Managing through a crisis is an inevitable part of any business leader’s role. While typical crises have historically included natural disasters such as Nor’easters and hurricanes, leaders are now faced with a worldwide pandemic. Global and multi-national businesses have different sets of problems to solve than small businesses do. With various limitations that affect each business differently, there are many considerations that each small business owner must consider. Below are a few issues to consider for service providers and main street businesses:

1)    Locations and Travel

Do you have multiple sites? If so, do you need to respond to multiple jurisdictional restrictions? To minimize problems, you must rely on local knowledge. Hopefully, as you have built your business, you have put managers in place whom you trust, and can be relied on to provide you with the facts so that you can make informed decisions. These restrictions help determine if employees or customers are allowed in your offices or stores, and at what numbers.

Limit the number of employees in your physical work to maintain the appropriate distance between workers. Consider bringing employees back in waves rather than all at once. Stagger shifts to limit close employee contact.

Rethink common areas. Remove shared seating areas, reduce shared objects, like coffee creamer containers and other breakroom staples, and leave doors and windows open to improve ventilation.

Even if employees are allowed to travel to your offices or stores, you should determine if they should. Listen to your employees. It is not in your best interest to endanger your employees or customers by exposing them to a potential contagion. Even with precautions, there are a lot of unknowns in how the virus is spread, and what employer liability is for preventing employees and customers from catching the virus. Implement flexible sick leave and supportive policies and practices. Ensure sick leave policies are consistent with public health guidance.

An employee who feels that, even with a fever, they must show up to work could pose a danger to others in the workplace. Paying them to stay home could be better in the long run, even if you require a doctor’s note. This will reduce your downtime and instill confidence in other employees and customers of your commitment to their safety.

2)    Operationalize your Disaster Plan

While you might have had a plan for a three-day power outage or a week-long hurricane recovery, now is the time to determine how to set up remote working protocols that could be in place for the long haul. You should know if you can scale your external bandwidth so that employees can access your internal resources efficiently and with a high level of security. It might also be the time to determine if a third-party provider of some services is necessary, for both security and access reasons. Many internet providers offer outsourced, hosted solutions that are scalable and secure.

You should also know how often you will be in touch with employees. The hierarchical structure should not change just because you are no longer sitting nearby. Employees should not feel like they have no management or direction. This does not mean that micro-management is now the order of the day. There is a fine line between setting goals and managing to them, and intruding on employees’ privacy.  Regularly scheduled check-ins and reporting will allow business owners to minimize the low employee morale and maintain high work output. These practices will also enable a high level of collaboration to be managed efficiently and without a blow to morale.

As an aside, part of your disaster plan should always address who the key employees are, and provide a practical phone tree so that communication is open and clear. This will help determine which key personnel will be first to be back on site (if they ever left).

3)    Understand your Vendors and their Situation

Your vendors, whether they are outsourced resources or part of your supply chain, should be able to provide transparency to you. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your stakeholders, and managing your reputation is essential.  Understanding the situation of your vendors will help you manage disruptions. If you can get your workplace up and running, but your payroll provider cannot get their data center working, you will need to address how your employees will receive their paychecks. If you run a retail establishment, you need to ensure that you can continue to acquire inventory. By understanding your vendors’ situations, you can also manage your risk by determining if you need to find alternate vendors or suppliers.

As with any disruption, communication with stakeholders is essential. As can be seen, by the unfolding of this pandemic, confusion and disinformation can do more harm than honest, unfortunate FACTS.  Leadership should be a source of transparency, consistency, and accuracy.  These will all lead to the credibility of the leader and the organization.

If you must pay employees by check in a less than automated fashion, they should know well in advance so that they can manage automatic payments, which might need to be adjusted by a delay in a check clearing.

In the same way, you might need to stop selling certain items or providing services because you cannot rely on your vendors. By being honest and transparent with customers about your capabilities, you can manage expectations and maintain their trust and patronage.

4)    There will be other risks, most of which will be specific to individual businesses

The next step for you, as business leaders, is to work through other scenarios and identify these risks. Once you have tagged specific dangers, you need to determine how much damage will be done if your business must remain shuttered for one month or six. Once the risks are identified, you must learn how best to address them.

Check out if you need a clarifying, no-obligation discussion, or some pro-bono consulting help about how we might help you identify and mitigate risks.