Worried about the coronavirus and how to keep it from affecting your small business? From a health standpoint, working in a small office may be one of the safest places you can be. There are fewer workers than in large businesses, and you’ll notice anyone who’s getting sick. From a financial standpoint, of course, you want to keep business-as-usual going as much as possible.
Let’s be clear: we don’t know where this coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak is going to go and what impact it will have on individuals’ health and the global economy. What is clear is that we all hope that it will end as soon as possible, with as little human and financial cost as possible.
Here’s what you can do right now in your small business:
1. Find alternatives that work for you.
Many large corporations are allowing employees to work from home, but that may not work for your small business. Consider switching to phone calls (remember those?) or teleconferences (using services such as Skype) or staying in touch with customers via live streaming (e.g. Facebook Live or Instagram Live). Move desks around to provide more space between work spaces. And step up cleaning and wiping down surfaces frequently with antiseptic.
2. Travel but take precautions.
If you’re not sick and don’t believe you’ve been exposed to COVID-19, you may need to or want to travel. Perhaps you need to serve customers, land new customers (who might be looking for new domestic suppliers as their overseas supply chain gets disrupted), or just to maintain business relationships. I traveled in the last few days, and there were plenty of people on the plane and in the airport (including San Francisco, one of the more impacted areas). I felt perfectly comfortable, but I took some unusual (for me) precautions, including bringing antiseptic wipes and wiping down the entire area around me in the plane, rental car, and hotel room.
3. Don’t force employees to travel or go to big meetings.
If you have employees who are nervous about the coronavirus, be responsive to their concerns. Now is the time to pull together and demonstrate that you are committed to their well-being. Be certain not to require employees to travel or to attend large gatherings—even meetings with more than half a dozen people or so. If they get sick, you may have liability issues, but even if they don’t, you will have disgruntled workers and low morale in your workplace.
4. Look into business interruption insurance.
The organizers of all those cancelled big conferences—such as South by Southwest—almost certainly have insurance to cover their losses. But it’s unlikely that most of the impacted small businesses—restaurants, caterers, local party venues, hairdressers, and so on—have such insurance. Ask your insurance broker about business interruption insurance to cover any unexpected major events and see what qualifies for coverage. It may not cover this emergency, but you’ll be better prepared for the next time your business suffers similar economic losses.
5. Provide paid sick leave.
You definitely don’t want sick employees to come in to work, but if they’re afraid of losing much-needed income, they’ll show up. Fortunately, two-thirds of small businesses provide paid sick leave, but the lowest-paid workers are often uncovered, and they’re in industries where they can have the greatest ability to spread infection (such as food service and child care workers). We all need to do our bit to stop this outbreak, so help sick employees stay home. Clearly, we need a national plan for paid sick leave to protect us all.
Finally, don’t panic. It’s easy to get either frightened or complacent, so turn to reliable sources to guide you. Check the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), WHO (World Health Organization), and responsible “mainstream” media such as USA Today. Facebook has just launched a Business Resource Hub to help and Google has “Help and Information” links to reliable sources if you search on “coronavirus.”
In the long run, when you vote, remember: in a crisis, our health and well-being depends on capable, stable mayors, governors, and president. It’s time to end the chaos of American governance and get back to competence, not ideology.
Copyright Rhonda Abrams, 2020
This article originally ran in USA Today on March 11, 2020