Greetings from the Breezeworks team. We hope you, your employees, and your customers are staying healthy and safe during this unprecedented time. Since all 50 U.S. states have declared states of emergency and more than half have imposed lockdown measures restricting gathering and social contact, you’ve likely noticed changes in your business.
While no one knows how long these restrictions will last or what the lasting effects may be, you can take appropriate precautions now to ensure that your employees, your customers, and your business stay safe. We’ve put together some tips to help you do so.
(Note that these tips are geared toward our users in the United States. If you are outside the U.S., please consult with appropriate government authorities regarding safety guidelines and assistance programs.)
PAs the heart of your business, it’s important that you reduce the risk of your employees getting ill but also that you help address their concerns about their health and livelihoods. That means providing appropriate safety and cleaning supplies but also establishing policies that incentivize safe behavior.
- Provide your team members with the tools for good hygiene. Every employee should have access to gloves, a face mask, and disinfectant.
- Gloves: Ideally your employees will wear a separate pair of disposable gloves for each customer visit and safely discard them immediately afterwards. This reduces the risk of transferring virus particles from a customer location to a work vehicle, or between locations. loves combined with liberal use of hand sanitizer are even more effective. (We know that sanitizer and sanitizing wipes can be hard to come by these days. If you have a good relationship with your industrial supplier, they may prioritize your request. If you can’t find hand sanitizer, you can also make it yourself and distribute it to your team.)
- Face mask: While current Centers for Disease Control guidelines don’t recommend that uninfected individuals wear a mask, this guidance may change soon. Both N95 respirator masks and surgical masks are very hard to find right now, but if you regularly work in dusty environments or do painting you may have a stock of the common 3M 6000-series respirator masks. When well fitted these provide good protection and can be readily disinfected. Where commercial masks are unavailable, research shows that even simple barriers such as bandannas can provide at least some benefit, both at reducing virus droplet exposure and by preventing team members from inadvertently touching their face. And if you or someone on the team has basic sewing skills, there are many resources available online showing how to fabricate a mask from household materials.
- Disinfectant: The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can live for days on hard nonabsorbent surfaces such as door handles, steering wheels, and tools. Because your employees are touching these surfaces more or less constantly, keeping them sanitized can go a long way to reducing the risk of infection. The EPA has published a list of commercial disinfectants known to kill coronavirus, though supplies of many well-known products on that list, such as Lysol and Clorox, may be very limited. You may be able to source lesser-known or specialty disinfectants, but in a pinch you can use a variety of generic chemicals to disinfect hard surfaces, including rubbing alcohol (minimum 70%), hydrogen peroxide, and bleach. Always test cleaning products on a small area first to ensure they won’t damage the surface.
- In normal times, employees often prioritize a paycheck over their personal health. These times are decidedly abnormal, and an employee who comes to work ill right now may be putting both your team and your customers at risk. Tell employees that if they have a cough or fever, they must stay home — and promptly send home anyone showing signs of illness. Within the next few weeks, the federal government will start mailing out $1,200 checks to workers making less than $75,000 per year, which should assist anyone prevented from earning wages while home sick. If your business can afford it, telling employees you will offer sick pay for lost work days may further reduce the incentive to try and work through a cough or fever. (See below for more information on government support, including wage coverage, for businesses affected by the virus.)
- Social distancing — keeping at least 6 feet between individuals and sharing indoor space for as little time as possible — is key to reducing the spread of the virus. For this reason, you should reevaluate normal practices such as in-person team meetings and traveling together in a single vehicle. There are free video conferencing options available from Zoom and Google that work with employees’ smartphones.
Depending on what kind of service you provide, you may be experiencing more or less loss of business as customers reduce expenses due to sudden unemployment or just economic uncertainty. But if your business is still operating and you visit customers at their home, it’s essential that you demonstrate that you are taking their safety seriously.
- Because your employees may be visiting many residences or businesses, it is crucial that they reduce the risk of transmitting the virus from one to another. Before each visit, confirm with customers that no one in their location has been ill. If so, request that they reschedule to at least two weeks after the resolution of all symptoms.
- If you are providing protective equipment to employees or have made policy changes to protect them and your customers, let your customers know about these ahead of time. It will alleviate any concerns about allowing a masked worker into their home, and customers will appreciate that you are proactively considering their health and safety. You can use Breezeworks Automation feature to send text or email messages to your customer base.
- Building a strong relationship with your customers is important, but the best thing you can do for those relationships at the moment is to keep your distance. Employees should try to maintain 6 feet between themselves and anyone they don’t live with. One good way to do this is to call customers from the truck upon arrival and ask them to leave their door unlocked and to clear a path for you and your employees. If a customer needs to explain or demonstrate an issue in need of repair, they can upload photos using the Breezeworks Service Request feature or text them to your employee. You can also use video chat apps such as FaceTime or Google Duo to share information before a tech enters the home.
- If you can, it’s a good idea to avoid handling cash at the moment. Customers can pay via credit card through the link in your Breezeworks invoice email. If you aren’t currently set up to process card payments using Breezeworks, shoot us an email and we’ll help you get up and running. Or ask customers to pay using Venmo or Paypal.
- If a separate estimating visit is part of your normal business workflow, consider experimenting with offering estimates via FaceTime or Google Duo video chat. This is a great way to answer customer questions and offer advice without any drive time or risk of exposure.
- Use Breezeworks’ automation feature to send your customers a special offer in exchange for prepayment. You may find that your customers are more receptive than expected to paying in advance for a service if they receive an attractive discount.
Congress has passed three coronavirus relief bills that include relief for both businesses and individuals, and a fourth appears to be in the works. Both you as business owner and your employees (as noted above) may be eligible for assistance, whether or not your business has been negatively affected by the pandemic.
- Unemployment benefits: If like many Breezeworks users you are a “solopreneur” and don’t have any employees, you may benefit from a particular component of the $2 trillion coronavirus relief package known as the CARES act that was signed last week: unemployment insurance. Usually self-employed people or independent contractors aren’t eligible for unemployment, but the CARES changes that, providing extended unemployment benefits and additional cash on top of state payments.
- Tax deferral: While tax time would normally be upon us, the treasury department has announced that both filing and payment deadlines for federal taxes have been extended until July 15, 2020. Some states are extending deadlines as well. Employers may also defer their share of Social Security payroll taxes into the next two tax years. Check with the IRS, state tax authorities, or your tax adviser for details.
- Small business loans: The CARES Act includes nearly $350 billion for a federal small business loan program called the Paycheck Protection Program. The program is designed to get cash in the hands of suffering small businesses quickly, with less red tape and fewer guardrails than the SBA’s existing loan programs. It also incentivizes business owners to keep employees on payroll by offering them loan forgiveness. This program may allow you to keep paying your employees even if the business impact of the virus would otherwise force you to consider layoffs.
It takes a community to persist through trying times, and we at Breezeworks have always been proud of how we help our users benefit their communities. As always, if you have questions or would like to chat about how we can help your business, please email us at [email protected]
The Breezeworks Team
DISCLAIMER: This article includes advice on how to protect yourself, your employees, and your customers during a time of heightened risk. We believe the information herein, and the sources we have linked to, are credible. But United States government agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and your state and local health departments should always be the last word in guidance on what to do to stay safe. If you have questions, the federal government’s Coronavirus web site at https://www.coronavirus.gov/ is a great place to start.