets that would not have been available prior to the unforeseen occasion. Now, companies that would otherwise suffer major consequences from a shutdown of this magnitude are finding similar opportunities.
Some companies are creating websites that support other local businesses, directing advertising traffic to ensure that restaurants and breweries can stay open from online sales. Though this may not pay off in the short-term, this strategy opens up long-term relationships with those companies when they thrive again. Other places like distilleries are stepping up to meet shortages for products like hand sanitizer, converting their manufacturing process to provide free goods to their local communities in times of need. In general, out-of-the-box thinking could allow your business to find new sources of revenue or community-focused goodwill that may not have been feasible before.
It’s hard to predict what will happen to small businesses during this time of uncertainty. Companies can examine the impacts of the 1987 recession and the 2008 financial crisis for some guidance, but a worldwide pandemic is a different beast. With some quick thinking, strong employee relationships, and multi-scenario planning, your business will be able to weather the impacts of this crisis with flexibility and resilience.