These are trying times. With so much happening, and changes occurring rapidly, it can be hard to stay on top of everything related to COVID-19, also known as coronavirus, and what it means for your business and your employees. What are you supposed to do as a producer? Some good news: Agriculture is considered an essential business, which gives you a lot of flexibility in your implementation of the stay at home orders, social distancing and other business restrictions. With the planting season quickly approaching, there will be a need to balance putting in the crop with the health and safety of your family and your staff. Here are 10 ways to help you create a balance and put your family and staff at ease:
- Office Opening/Visitors: Determine if your office will be open, who will be there daily, and whether visitors will be allowed. Consider business vendors, deliveries, etc. Develop a notice informing visitors how to proceed and post it on your door.
- Farm Employee Interaction: Determine who is necessary to report to the office/shop daily, who can work from home and how to keep those attending on a regular basis safe. Be sure your employees know not to report for work if they have a fever or are feeling ill. Implement guidelines to modify the frequency and type of face-to-face contact (handshaking, sitting in meetings, office layout, shared work areas, etc.) among employees and between employees and vendors/customers.
- Employee Communication: In times like this, you must over communicate with your employees. They want to know how your farm is dealing with the pandemic. Tell them exactly what you are doing. Provide them with frequent updates to assure them you are staying on top of the situation and taking it seriously. Anticipate fear and anxiety with your employees. Give the relevant and credible information sources. Be sure that your form of communication is appropriate both linguistically and culturally. Consider methods like text, phone call, conference call, email, zoom, and/or webinar.
- Employee Absences: Forecast and determine how you will allow for employee absences due to factors such as personal illness, quarantine, school closures, etc. These absences could be paid, unpaid, etc. Keep in mind that the economic impact for your employees and for your farm can be very real, but you want to encourage employees to report symptoms. Do what you can to temporarily adjust strict policies when possible. You might consider allowing employees to go negative in their leave balance, offering extra sick time, developing a donation of leave time, or other things that balance the economics of your employees and your business. It is important to determine up front how to handle these situations so you are consistent in your implementation.
- Travel: If stay at home orders are issued for your state/county, the agriculture industry is or will likely be considered essential business. While it may not be necessary, some employees may want assurance they can travel to/from work. Be prepared to provide letters or permits to employees, for their comfort, that state they are necessary to your essential business.
- Listen and Practice Empathy: Employees want to be heard, especially in times of stress. Let employees know their concerns are normal and give them multiple avenues to express their concerns (manager, HR, etc.). Be sure you listen and do not act defensively. Not every request can be honored, but relaxing some policies and just listening can ease nerves. Be creative and if you can easily make a change that has little impact on your business, do it.
- Cleaning Practices: If you have people in the office/shop, ensure you have cleaning practices in place for employees. These practices should include regular hand washing, wiping down frequently used surfaces/items and, if you choose, spraying.
- Financial Impact: Develop and plan for impact on your financials due to increase/decrease in demand for products as well as changes in commodity pricing. Identify essential materials and critical inputs. Work with your suppliers to ensure availability and delivery capabilities.
- Community Awareness: Support other local businesses as much as possible. Share best practices with other local businesses, chambers of commerce, associations or others in your community. This is a good time to volunteer if help is needed in the community – something you can do without undue exposure to illness.
- Insurance Communication: Collaborate with your insurers and health plans to gather information and understand your coverages.
We at FamilyFarms Group, along with all our subsidiaries are working remotely BUT we are continuing to provide our services without interruption. We are here to help. Please give us a call at 877-221-FARM to learn more about the many services we have to offer and how FamilyFarms Group can help meet the needs of your farm.
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