These are interesting and unusual times we live in. I have heard the word unprecedented more in the last two days than I have in the last two years, which means that it now just part of our vocabulary. So are words like self- isolation, shielding, vulnerable people and all the new geographical regions we have learnt about.
Personally, these are difficult times for all of us but for business owners the stakes are even higher. You are not just responsible for your own and your family's health but also the wellbeing and livelihood of your employees. It doesn't matter if you have 3 or 30,000 people working for you the basic problems are the same:
How do I make sure that my staff stay safe and healthy?
How do I make sure that my business survives this crisis?
The problem is that for most of us those questions do make us feel like a rabbit in the headlights with no idea of what to do except hunker down, cross our fingers and try and find solutions as problems come up. However, that means that we are constantly have to be reactive rather than proactive.
We employ 87 people of all ages; some are healthy and others have serious issues. They are our front line staff and we have only 7 people who can effectively work from home. In the middle of February, we started to get worried about the chances of COVID-19 making it's appearance on these shores. We have a very vested interest aside from the business - our daughter is a kidney transplant patient. When you have fought alongside your child for their life, well being and future, you start to take precautions. We also come from an Indian background; we always have lentils, flour, rice and spices stocked up, but we topped up our pantry and medicine cupboard in February and thought about how we would get through any self-isolation. Of course, this allowed us to be the smug know-it-alls that everyone hates. (We didn't stock up on loo roll - we are Indians, we know how to do without! Look it up)
Once we had done that, we started looking at our business. This took a lot longer than the pantry, but was so important in our fight to stay alive while the world was falling apart. We have Scenario Planning, Risk Assessment Matrixes, Escalation Hierarchies, COVID-19 Document folders with posters and information, Employee Health and Next of Kin Information just to name a few. These are wonderful and pretentious names for simple common sense documents that will help us navigate the waters.
The most important detail of all was our people. I cannot stress how proud we are of the way they have all come together. When COVID-19 was just a rumour and a demon running amok across the oceans, our staff were warned about what would be expected when we had to face that demon. They were told the truth about what the worst would be and how we wish to control it. When COVID-19 appeared, they just got on with it, without complaint and with a smile on their faces. They knew what was required and they knew what escalation of the outbreak meant to them, the members of the public and their jobs
We don't know how this is going to end but we know two things:
We have planned for all scenarios as best as we can and we are constantly monitoring and iterating those scenarios for the unpredictable, or for the ever changing advice.
Our staff know what to do as the scenarios step up and don't need us to micro-manage them. They are doing just fine even though they are constantly adapting to the crisis, changing their own roles and looking out for everyone else. Once again, they are our biggest asset and source of pride.
Today, we sent 3 members of staff home for their own good under Government guidelines for shielding. As they left they were all emotional about "leaving us in the lurch". They all thought that the burden would fall on their colleagues. The irony is that their colleagues would rather have them around after this all ends and don't feel hard done by at all.
Stay safe all and plan for the future in small steps. Every day is new and challenging in a different way but there is always a way out, however small the glimmer of light.