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A letter from our CEO: How to Prepare Your Business Going into 2021

As another wave of the COVID-19 pandemic re-emerges, we are still begrudgingly adjusting to the new normal.

The complete lockdown has ended for most and most businesses and services have cautiously reopened and are facing renewed restrictions or localised lockdowns as governments work tirelessly to avoid a national shutdown again.

At this point where we’re still assessing our losses and charting a way forward into 2021, it is terrifying to think that a second/third/fourth/fifth wave of the virus may be in the offing. But it is crucial that you prepare your business for such a scenario.

Even though there is very promising news on the vaccine front; issues with logistics, distribution, adoption, cost, and the pure social politics of vaccines make it seem less like a light at the end of a tunnel, and more like a forecast of a long regimented march towards recovery. (However, I have to say that recovery off in the distance looks like it’s at the end of some pretty choppy waters with all kinds of rocks, winds, and rain… we better get some good boots.)

What Can I Do to Prevent a Series of Crushing Waves Affecting My Business?

COVID is, without a doubt, the riptide that has pulled us out into some dangerous unchartered waters.

We’re all tired and struggling to float, so the idea of more and potentially bigger waves coming in doesn’t give us a lot of confidence that our patchwork of fixes to our respective boats will keep our ships above water – after all, most of us our taking on water already in a calmer sea.

Health experts say public behavior will affect future outbreaks. In the past few months, staying indoors, social distancing, hand hygiene, and other safety measures has helped, somewhat, contain the pandemic.

It isn’t debatable, it’s just good financial sense, if not legally required – you must implement Public Health guidelines about COVID-19 health and safety in the workplace.

You should:

  • Conduct a risk assessment in your workplace and install safety controls to reduce the risk of infection – this is iterative and a living document, if you think, “I did my assessment month’s ago, I’m ok,” you aren’t!
  • Recall staff on a need-to or rotational basis only after you’ve done your risk assessment. Employees who can continue to work from home should be encouraged to do so
  • Provide health and safety training to your staff, and continue to reinforce this training. You are trying to change behaviour and good pandemic hygiene takes constant work, so it isn’t a one-and-done training scenario. Have you tried online training, it helps automate the reinforcing and retention pieces.
  • Evaluate engineering controls and continue to re-evaluate – reposition work stations to implement physical distancing, provide hand sanitizers and other cleaning supplies in the workplace, create a cleaning and disinfection policy for the common areas and visitors lounge in your office, and more…
  • Have a response plan ready in case an employee tests positive for COVID-19 in the workplace

How Can I Prepare My Business?

Now is the time for reflection and iterative planning. Look back on the lessons learned over the past few months, from your business and those in your community. How could you have handled it better?

Spend some time doing the following:

  • Draw a list of the challenges/issues your business and community faced and the response strategies that worked or didn’t.
  • Monitor government websites for updates on health and safety on a regular basis
  • Budget for additional cleaning and PPE supplies – it’s better to have a storage issue than a shortage issue
  • Ask employees for feedback on processes and policies you’ve implemented, address those concerns and make improvements
  • Inform your employees of the available mental health resources and address reasonable concerns regarding health and safety
  • Have a response plan ready in case there is another lockdown and communicate it to your staff.
  • Be prepared to adapt to it in a timely manner.

How the Next Year Will Look?

We often turn to history to teach us lessons about how to prepare and forecast for the future.

I’m trying to prepare a budget in an uncertain year, looking out at an uncertain future, and I’m reminded of some of the lessons from WWII.

D-Day was on June 6, 1944. It is immortalized in books, movies and song. But the war didn’t end in Europe till early May, 1945 – almost a year later. In fact, most of the razing, death, and economic spoil was after D-day, while retreating forces laid waste to everything left behind.
I’m being pragmatic when I say that the vaccines are a great announcement, but we still have some ugly seas, roads, whatever metaphor you want to choose, ahead. Some businesses are not going to make it through to the vaccine, unfortunately, a lot of people aren’t either.

As I, like you, make my plans for 2021, I’m focusing on three key elements:

  1. Iterative Planning – if the waters are rough, you don’t just tie down the sails and shutter below decks, you need to put on your boots and go out and check the knots, adjust the lines, but make sure you have a rope tied around your waist and a few good people on the other end of the line. Being heroic and getting swept over isn’t going to make you a good captain.
  2. Communication – up, down, sideways, back and forth. I’m investing in better communication with clients, teams, contractors, employees, everybody. I’m not just investing in technology to make it easier to communicate, I’m focusing on process improvements to have more efficient and effective communication, and I’m trying really hard to consistently and constantly reinforce messaging – especially health and safety information
  3. Keep Costs Low Without Cutting Corners – now is the time to make investments to improve and build momentum, and that means trimming excess fat in the business and working lean and agile, but you can’t cut into the bone and expect to have the energy to keep fighting for the next year.

I’m the CEO of a small/medium business.

I don’t have the ability to raise capital through shares. I don’t have the pull at banks to get an influx of cash. I have to find ways to keep my employees safe, productive and engaged, while trying to deliver better value to clients and the market. I have to figure out how to do more with less, and I was kind of doing that to the best of my ability before the pandemic.

In the end, I don’t have better advice than some economists or pundits, but unlike them, I can tell you, as one of you, that you are not alone right now.

We all use the metaphor of this rough sea on a daily basis. Most of us aren’t sailors, we’re business leaders and owners just trying to keep our families and friends safe – keep our businesses going. But I know these sailing truths to be self-evident:

  1. You are not a single occupant on a single boat in this ocean, we are an Armada, and we can lash onto each other, rely on each other, and help each other to navigate sharper and quicker than we would otherwise do alone
  2. Smooth seas never made a skilled sailor
  3. The best sea stories, and really, the best communities, are built on a shared experience of struggle and triumph

We are a company that has built itself on helping organizations with Occupational Health & Safety compliance and training, if I can help you in any way, I’ll gladly take one end of the rope through this storm.