Note: For full information on the FFCRA, please refer to the Department of Labor website. For advice, please contact a legal professional.
With much of their customer base forced to stay home, many businesses have seen their revenues shrink during the COVID-19 pandemic. Press coverage has focused on companies' efforts to stay afloat through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) — understandably so.
But some businesses that have secured funding to remain open face a secondary challenge: how to operate with a reduced workforce.
An employee doesn't have to be suffering symptoms of COVID-19 to be absent from work. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) guarantees employees, including part-time employees, up to 80 hours of paid sick leave (see the DOL website for information about calculating hours for part-time employees), at full salary, if they're subject to quarantine due to possible virus exposure. Another component of the FFCRA is that employees, including part-time employees, can receive two-thirds of their regular rate of pay, for up to 10 weeks, if they must stay home to care for children under 18 whose schools or daycare facilities are closed.
With just about every school and daycare facility in America shuttered right now, that clause could apply to hundreds of thousands of employees, if not millions. The FFCRA runs through December 31, 2020.
If you don't have a contingency plan in place to operate with a reduced workforce, you'd better get one. Here are some tips on getting started.
Prioritize Your Core Processes
The first step in determining how to deploy your limited workforce is to identify your business' core processes. As my colleague Andy Hale explains in his blog about preparing for coronavirus impact, look at each function in your company — from sales to HR and finance — to determine which processes are critical. Make sure you have staff available to meet legal deadlines, such as payroll and taxes. It’s also important to think about new tasks you’ll need to handle — for example, complying with new HR polices, providing documentation for loans and tracking your expenditure of loan funds, and continually monitoring cash flow.
Once you've boiled down your business to only those things that must be done for you to continue operating, you can divide those responsibilities among your remaining staff.
Make the Transition as Smooth as Possible
Ideally, your business would have had a business continuity plan in place before the pandemic hit. If you don't have one, you can improvise by expanding the same basic approach outlined in the previous section.
Use centralized systems and cloud technology, for example, to enable employees who must work from home to access and share information. Document your processes and institute cross-training so that employees can fill in for each other as necessary. In a pandemic, an employee who is healthy this week could be stricken next week. An employee who is now in quarantine can be back in two weeks. Try to ensure that the recovered employee can pick up where the newly infected employee left off.
Establish Open Lines of Communication
It's understandable if your employees feel overwhelmed during this crisis. This is especially so if you have to revise your procedures (e.g., a restaurant switching from dine-in to takeout) and compensate for staff shortages.
That's why it's more important than ever to communicate — even over-communicate — with your staff right now. Answer all questions honestly, even if your honest answer is "I don't know." You don't want your team to suspect that you're keeping something from them. Instead, encourage them to come to you if they have any concerns.
Set Expectations With Customers
One of the worst things about this pandemic is that it has touched virtually every aspect of our day-to-day lives. But that also makes it easier to reset your clients' expectations. Customers are far more likely to tolerate things like out-of-stock items due to supply-chain disruptions than they might otherwise be because everyone's in the same boat. If you need to reduce your hours or limit access to services due to staff shortages, your customers will understand — provided you let them know.
If you have a service level agreement, be open to negotiating. This applies in both directions; just as you might need additional time to complete work for your clients during this time, some of your vendors might have to modify their turnaround times as well.
Think Creatively to Solve Staff Shortage Problems
Now that you’ve thought about your core business functions and are resetting expectations with your clients, examine your own expectations from a big-picture perspective. Have you always had a 9-to-5, 40-hour-week work schedule for your employees? Now is the time to think creatively. Would shifting the schedule help your employees get their work done? What about adjusting their work hours?
Are there tasks you could accomplish with fewer labor hours? For example, it's nice to have an employee answer every customer phone call, for example. But if you can switch to a voicemail system that answers most customer queries via automation ("Are you still open?" being an obvious example), that could be a huge timesaver.
Help Ensure Business Continuity
Remember, your long-term goal is to preserve your business. By prioritizing your core functions, establishing business continuity measures including centralized systems with cloud-based technology and cross-training, and communicating with employees, clients and vendors, you’ll be well-positioned to carry your business through.
For more information about the FFRCA and business continuity, please see: