What is the proper metaphor for the situation in which many business owners and managers now find themselves? How do you describe the territory in between the critical need to get business and the economy moving again, and the need to protect the safety and well-being of the people making the economy function?

Printing and distributing new money to keep businesses and people afloat increases debt and can be the cause of serious, unintended and long-term consequences. Moving people into settings where a highly contagious new virus with many unknown factors is still present can also produce bad, sometimes terminal, results. To borrow a very old term, the most appropriate metaphor seems to be “No Man’s Land.” Many are choosing sides. Out of fear and concern for public health and the safety of family, some wish to continue to keep things closed. Others, whose viability as a company, organization or even household are at stake, wish to get back to work and start earning income again as soon as possible. The space in between is where the solutions must be found.

It’s not an easy problem to solve for many organizations with a business model built on a certain volume of activity. Theaters, stadiums, commercial airplanes, restaurants and bars require certain numbers of customers to break even or make a profit. Impose a 50% capacity rule or require a six-foot “set-back” between customers, and the previous profit and loss calculations just may not work anymore. So, what should a business do as the temporary financial assistance programs begin to expire?

Make a Plan for Alternative Scenarios

It’s tough to plan in the midst of a crisis, but it is a necessary exercise. Based on the current rules that apply to a particular business type, consider the following scenarios.

  • What would happen if those rules are extended for an additional one, two or six months? Longer? Do the math.
  • What would happen if some rules are relaxed, such as occupancy limits of 50% or 70% of maximum capacity? Or what happens if customer behavior doesn’t return to “normal” after rules are relaxed? Again, do the math.
  • Account for changes in the workforce. Will 100% or 50% of employees be available to return to work, and will they feel safe in returning to work?
  • Account for changes in the supply chain. Will the resources and materials required to make the product be available, or has there been a disruption in supplies and materials? How much can be produced given alternative conditions?

Companies and organizations must do this planning. Larger companies and manufacturers are already doing this, and resources such as CIRAS at Iowa State University are helping them. Smaller businesses also need to be doing this planning. What business plan or path will provide the greatest opportunity for success? What steps are needed to implement it?

Take Steps to Provide a Safe Work Environment

Federal and state public health officials are publishing and regularly updating guidelines or suggestions for operating safely as things begin to be “reopened”. Review them carefully and decide what the best options are. Here is a short list of recently published information from authoritative sources.

Communicate With Business Partners and Employees

Now is not the time to hunker down and wait for the next proclamation. Make a call or set up a video conference with the appropriate professionals, including the accountants, lenders, employment professionals, attorneys, landlords and business peers. Put the facts on the table and ask for advice and help. They want and need their customers to survive and succeed.

Employees and contractors also need to be part of the conversation. Answer their questions. Ask for their input. Show them what is going to be done to provide for a safe work environment. Explore best practices and options. There is no one “best practice,” so welcome ideas and use a consensus-building approach.

As events unfold, expect to see professional firms and trade associations step forward with legal, human resources, financial and general business advice. For example, here are two specific webinars with companion slide decks and resources published by legal and employment service providers with operations in the Des Moines area.

Business owners and managers should ask their affiliated professional service providers to help get them connected with similar privately sponsored but publicly accessible resources. Importantly, share this information with your colleagues, peers, employees and contractors as it becomes available.

The Greater Des Moines Partnership has launched a new resource, DSM Forward with industry specific and business function “playbooks” and an FAQ, which provides a framework for business owners and managers to develop action plans for reopening. These playbooks are not recipes for reopening, but rather are outlines that can be used by individual businesses to make decisions about how various issues will be handled based on their unique characteristics and circumstances.

Do you have a need for more specific information, or do you have suggestion for a topic or issue that should be included in a future DSM Forward playbook? DSM has published a short survey to organize those questions and suggestions.

Summary

Reopening is like stepping into a “Nomanneslonde” in many respects. There are many unknowns, but we think it is possible to move the economy forward with thoughtful business planning, care for the health, safety and well-being of everyone at work and in the marketplace, and open and frequent communications with business partners and co-workers. Onward!

Have an idea or best practice for reopening? Share it with us!