Despite the second wave of COVID-19 hitting some of the most populated areas in the U.S. in June and July, cases of the virus have continued to fall. Positivity rates have dropped from 8.5% in July to 6.2% at the end of August, and daily cases have decreased to lows not seen in months. Overall, the battle against COVID-19 appears gradually successful as more people embrace mask-wearing and social-distancing protocols. But many business owners are now stuck with a crucial decision: reopening workplaces during COVID-19 or remaining 100% virtual for the foreseeable future.
While the decrease in COVID-19 cases is a promising sign, uncertainty remains. In addition, business owners and employers must also take into account the safety and opinions of their staff. If you’re undecided about whether to reopen your business during COVID-19 or remain remote, here are some topics, questions, and suggestions to consider.
Considerations for Reopening Workplaces During COVID-19
Not all businesses or business models can withstand remote work forever; some must return to the office to increase efficiency and profitability. However, the transition from remote to reopening needs to address several critical situations, including safety, staff opinions, and financial plausibility. Before you rush to reopen, make sure to consider the following.
Is Your Workplace Ready for Reopening?
Prepping your workplace for a potential reopening is more than just mask-wearing and social distancing. It may require a complete makeover of your office. Daniel Foley, the founder of his eponymous digital marketing company, presents some interesting aspects that you may not have thought about:
“The most important thing that an employer can do to prepare their office space before allowing staff members to return is safety. You want to ensure you have done the very best to make your office a safe space. Space desks out, make markings on the floor. Look to implement a one-way system. Setting up hand sanitizing stations through the building. You really want to help people to do their part in stopping the spread.”
Space can also become an issue for reopening workplaces during COVID-19. If you already had a small office, spacing and social distancing may become a problem. As a result, employers may want to try a rotating schedule of remote and onsite work to minimize the potential spread of the virus, as well as adhere to their own set of safety guidelines.
How Will You Keep Your Staff Safe?
Employee safety is perhaps the most crucial aspect of reopening workplaces during COVID-19. Not only must you create a set of rules and regulations regarding masks and social-distancing (even after government regulations relax). But you should also address the fear and apprehension that some employees might have regarding a return to the office.
Borislav Chernav, founder of MarkInStyle, a job search engine for education professionals, shares his thoughts on COVID-19 safety in the workplace:
“We can’t control when the COVID pandemic ends. In the meantime, companies that invite employees to return to the office should provide a safe environment, including workplace hygiene policy, more space between people, more offices to accommodate people with proper distance, disinfection scheduling, masks policy enforcement, etc. Returning to the office should not be an option if you’re not able to provide the safety measures. Sometimes, it’s more challenging to regulate the office space with COVID safety in mind than to postpone the return.”
Health Insurance and Limiting Liability
To limit liability and keep the staff safe, employers may also want to consider medical insurance when reopening the workplace during COVID-19. Willie Greer, founder of The Product Analyst, a company that provides tech reviews, addresses the issue of medical insurance:
“It’s more likely that people are more vulnerable to contracting flu or other viruses, which is why it’s best if everyone is medically insured. [This will] avoid hefty hospital bills should the unforeseeable happen. Medical insurance won’t cost much compared to how much a simple hospital bill will amount to, and employees will be more exposed to the outside world because of work purposes. [Furthermore], it’s an employer’s responsibility to implement preventative measures for the team.”
Does the Reopening Make Financial Sense?
Successful businesses must understand numbers—plain and simple. That’s how they build a vision, succeed, and expand. In the COVID-19 world, this principle remains. But at the same time, reopening workplaces during COVID-19 produces another set of issues. Does reopening make financial sense?
CEO Michael Hammelburger of The Bottom Line Group, a business expense consulting firm, weighs in on the financial practicality of such a reopening:
“Financial management is necessary, in my opinion, whether or not your firm decides to continue working remotely. In my firm, we’ve simulated various cases on how much cash we need in the next month, quarter, and remaining months of the year. Our group has contacted our financiers, suppliers, and stakeholders, and we continue to actively engage with them. We ironed out issues that we had before the end of 2019 and explored more possibilities on how to ensure financing and keep working capital requirements to a minimum. We’re focused on cash, short-term and long-term credit, and liquidity.
It’s a challenging time, but we continue to ensure our coordination with our staff and stakeholders to monitor our balance sheet. Cash is important and our focus has to be maintained on receivables, inventory, and, of course, our payables. We’ve contacted our suppliers to extend our payables so we can minimize the pandemic’s financial impact on our operations. To minimize issues, we continue to communicate with them on a constant basis.”
Taking a glance at cash flow, liquidity, and the balance sheet provides a strong approach to the financial feasibility of reopening. But the potential and sunken costs should also be analyzed to ensure a healthy business that’s turning a profit.
Is the Reopening Worth the Potential Staff Problems?
