The most important planning of your life: Keep your employees and customers safe

As a business owner, one of our primary tasks — arguably THE most important task — on our to-do list is to keep our people healthy and safe. That means we must ensure our employees, customers, partners, vendors, and others must not only feel safe, but truly be safe within our place of business. (Or, at least as safe as we can make them.)

How do we do this? There is guidance we can all follow starting with the Forward Dane plan. It provides guidelines specifically for Dane County. This plan complements the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Badger Bounce Back Plan and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp.’s guidance. Its overall goal is to provide a reopening roadmap aimed to minimize the spread of COVID-19 and prevent transmission.

There is also the Order of Public Health – Madison & Dane County Emergency Order #3 (which went into effect on May 26). These are all important guidelines with information that business owners should follow in addition to other best practices specifically for your industry.

But it is our duty to go further. We must all think through every possible scenario and situation that could arise and ensure we take steps to look out for our most vulnerable customers and employees.

How to keep everyone safe

Imagine that you are the parent, child, or partner of someone who is at high risk if he or she becomes sick with COVID-19. (I’ll bet some of you are nodding your heads to this right now.) In your place of business, be it an office environment, retail store, manufacturing plant, restaurant, etc., what can you do to make your location as safe as possible?

Here’s our action list of best practices:

Limit access to your place of business

Limit staff and customers at your business. Abide by local guidelines for capacity limitations and stick to them. A smaller number of people will certainly help others feel safer when they are in your location.

Do you have an office where workers can continue on a remote basis? If so, extend that model for the time being. Upgrade equipment for these team members to help them be more productive at home. Think cameras, microphones, headphones, and other tech. Keep in mind workspace. Many have told us that a great alternative when no desk is available is to get out that folding table usually used during the holidays to add more eating space. If one isn’t owned, they’re not very expensive. If remote work isn’t possible, see if you can stagger shifts to help limit the number of people in your workplace at the same time.

Do you have a retail store? Many establishments — especially smaller ones — are posting the limit of customers who can enter at any given time. When you provide parameters and guides to follow, most people will do so willingly.

Make everyone who enters feel safe

A sign on your door reminding people not to enter the workplace or retail establishment if they don’t feel well is a simple and easy first line of defense. At EZOP, coming to work sick has never been a badge of honor. In fact, we consider it an insult to fellow colleagues. Make certain your employees know there is no penalty for staying home if they or someone in their household is sick. Remind your customers that they should not enter your location if they are under the weather.

Whether 3-ply, a KN-95, or perhaps a cloth version, wearing face masks help other people feel safer. While awkward to wear, they help protect those with compromised immune systems or who might be at higher risk of complications from COVID-19.

Do people feel safest when walking into a location where everyone inside is wearing a mask? I’d venture that most will say yes. There are reasons why some businesses require mask-wearing, and why some retail stores deny entry to anyone not wearing one. Those that require masks for entry may lose some customers, but very well may gain others looking to patronize establishments that are taking proactive steps to seriously protect their customers.

Consider going a step further

Some businesses, such as health care and other service providers, go beyond the basics and require patrons to have a temperature check and complete a short health evaluation to check for COVID-19 symptoms. Think this is complicated and cumbersome? Absolutely not. There are noncontact infrared digital thermometers that provide a “fever warning” if someone registers a temperature of 99.68°F to 100.4°F. And the most amazing thing is that these highly sensitive sensors scan body temperature in ONE SECOND, and the health checklist is often five short and simple “yes or no” questions.

Make it clear that the inside of your facility is sanitized

We will all continue to hear about the heightened importance of good hygiene for a long time. We know about stringent hand-washing expectations and the need for social distance. You may also want to consider placing hand sanitizer at all desks, registers, and other locations where your employees and customers can access and help themselves. Perhaps gone are the days of hanging out at the water cooler for a minute or two. Meet up with your co-workers at a hand sanitizer station — of course, all while social distancing and wearing a mask.

Have an adequate supply of sanitizing wipes and other cleaning solutions and ensure all high-touch areas are frequently wiped down. Let your employees and customers know your disinfecting regimen for keeping counters, tables, light switches, door handles, and other areas clean. If it’s feasible, replace doorknobs with push doors so that employees and customers can open doors with their forearms.

A sneeze guard is a protective tool everyone can put in their office or retail space. It is excellent for your checkout areas, receptionists, and any high-traffic desk area within an office space. That extra barrier of protection can help others feel safer when completing a transaction or working close to another person.

Improve indoor air quality

No matter what kind of business you have, air purification is an important step to keep everyone safe and healthy. Bad air spreads viruses and germs. Today’s advanced professional air purifiers can remove more than 99.9% of airborne germs and pathogens from indoor air, making them a critical strategy for keeping offices virus-free.

Consider installing a high-efficiency air filter to demonstrate your investment in the health of your employees, your customers, and yourself.

Establish, communicate, and practice rigorous safety protocol to ensure the safety of employees and customers

We are all becoming well-versed in the actions we must take when multiple people gather in any location:

  • Ensure everyone is at least six feet from others whenever possible and consider social distance floor decals and wall signs — there is no better constant reminder to keep our distance in an office or retail location;
  • Supply nitrile gloves to employees and customers as needed; and
  • Make certain your waiting room provides for proper spacing between your customers.

A friend sent me a picture of a small retail shop she was visiting, a music store with classic vinyl records. Upon entry, all customers pass a welcoming table that contains a simple sign that says, “Help Yourself!” On this table are several large containers of hand sanitizer and a pair of boxes full of masks (all free for those who enter the store; you just take what you need to feel safe). One cannot find a more welcoming entrance to any business! Consider going the extra mile — it's simple, yet so meaningful and essential. It shows that, without a doubt, this business cares about its customers.

Add to your playbook as time goes on

There will be more safety requirements to put into effect based on your industry, space configuration, location, customer and employee needs, and other factors. We will all have to figure out some of these nuances as we go, so stay flexible and open-minded. Be sure to document what you discover in the coming weeks and months.

We are entering yet another round of new, unchartered territory. None of us has ever been in this situation, and we don’t know exactly what to expect.

Until now, I’ll bet that you haven’t had a section in your company handbook on how to handle a pandemic. We can use the data and information available, along with our best judgment, to continue to carefully move down the path of rebuilding a healthier and stronger Dane County.

(So much of this is “common sense” hygiene; what took us so long?)

Godspeed to us all, and let’s keep healthy.

Rose Molz is president of EZ Office Products.

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