Coronavirus: how should small businesses respond?

With the outbreak of a virulent strain of coronavirus (COVID-19), UK small businesses face a series of challenges in navigating how to handle the spread of the virus amongst employees.

As of the 8th March 2020, 273 people have tested positive for the virus in the UK. In order to prevent the spread of the disease, the government has issued advice and guidelines for members of the public to follow. But how should small businesses respond to the threat? There is lots of information online on the legal responsibilities of small businesses; the purpose of this post is to give owners and managers of small businesses a quick run-down on some of the practical things you can start putting into place now.

Put into place practical steps for all employees to follow 

SMEs can respond to the threat by implementing practical steps for employees around limiting the contraction and spread of the disease.

As an SME ourselves, here are a list of steps we’ve put in place, guided by the latest advice from the government.

Regular hand washing 

Make sure that all employees regularly clean their hands with soap and hot water (when washing hands, employees should ensure that they spend at least 20 seconds doing this). You might want to specify particular occasions around which hand washing should take place, such as before entering and leaving the premises, or before preparing any food or drinks. Employees can take further precautions against the coronavirus by using alcohol-based hand sanitiser.

Prepare for home working now 

SMEs can also prepare for the spread of the disease by preparing for the possibility of home working now. This could include sending out a home working risk assessment to employees; ensuring that all employees have access to the necessary equipment (laptops; WiFi); checking that all employees have suitable working spaces and sorting out VPN access for all employees.

Other business events, such as internal meetings and meetings with external parties should be limited and, where possible, conducted virtually.

Related article: How to manage employees working from home

Cleaning of the workplace 

The coronavirus can settle on surfaces and be contracted if somebody comes into contact with one of these surfaces. Most offices contain shared desk and kitchen worktop surfaces, as well as things like phones, door handles and light switches. These surfaces should be diligently and regularly cleaned with disinfectant products. Employees should be encouraged to take collective responsibility for this: they can also help by leaving cleaning products such as disinfectant sprays and wipes within easy reach around the office.

Related article: Is poor workplace hygiene costing you staff attendance?

Get creative

Employers can encourage employees to maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness measures by creating novel ways to ensure the spread of the disease is limited. One manager of a digital marketing agency has put an egg timer in the middle of the office which reminds staff to wash their hands every 30 minutes.

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Don’t panic! 

The COVID-19 coronavirus is likely to spread further throughout the UK in the following weeks. While this is a cause for concern, managers should reassure staff that panicking is unhelpful. Employees’ fears can be allayed by the proper implementation of a policy around cleaning and personal hygiene, as well as through putting into place robust plans for the possibility of remote working should the incidence rate of the disease increase.

Picture of Kate Taylor

Written by Kate Taylor

Kate is a Content Marketing Executive for myhrtoolkit. She is interested in SaaS platforms, automation tools for making HR easier, and strategies for keeping employees engaged.

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