People are creatures of habit. It’s in our DNA. Everything from brushing your teeth to working is habitual. To some degree, this can be seen as going through the motions. But in a work setting, habit helps people complete their tasks with ease and builds experience and expertise. It’s how people improve at their job and become more productive.
Therefore, habit posits a question: Is reopening worth the hassle of uprooting a now-comfortable remote workforce? When you take away the freedom of work-life balance, autonomy, and the ability to set a schedule, how will your workers respond? These are questions you will have to ask to help you weigh the decision of whether or not to reopen.
Will You Implement Any Principles or Ideas You Learned From Having a Remote Workplace?
COVID-19, civil unrest, and a presidential election have made their impact on people’s feelings and psyche. Fear, anger, indecision, and even apathy run rampant. So you shouldn’t be surprised if your employees feel the same way. Throw in the juggling of children at online schools and elderly relatives, and the severity of the situation is heightened.
As a result, employers should remain flexible and understanding of their employees—two aspects that remote employers must implement for a successful online workplace. Monica Eaton-Cardone, COO and founder of Chargebacks 911, a risk mitigation firm, explains the importance of flexibility and understanding when reopening the workplace during COVID-19:
“As many businesses transition their employees back to the office, I think one of the key considerations should be to remain flexible and understanding. I have many employees with extenuating circumstances, such as those caring for elderly relatives and having children at home, as well as those with pre-existing health concerns who don’t feel comfortable returning yet.
Adjustments will need to be made on a case-by-case basis. We’ve never dealt with something on this scale before, and because of that, there’s room for the typical rules to bend. As we’ve already seen, many positions not previously considered remote can now be performed from the comfort of home.”
Reasons to Remain Remote for the Foreseeable Future
Remaining remote as a long-term or permanent solution is also a sound solution, but not for every company. Similar to reopening, employers will need to analyze if a remote workplace fits their long-term goals and how their staff feels about the situation. To gauge a remote situation, here are some of the top questions to ask as an employer.
Do You Need a Brick-and-Mortar Location?
The advent of remote work has forced many owners to consider whether or not they need a brick-and-mortar location. The case against a physical office centers around a pronounced reduction in overhead. However, other businesses benefit from having an actual workplace. The reasons for this range from holding consistent meetings, collaborating, customer relationships, or consistent branding.
Comparing financial statements from previous years can provide some insight into how your business is performing. Because earnings are the overarching goal of an enterprise or business, a decision as to the feasibility or necessity of a brick-and-mortar location must be addressed. Through your cash flow statement and balance sheet, you can make a more educated guess toward remote vs. reopening.
How Is Your Staff Adjusting to Remote Work?
How your staff is adjusting to remote work is a crucial aspect of deciding to reopen your workplace during COVID-19. Yasir Shamim, a digital marketer for PureVPN, states that many people who got a taste of remote work actually prefer it to traditional work settings.
“Many people would prefer to work at home or think they would like to. The stay-at-home orders and work-from-home opportunities were a perfect match. It was a chance to test the waters for many people. You got to experience cutting out your commute, working in pajamas, and juggling parenting while being on-the-clock. Remote work is rewarding. So it’s no surprise that most people are ready to set up a permanent home office.”
To address the situation, employers may want to conduct a poll or survey among their employees to identify if remote work is the preferred work arrangement. Doing so will provide insight into the minds of employees and validate their ideas, allowing workers to feel more involved in the decision-making process and contributing to a tight-knit company culture.
Can You Continue to Build a Successful Remote Work Culture?
Building a remote work culture is far different from the office. As an employer, you don’t have the opportunity to meet with workers on a regular basis. Autonomy and work-life balance that employees gain from a virtual office are great for morale. But what will you do to ensure they remain engaged and on task?
Every company is different, and each employee is different. Therefore, employers should take particular care to address how a company culture can remain a positive aspect of their business.
So how do you go about maintaining an open and cohesive work culture? You have several options:
- If you haven’t done so already, take the opportunity to test the waters immediately, i.e. implement your ideas on how to keep a positive work culture.
- Ask your employees how you can maintain a solid work culture.
- Schedule social activities that allow your employees to interact. This could be a virtual lunch break, remote “water cooler” conversations, or even a Slack/Asana channel that allows people to discuss non-work-related events and materials.
By determining the participation in these activities and how your employees feel about remote work as it pertains to company culture, you can make a guided, accurate decision about whether remote work is advantageous for your company.
Have Faith in Your Decision
Like most business decisions, reopening workplaces during COVID-19 isn’t a simple choice. It requires careful attention to details, planning, weighing pros and cons, and the input of your staff. But if you can address these situations, reopening may not be as far off as you think. Whatever you decide, it’s probably for the betterment of your company.
Have you successfully reopened your business? Are you holding out a bit longer? Or are you going permanently remote? Connect with Virtual Vocations on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube to share your advice. We’d love to hear from you!
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