By George Agba
AS Nigerians look forward to the expiration of the second phase of the easing of lockdown restrictions on May 31, more businesses continue to reopen and find ways to operate in spite of the pandemic. The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 had observed that adherence to public health measure in phase one was observed more in the breach, hence the decision to extend the gradual easing of the lockdown by a further two weeks.
This is no longer business as usual and innovative solutions would need to be factored into business operations to ensure the safety of employees and customers. There is no one size fits all solution, prompting the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control to develop guidelines for businesses and employers. The guidelines highlight many of the public health measures that need to be put in place to ensure the safe opening of businesses, such as developing an infectious disease preparedness action plan. This should be embedded in the business operations of any business with sustainability in mind. The coronavirus disease has posed a major challenge and understandably many enterprises, big and small, are still struggling with conceptualising what this new normal means for their organisation, business sector and the nation’s economy a whole.
A good start would be to understand recommendations from the federal government and adapting these to suit individual business needs. In addition, it is important to share knowledge on best practices with other businesses in your community and associations, to further ease the process. It is also imperative to be open and honest with customers on changes to the business model that may affect service delivery, for example, opening times and reduced availability of products/services. Where there is a mailing list, these can be shared via newsletter to customers. Though businesses may be struggling with some new realities, it is important to understand the changing needs of customers and to be quick and agile in adapting business operations.
For offices and financial institutions like banks, it is important to significantly limit physical interaction with and between customers. Banking customers should be encouraged to make more use of mobile banking applications and customer service lines to meet their needs and limit physical visits to banks. Within office premises, hand hygiene and the wearing of face mask should be maintained, and employers would need to factor in policies that ensure adherence to public health preventive measures. These could include staggering working hours, having staff members work in shifts but ultimately ensuring that staff members are able to comfortably maintain physical distancing of two metres.
Though restaurants are still restricted to only delivery service, the aim of this is to limit contact between people as much as possible and the importance of good hygiene practices must always be emphasised for all members of staff.
Markets and supermarkets also play a critical role in helping to slow the spread of COVID-19 and as essential services will need to ensure that they maintain a safe traffic flow in their premises. On entry, customers should have their temperature checked as well as provided with handwashing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitiser. There are also measures that can be taken to ensure that physical distancing is maintained inside and outside supermarket premises, kiosks, or pharmacies. In India, a country that is densely populated like, Nigeria, store owners are using a simple but effective means to ensure physical distancing by drawing lines on the floor to keep customers two metres apart.
None of these measures will be easy to fully implement. Nonetheless, this is the only way we can restart our lives and how businesses operate while maintaining the safety of employees and customers. No one has all the answers and lockdowns are not easy as lives and livelihoods are put at odds. However, it is important that businesses take responsibility and play their part in helping their employees and customers understand the purpose of the public health measures. By protecting themselves from catching the virus, they are also protecting others they come in contact with. Everyone must take responsibility.
**George Agba is a management consultant in Abuja.
– May 22, 2020 @ 18:45 GMT /