This week, President Ramaphosa declared a national state of disaster and set out precautionary measures for South Africa to combat the spread of COVID-19 – better known as the Coronavirus. As a result, many local businesses will be facing a challenging operating environment over the coming weeks, but there are some measures businesses owners can take to minimise the impact this has. As the Minister of Finance Tito Mboweni said: “Our primary objective is that the economy doesn’t grind to a halt. Whatever we do, let’s not panic”.
In light of this, here are some tips on how to best manage the situation at your business:
1. Ramp up hygiene measures
Protecting your employees and customers should be a priority during this period and, since one of the main ways that COVID-19 spreads is through the contamination of surfaces, make sure to bolster cleanliness and hygiene control at your premises and retail spaces. The World Health Organisation advises wiping down all surfaces and objects with disinfectant regularly. Offering hand sanitiser and ensuring there is soap and water available at all times is crucial, as well as avoiding physical contact, such as handshakes, where possible.
2. Respond and plan
This might include setting up a response team dedicated to areas like staff wellness and sales responses to demand shocks. If anyone who works for you experiences any flu-like symptoms, ensure they alert their line-manager and follow company protocol; which should include self-quarantine and contacting a doctor or visiting a testing centre. Consider revisiting your insurance policies and create a contingency plan for when your business might feel the economic ramifications of COVID-19; whether it’s a drop in sales, or a disrupted global supply chain as a result of closed ports.
3. Consider flexible working hours
To avoid the spread of the COVID-19 virus, “social distancing” has been advised. It therefore might help to encourage employees to work from home, where possible, or work on a skeleton staff until things are under control. Bear in mind that all parents will be under significant added pressure, due to the schools that closed nationally on Wednesday 18 March. Any employees who take public transport should also be encouraged to avoid the crowds by travelling at off-peak times, if possible.
4. Take it online
Keeping at least 1.8 metres away from people decreases the chances of contracting the virus. Due to this, the Government has placed a ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, which means any upcoming business events should be postponed and it’s not advised to attend conferences. In fact, in-person meetings are best avoided altogether. The good news is, living in the age of digital means that business doesn’t have to grind to a halt; instead, simply conduct meetings via tech applications like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom, where possible. Where practical, consider expanding your sales online. Consumers demand that most things be available at the click of the mouse and this might be the best time to add an e-commerce element to your website.
5. Minimise travel
Although there are no explicit travel prohibitions for South Africans, citizens have been advised to refrain from all forms of travel to or through identified high-risk regions and countries like the European Union, China and South Korea. Even domestic travel is being discouraged - particularly by air, rail, taxis and buses. As such, take meetings online instead of travelling wherever possible. Added to this, make sure that anyone within the company who has been overseas recently – or plans to in the near future - complies with the new testing and quarantine measures.
6. Communicate with stakeholders and show solidarity
Dealing with a crisis well will show clients, customers, employees and suppliers that you have resilience as a business. Tackle the issue head on and communicate clear company policy with regards to how you will manage the situation surrounding COVID-19; this will help to avoid panic and limit any damage done to existing relationships.
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