Across the country, businesses small and large have had to figure out how to operate, while keeping employees and customers safe. Like many shops, during the pandemic’s early days, AZ-based decorator, Print & Stitch, closed for several weeks. When it reopened, the management team introduced a lot of new safety procedures for staffers and customers. “Now our employees work staggered shifts,” says project manager, Hilary Gardner. “Plus, our techs clean their equipment and work areas at the beginning and end of every shift.”
In this new normal, Print & Stitch also requires every employee to take their temperature before clocking into work. “And, it’s mandatory to wear a mask at all times in the building,” Gardner says.
Making customers feel at ease is also important, which is why back in March, Howard Potter, CEO of Master Your Image in Utica, NY, took to social media to let his customers know how he prioritized their safety. “They had choices when placing or picking up an order,” he says. “They could order online, and then opt for in-person delivery, shipping or curbside pickup.”
Some people have even found that they’ve benefitted from these changes, in ways they wouldn’t have thought of before. In Ann Arbor, Jeanne Fitzsimons, owner of FitzStitch Embroidery & Monogramming, heavily steered her customers toward online ordering, which made client interactions and collecting payments much easier. “That’s been a bonus, since I never wonder when I’ll receive a payment,” she says. “I also do Zoom videos with customers. It’s been more productive and time-efficient.”
How’s your shop keeping employees and customers safe? Here are eight ways smart decorators have adjusted their operations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in their shops.
1. Be open about COVID-19 with your staff.
At A&P Master Images, Potter was ready to answer his employees’ most pressing questions: Will there be work? How do we handle customer interactions? Do we need to wear masks?
In his shop, Potter ended up reducing his staff from 20 people to six in one day, but brought everyone back within two weeks. “We pivoted to marketing and selling PPE gear,” he says. “That carried us through the roughest patch.”
Potter also talked to his staff about how to prevent spreading the virus by wearing masks and gloves, hand washing frequently, sanitizing workstations, and other proven procedures. If customers opt to come in the shop, the company offers them free masks, employees maintain a 6-foot distance and then wipe down the showroom afterwards.
A good rule of thumb: Hold regular staff meetings to discuss questions and concerns. In addition, use information from the CDC to educate your staffers about the virus. For example, people who have the virus but show no symptoms can be super spreaders.
Follow up with individual conversations. Part of pandemic life is that many people are struggling to keep their elderly parents or immunocompromised family members safe, while bringing home a paycheck. See how you can help with flexible or work-at-home schedules.
2. Designate a point person to be in charge of your COVID-19 response.
Choose one person on your staff who’s responsible for providing information, including the most up-to-date best COVID-19 practices from the CDC. This person should be comfortable making edits to safety routines or protocol, and then communicating that info to your managers and staff. Tell your team to share any concerns with your point person, including exposure to the virus or a positive diagnosis.
3. Put everything in writing.
Consider this an add-on to your employee manual. Your COVID-19 written policy should include health and safety standards, and how to maintain them at work and home. Let your employees know your expectations for health checks, such as temperature monitoring, and what they should do if they feel sick. Your policy should also cover the procedures you’ll follow if one of your staffers contracts the virus.
Gardner’s shop takes this a step further and includes virus-related updates from the CDC in every paycheck to keep staffers in the know.
4. Provide personal protective gear.
“We gave our staff masks, gloves and hand sanitizers,” says Susan Jaramillo, owner of Albuquerque, NM-based Grizzly Graphics. “We’ve also placed sanitizing supplies in several areas of the shop, plus extra hand sanitizing containers.”
5. Perform health monitoring.
Besides requiring employees to take their temperatures in the morning before work, Print & Stitch also checks the temperature of anyone entering the shop. You can make it a practice to check employees’ temperatures as they enter the building, and send anyone with a fever home. Additionally, some shops ask employees to sign in each day asserting they’ve not had a fever or a persistent cough or other symptoms in the past 24 hours.
6. Enforce social distancing for employees and customers.
You’ve probably heard a lot about social distancing as a proven means of preventing the spread of COVID-19. At Grizzly Graphics, Jaramillo gave every worker their own station (spaced 6 feet apart) to minimize cross-use of equipment. “We sanitize all equipment before another employee might use it,” she says.
Jaramillo also installed a doorbell, that customers have to use before being admitted into their shop. “There’s a stop point where we can hand them their order, and we require them to wear masks,” she says. “We hung posters about COVID-19 safety all over the shop. Plus, there’s lots of containers of hand sanitizer.” Print & Stitch and FitzStitch, also decided to offer parking lot pickup by appointment only.
7. Be flexible with sick days.
Under normal working conditions, many employees are hesitant to report illness because they worry they’ll be punished or even fired. In fact, a pre-coronavirus report from human resources consulting firm, Robert Half, showed that 57% of employees sometimes go to work sick and 33% always work sick—that translates to about 90% of people reporting to work while they’re under the weather.
That’s why you need to assure your employees that if they stay home sick, their jobs won’t be affected. Additionally, if possible, offer flexible paid sick leave to help ill employees stay home, rather than trying to report to work and potentially infect their co-workers.
8. Clean regularly.
Finally, you already know how important it is to keep your business clean. But in this new environment, it takes on a new importance, according to CDC recommendations.
Make sure your staffers clean and sanitize each workstation multiple times during the day, especially before each shift change. Also, do the same to frequently touched areas such as doors, light switches, computers and equipment, along with common areas and restrooms.
“We sanitize the common areas and frequently touched items daily or twice a day depending on how many folks come in and out,” Jaramillo says.
The Bottom Line
Now’s the time to take all the right steps to pandemic-proof your shop—and keep your employees and customers safe.Potter opened his shop during the mortgage crisis in 2003, so he remembers working hard to get an order from day one. “We’re back to our roots with adapting and overcoming at every turn, in addition to investing in new tech to be even more efficient,” he says. “Just keep educating your employees and customers about what you’re doing to protect them and why.”