COVID Impact: Reopening Guidelines.
As of this week, all but two states have begun to reopen. The majority of these reopenings are in “Phase 1”, i.e. a limited, partial reopening of select industries while multiple stay-at-home and mask orders are still in effect. As the nation reopens, some states’ caseloads have spiked, others have remained consistent. Despite the uncertainty surrounding reopening, there is still cause for hope from an economic perspective—by all accounts, the sectors hit hardest appear to be slowly crawling back to pre-pandemic levels: flight bookings, hotel and restaurant reservations, and home sales are all on the rise, and the stock market is rallying. However, for all this momentum toward a nationwide return to normalcy, major companies across multiple industries have announced their employees will be working from home for the foreseeable future. Google and Spotify both announced remote work until the end of 2020; Facebook and Twitter both announced they would support permanent remote work. These tech companies are taking working from home to the extreme, but they are not alone—financial institutions, like Capital One, and major news outlets, like the Washington Post and the New York Times, are all following suit. And it’s not just corporations—K-12 schools and colleges are also grappling with the challenges of returning to the classroom this fall. All the while, local businesses across the country are clamoring to reopen as revenues plummet. Every business’s context, culture, and needs are different—what makes sense for a tech firm in Silicon Valley may not work for a barbershop in South Carolina or a nonprofit in Washington, D.C. Any business’s decision to reopen or stay closed has to be properly communicated to its employees, its customers, and its community, especially if it is different from the recommendations of their state or the federal government. Whether you are opening now or in January, here are three recommendations for navigating that landscape: Safety first: Going into a post-COVID-19 world, employees and consumers alike are going to be focused on safety. Many states, along with the CDC, are setting forth guidelines on how businesses of every industry need to operate to keep people safe and minimize their risk of contracting COVID-19. However, you and your leadership team may disagree with those suggestions—you may find they do not go far enough to ensure safety. Whatever recommendations you choose to follow, be sure to proactively communicate those decisions with your employees and customers. For one, how those two groups behave will largely determine how effective your business’s decisions are; a company that institutes a mask-in-the-workplace guideline, for example, could still see COVID-19 spread throughout their workplace if no one follows their guidance. Second, people believing that you are making customers’ and employees’ health a priority is a boon for your business—customers will be more likely to visit your offices or storefronts, and employee morale will endure. Maintain a consistent rationale: Many stakeholders feel entitled to an explanation of a business’s behavior. You have to be able to back up your decision, regardless of what it is, with facts. Keep your message consistent between what you tell your employees and your customers—assume that everything will become public, because it could. Be as transparent, communicative, and empathetic as possible. Not everyone will care about what you have to say—many customers are just wondering whether they will be able to visit your store or office and less-engaged employees are wondering when they will have to resume their daily commute. However, those that are listening—your career employees and loyal customers—will appreciate you explaining your decision. Be diplomatic: The COVID-19 situation is unprecedented in modern history—no one knows the perfect path to navigating this crisis, and many are juggling competing considerations of public safety, economic prosperity, and the increasingly divided politics of the moment. To that end, regardless of whether your business agrees or disagrees with the federal government’s or your state’s guidelines and timelines for reopening, avoid directly commenting on their choices. Americans are already dealing with a chorus of competing—and sometimes contradictory— voices, from the White House, governors, the CDC, the media, and other authorities and commentators. Additional input from their landscaper or internet provider goes beyond unhelpful into the realm of unwelcome. If you voice your concerns about your state’s guidelines (or lack thereof), you risk unnecessarily alienating a portion of your customer base or your workforce. Instead, make your communications about the interests of your employees and your customers—how you are excited to get back to normal or how you are proud of your employees for successfully working from home until the end of the year, whatever the case may be.