Your state may have reopened for business. However, that doesn’t mean you have to return to the office. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that you only open if you are able to comply with state and local orders and can reopen safely while protecting your employees and clients. They even created a tool to help you make your decision about reopening.
As an insurance agency owner, you have a lot to consider when reopening your office. It’s not a simple two-option choice: open or closed. Not only are there various approaches you can try, the stakes are also high. It’s important to have a rational approach and think through the decision to return to the office as well as how you return.
Before You Reopen
Before you work on a plan to reopen the office, you need to consider your team and your clients. Their health and safety should be your primary focus.
Survey your team. How do they feel about coming back into the office? If you have the technology and capability to enable remote working, consider allowing anyone who doesn’t feel comfortable returning to continue working from home. At ITC, all employees can continue working from home through the summer without any questions asked.
Determine whether you will allow your clients to visit your office in person. I know of some insurance agencies that have still been working from the office. But, they have closed their office to in-person client visits.
Will you open up to clients during a shortened time window? Can your clients call or visit your website instead to take care of their service needs?
If your website is not set up for quote or service requests, there is no time like the present to change that. Consumers of all ages have taken to using the internet for everything since staying at home. That will not change once the pandemic is over. Update your insurance agency website so you can offer that option to those clients who will prefer to continue to work with you online.
Whatever your plans, make sure you are communicating it. Update your team with your plans on creating a safe environment and other workplace changes and expectations. Use your email marketing system to communicate with your clients on reopen plans and how they can reach you during this time.
Workplace and Culture Changes
Just because states are opening back up does not mean it is safe to return to the pre-pandemic normal. If you decide to reopen your office, it is imperative to think about what needs to change. Not just in your office but in your culture as well.
For example, it’s common for people to come to work with a cold to show commitment or because they don’t want to take a sick day. This will put not just your team at serious risk of becoming infected but also their loved ones. Make it clear that coming into the office with a fever, cough, or sore throat is not permitted. Be prepared to reinforce this policy and give extra sick days if needed. Also, make sure to model the appropriate behavior yourself by not going to the office when sick.
Some other workplace changes to consider:
People have been using video conferencing and chat tools to conduct team meetings more than ever lately. Continue to use these tools in place of in-person meetings to reduce the risk of virus spread.
At ITC, we use Microsoft Teams to conduct any and all team meetings. Even with our offices beginning to reopen, we will not be having any in-person meetings.
Sometimes an in-person meeting can’t be avoided. Keep the meeting to no more than ten people, wear masks, and practice social distancing.
Some states require face masks when in public, including offices. While observing your state and local regulations, determine what face mask rules are best for your agency. At ITC, while we do not have to wear face masks when sitting at a desk, we wear them when walking through the office.
Social distancing is easy in theory and hard in practice. Make it easy for your team to be socially distant. Remove the furniture from your common areas. If your bathrooms are more than single occupancy, block access to certain stalls to ensure a safe distance between occupants.
Also, encourage no sharing of office supplies or equipment as much as possible. If items must be shared, declare that these items must be cleaned after each use. Provide disinfecting wipes. Ask your team not to eat lunch or gather in common areas. For example, at ITC, anyone working in the office must take eat lunch at their desk and not in the breakroom.
Consider getting signage to post around the office as reminders of the changes and new rules.
The CDC has issued new guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting. Review these guidelines when creating your office reopen plan.
Define new cleanliness expectations. How often will janitorial services be cleaning and disinfecting your office? Will you expect your team to contribute to office cleanliness standards by cleaning their workstations with disinfecting wipes every day? Can you install hand sanitizer stations, so everyone in your office can use them throughout the day?
Include this information in your plan, so your clients and team know what to expect and will feel more comfortable about coming into the office.
The shelter-in-place directives from the past couple of months have not been about stopping virus spread but slowing it down. While the news about possible vaccines has been positive, we’re still months away. So, as we start to venture out and businesses reopen, it is not unthinkable that we may have to close our offices once again.
Prepare to close
You should prepare for that possibility. What tasks have been challenging to accomplish while working remotely? Is there an easier way?
If you have not been able to operate fully this spring, get the technology in place now. That may include browser-based tools like a comparative rating system, client portal, agency management system, or automated marketing system.
Beyond the technology, what is your response and communication plan if you have to close your office again? What would you have done differently in March and April if you knew then what you know today? Put that information or initiatives in your plan.
Create a long-term emergency business plan
Beyond COVID-19 and the possibility of future closure, it’s crucial to have a business continuity plan for any emergency. It will help you identify how and when to communicate with your team and clients as well as maintain operations. If you don’t have a business continuity plan, start to work on it once you’ve adjusted to your workplace changes around reopening.
There is no shortage of news or sources talking about COVID-19. Finding a trustworthy source with reliable information can be difficult. Here’s a list of some reputable sources and government agencies.
Review the information they share about COVID-19 when creating your reopen plan so you can ensure you’re up to date on the latest news and do everything the experts recommend to keep your team, clients, and yourself safe.
- World Health Organization
- Occupational Safety and Health Administration
- U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s State-by-State Business Reopening Guide
- U.S. Department of Labor
Don’t forget to check any resources from your state and local governments too.
Once you’ve reopened, your work is not done. Continue to talk with your team and clients the first few weeks about how they’re feeling around the situation. Ask them whether they feel safe in this new environment and whether there are any changes they’d like to see. Be prepared to act on the feedback you receive.
Returning to the office may not be as smooth a transition as you expect. Put your plan into action but also be prepared to make quick changes if needed according to the situation.
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