If you turn on the evening news or read the front page of any national newspaper, you’ll see countless headlines about the reopening of American business. The federal government has issued its guidelines, causing governors to consider this advice, along with recommendations from public health experts, business leaders, and other key stakeholders, to determine the parameters under which businesses will once again serve the public. This has led to a great deal of opinion sharing and heavy debate.
Much like the terror attacks of 9/11, the Coronavirus has markedly changed Americans’ way of life. Despite the number of protestors marching on state capitols and demanding an end to COVID-19 lockdowns, nearly sixty percent of respondents in a recent NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll said, “They are concerned about the U.S. reopening too quickly during the Coronavirus pandemic.” Moreover, new polling by the Pew Research Center indicates that nearly seventy-five percent of Americans believe the worst of the pandemic is yet to come.
Given these circumstances, business leaders must carefully identify the questions they’ll need to ask—and answer—before hanging up a “We’re Open” sign. While the following list isn’t exhaustive, here are three initial questions every leader should consider.
How Will You Ensure the Safety of Your Customers, Employees, and Other Key Stakeholders?
Senior leaders recognize that safety is today’s number one priority. Without it, employees won’t feel safe coming to work, and customers won’t feel safe patronizing your business. In fact, CEOs of major corporations, including Amazon, Apple, and 3M, sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence requesting that the federal government issue clear COVID-19 workplace safety guidelines. While senior leaders acknowledge that testing will be the cornerstone of these safety efforts, other measures will be needed as well, including sanitizing facilities, safeguarding workers with personal protective equipment, and other mitigation measures.
Including your employees in these safety discussions is essential. Doing so will allow you to hear their concerns firsthand and decide what needs to be done to ensure a safe work environment. Safety requires an “all hands on deck” approach to prevent the spread of the virus, so it’s imperative that you include your employees and ensure their voices are heard.
What Is Your Criteria for Reopening—and How Will You Communicate Your Decision?
If a business makes the decision to reopen, it must then clearly communicate the criteria, data, and reasoning that contributed to the decision to key stakeholders, particularly the employees. Let your employees know how their feedback was included in the decision-making process. Being clear about this is an integral part of being transparent, and it will help build trust; employees will know their interests were not only considered but also integrated into the final decision.
There are a variety of ways to communicate your decision as well, including a press release, social media posts, videos, and emails. For a decision of this magnitude, your most senior leader, such as the CEO or president, needs to communicate the decision—using multiple channels—to allay concerns, instill confidence, and reinforce that senior leaders are committed to the well-being of employees and customers.
What Are the Constraints?
If you’ve recently visited a Home Depot, you’ve most likely had to stand in line and wait for entry into the store. Why? Social distancing has limited the number of people allowed in public spaces to ensure six feet between patrons. When you think about reopening your business, consider how social distancing will have to affect your operations, your customers, and your employees.
For example, the ability of schools to reopen will have a significant impact on almost every business in the nation, from corporate behemoths to local mom-and-pop shops. As long as schools are closed, employees may be unable to return to work because they don’t have someone to watch their children during work hours. Going forward, the availability of your employees will be at the center of your ability to reopen your business. So, as you think about your constraints, be sure to consider the needs of your workers from the outset.
Given the magnitude of the Coronavirus, it’s unlikely that companies will be able to return to the good ole days. With these new realities, every leader must carefully consider each of these three questions to determine the safest way to reopen and how to let the public know efficiently.