The COVID-19 virus continues to spread rapidly, and it has brought many countries to a standstill. With rising concerns for health and well-being, many governments have placed restrictions on travel, public meetings, restaurants, schools, and daycare centers in order to lower the risk of infection among the most vulnerable members of our society.
What does this mean for business owners?
Small businesses make up the vast majority (99.9%) of all companies in the United States. While 81% of companies do not hire employees, nearly 6 million small businesses do. (Source: U.S. Small Business Administration)
This epidemic is hitting small-sized companies especially hard—both due to forced closures (for those in sectors like education, childcare, health & beauty services, and food service), and out of employee necessity (including those who are ill, those under mandatory quarantine, and working parents who lack childcare).
Workplace Options for Business Owners
So what can business owners do in response to this crisis?
The situation may seem dire; but outside-the-box options could make a tremendous difference in retaining your best employees and making sure your company continues to generate sales.
By re-imagining how to provide employee flexibility, you could continue to serve customers and sell your services or products—while also protecting employees, keeping them safe, and making sure they continue to get the job done.
I’ve talked to a number of employees who are frightened about the realities of reduced hours, layoffs, and a lack of work. They are facing some scary days ahead—and so are business owners, who need to consider the best options to keep their company afloat.
The way we respond to fear has a profound impact on our decision-making. If we react too quickly without good data, or avoid taking a stand, or freeze and refuse to acknowledge the problem, the results will not be pretty. But if we face the problem directly and objectively, we‘ll be able to create a plan for success.
In my opinion, the best way to move forward is to consider new possibilities that may have not worked before.
- Maybe you have tried to offer your staff telecommuting… and employees took advantage of it.
- Or you’ve offered flexible hours… but people complained.
- Perhaps you allowed employees to Bring Their Child to Work… and it was too distracting.
Despite the fear of losing control of your business, consider that employees can rise to the occasion. The current health crisis is a wonderful opportunity to invite open conversations with your staff about what is possible: how you can best serve your customers, with the safest possible interactions, and get the most profit and growth results for your company.
As our 26th president said,
Do what you can,
with what you can,
where you are.
–Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
Here are some ways to provide flexibility to your employees and still allow your business to grow.
1. Work Outside the Office
While this option isn’t possible for every company, it may be possible for your staff to accomplish daily tasks away from your main location.
Some companies already have a telecommuting option in place (along with policies on what it includes, and procedures for how it will work). In a crisis situation like the Coronavirus, where the risk of infection goes down with reduced contact, this is a great time to give your employees the option to complete their tasks at home or off-site.
If it’s absolutely impossible for employees to work away from your business location, consider offering a flexible schedule.
This can take several forms:
- Compressed work schedule (10- or 12-hour days)
- Flextime during or outside core business hours
- Flexible Time Bands
- Flexible Work Schedule
- Gliding Schedule
- Maxiflex Schedule
- Variable Day Schedule
- Variable Week Schedule
- Split shift with long break during the workday
- Shift trading with other employees
- Job sharing
- A 4-day workweek
- Seasonal Scheduling
- Mealtime Flexibility
- Flexible Breaks
- Flexible Work Shifts
3. Results-Based Pay
Another option that works for some employers is the Results-Only Work Environment, also referred to as ROWE. By paying employees based on their productivity, they can get more done in fewer hours.
Obviously this option takes a bit more planning and a longer roll-out, but it may be something to consider if your staff are not able to work in restrictive time blocks.
4. Kids at Work
Some companies are offering for employees’ children to join them at work. One of these is Design NW, a custom home design company based in Vancouver, Washington that allows their staff to bring children into a common room at the workplace.
I spoke to Design NW’s office manager, Amy Weber, about how they came up with this decision. She replied,
“The option to bring in children has always been possible if our employees needed to. We also encourage our clients to bring in their children instead of worrying about daycare when they come in for meetings.”
When I asked Amy about the response from employees, she answered:
“Our employees with children are choosing to stay home unless they have to pick up work. Our employees have the capability to work from home on their computers. All our programs can be accessed from anywhere.”
Many companies have welcomed children on Take Your Child to Work Day, and some (like Design NW) are adjusting their employee accommodations to allow this for extended periods due to the Coronavirus restrictions.
Read more about my experience of bringing my son to work here:
The 4 Surprising Things I Learned from “Take Your Child to Work Day”
If your organization has the space available and wants to help employees maintain regular employment, allowing children in the workplace can be an option. A solid policy should definitely be developed to reduce the risk to both the company and employees. For examples of policies, check out
- Infant-At-Work Policy at Greensburg Public Library based in Greensburg, Indiana
- Infant at Work program at Washington State Department of Health
5. Paid Time Off
Many companies offer an option for employees to get paid for accrued vacation or sick days.
Another generous option is to cover the cost of paychecks for a period of time while employees self-quarantine at home.
6. Unpaid Time Off
If employees need to stay at home for additional time and working from home is not an option, they could be offered time off without pay. Their job will remain secure when they return, and they can recuperate (or remain quarantined) without penalty.
7. Participatory Options
Finally, you could ask your employees to share what they think about the situation with you directly.
In addition to building a strong and engaged company culture, inviting staff to join in strategic discussions can have a tremendous impact on your company.
I call this Participatory Job Design:
A philosophy of respect and appreciation toward every employee by including them in the development, evaluation, and strategic planning of their role in the organization.
Regardless of how your company responds to the Coronavirus epidemic, I wish you the best as you provide options to benefit both customers and employees!
If you need help finding new areas of growth in your organization, find out more here.
Grace LaConte is a business consultant, writer, workplace equity strategist, and the founder of LaConte Consulting. Her risk management tools are used around the globe, and she has successfully reversed toxic work environments for clients in the healthcare and non-profit fields. Grace specializes in lactation law compliance & policy development, reducing staff turnover after maternity leave, and creating a participatory work culture.