In the aftermath of a wave of lockdowns, shelter-in-place orders, and quarantines to prevent the uncontrolled spread of COVID-19, U.S. businesses are slowly reopening. These lockdowns have been devastating in their own way: 43 states are facing record unemployment rates, and the national unemployment rate jumped from 4.4% in March to a staggering 14.7% in April, though it has since fallen to a still-high 7.9% rate in September.
But is it even possible for businesses to safely reopen in the absence of a vaccine or proven treatment? Questions and much uncertainty remain.
As a result, the reopening has been happening slowly in bits and pieces. Most businesses – nine out of ten, according to a survey from the National Alliance of Healthcare Purchaser Coalitions – are taking a staged approach as they gauge what’s allowed, what’s safe, and what will reassure and attract customers.
That multi-step approach means business isn’t getting back to normal any time soon. “There is a clear pivot across America as employers prepare to go back to work, but this will hardly be business as usual,” said Michael Thompson, National Alliance president, and CEO.
First, businesses are having to make huge accommodations to account for public health risks. “The virus will [still] be with us,” Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said in April. “We have to find a sustainable way that will be adapted in real-time to how we live with it.”
That means businesses will have to reopen in ways that protect both their workers and their customers. “I don’t care what your company does,” adds Clark. “Every business in America is in the health and wellness business.”
Second, many employees will continue to work from home, if possible. “In general, employees who can work from home will continue to do so for the foreseeable future,” says Thompson. Recent surveys support this claim.
Both LinkedIn and Glassdoor have found that a majority of employees (55% to 60%) are confident in their ability to be successful while working from home. Some companies have already made the change permanent.
But the big question isn’t what businesses do, it’s what customers will do. While quarantine fatigue is very real, significant numbers of Americans are reluctant to go back to normal too quickly. Poll numbers are hard to interpret; they’re changing fast and difficult to gauge. However, a poll in May indicated the vast majority of Americans felt reopening was premature, and it’s true that new daily cases spiked between June and July, with evidence that a potential third wave of COVID-19 may be building as we head went into flu season.
Certainly, everyone would like to get back to normal, but the pandemic has proven itself to be unpredictable. Businesses should be prepared for the unusual times to continue into the foreseeable future.
CoAdvantage, one of the nation’s largest Professional Employer Organizations (PEOs), helps small to mid-sized companies with HR administration, benefits, payroll, and compliance. To learn more about CoAdvantage’s ability to create a strategic HR function in your business that drives business growth potential, contact us today.