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 to provide business owners and managers with some positive guidance to help get you through these more challenging times.
Your obligations, as an employer, are to provide a safe and compliant working environment for your staff and 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.
Quick summary to get back to the office:
The first thing you have to put in place some clear and straightforward, 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 comfort, if you apply that guidance in your company policy, then there is nothing to debate if confusion or conflict arises.
Once you have defined in simple terms what your obligations are, it will make managing them much more straightforward. Whether employer and staff or customer and supplier, there will be confusion or debates. Also, there will be disagreements at all levels, so it is essential to avoid "them and us" situations when that occurs. Remember, everyone is in the same boat, and that your goal is to be "in this together" rather than odds.
Everyone is feeling worried about everyone else, in all situations. You will need to be empathetic to people's fears no matter how irrational or unreasonable you may think they appear to be. I took the decision, during the lockdown, to give my staff my absolute trust. I told them they did not need to say when they went to get a bite to eat, to pick up their children or do anything they felt they had to do not associated with work. I said I trusted them to get their job 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). Also, I felt the staff appreciated the comfort that it gave them not to have to worry about their circumstances affecting work. Everyone was committed, open and honest with each other.
Since we returned to the office, there have been challenges; parents whose children have shown symptoms of sickness and their nursery insisted going home. The best thing you can and should do is to accommodate this most positively. Please 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 immediate risk to others. Make things easy for both parties, not tricky. I can assure you people would mostly rather be at work doing their job than at home where they feel their output can be scrutinised.
You are assuming, of course, that everyone will be 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 raise it with them as you would any other disciplinary matter. But, always err on the side of there being a good reason for what seems to be lousy working. Never assume anyone is deliberately breaking the rules for malicious reasons and allow that person to explain and address your concerns.
If you apply the above approach, you will almost certainly see a significant benefit in both the attitude and mental wellbeing of your staff.
It is 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 bad stuff, 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. Negative thoughts lead to more negative decisions and positive thoughts to more positive outcomes. It 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. Look for the signs of anyone who may be struggling and take the time out to talk to them, ask them if 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.
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 hard, and they need to see you focused and in control. Make sure you are getting rest and are switching off and relaxing a the end of the day, or you cannot be at your best. 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. What can you do to make customers happier, staff happier, and even your suppliers when all of us are bombarded with negativity from all angles. If you are struggling, share it without 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 be too proud.
Trust, positivity and goodwill are 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.