The new UK Government guidelines have set out what employers should be doing to keep their workplaces ‘Covid secure’. Here’s everything you need to know about the next phase of the COVID-19 crisis and how you can make sure your franchise is sticking to the rules.
On Wednesday 13th May, the UK Government put into place new guidelines that would help move us out of the nationwide lockdown. Along with its guidance for the general public, the government also produced eight ‘Covid secure’ guides. These documents have been designed to help employers keep their employees safe from infection while allowing business to start up again. However, they’re pretty lengthy, so we’ve summarised the essential information from each one. Whether you’re a franchisee wondering how you can keep your team safe, or a franchisor that isn’t sure how to guide your franchise network, this article will explain how to keep employees ‘Covid secure’.
What is ‘Covid secure’?
If you haven’t caught up with the latest government advice on how England will move out of lockdown (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are approaching the transition differently), check out ‘Everything You Need to Know about the New Government Guidelines on COVID-19’ for an overview. Part of the Government’s strategy for a phased transition back to some kind of normality is the new ‘Covid secure’ guidelines. Eight different guides have been put together advising different kinds of businesses how they can keep employees safe. They cover:
- Construction and other outdoor work
- Factories, plants and warehouses
- Labs and research facilities
- Offices and contact centres
- Other people’s homes
- Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
- Shops and branches
We’ll break down exactly how each type of workplace can stay Covid compliant in a moment but, essentially, the guidelines give clear instructions on the measures employers must take to keep their workforces safe.
There are slight differences between workplaces like offices, food takeaways and call centres, but the guidance is relatively similar for all indoor workplaces. In essence, workplaces need to:
- Make sure all employees that are able to work from home are doing so, to make it easier for those on-site to observe social distancing.
- Regularly disinfect surfaces, particularly in common areas like kitchens and bathrooms.
- Rearrange workspaces so staff are back-to-back or side-to-side, or put screens between work stations if it’s not possible rearrange them.
- Put up screens or introduce other measures to minimise contact between customers and employees (in places like takeaway and retail stores).
- If there are tasks where you cannot observe social distancing, assign set pairs or teams to minimise how much social contact each person has.
- If it’s not possible to stay 2 metres apart, consider whether the task should even be carried out, or whether your workplace should be open.
- Make sure you read through the guide for your workplace, as there is specific guidance that will help you keep yourself and your team safe.
What are the COVID-19 guidelines on outdoor work?
The Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor, Patrick Vallance, has stated repeatedly that there’s a lower risk of catching COVID-19 if you’re in the open-air. However, it’s still vital for businesses like lawn care franchises and landscaping franchises to maintain social distancing between employees, as explained above. Additional guidance for any kind of construction or outdoor work site include:
- Reducing job and equipment rotation and keeping staff on one task all day, wherever possible
- Holding any briefings/meetings outdoors
- Staggering breaks and start/finish times to stop people congregating in common areas
- Using pairing strategies for tasks like heavy lifting that cannot be done alone
How can I stay safe if I visit customers’ homes?
If you’re part of a plumbing franchise, delivery franchise or any other business where you have to go to a customer’s house to carry out work, you can still keep yourself safe. The guidelines advise:
Washing hands when entering and leaving a customer’s home
- Asking customers ahead of time to stay in another room, or at least two metres away from you, while you carry out the work
- Asking all internal doors in the home to be left open to minimise contact with door handles
- Bringing own food and drink and not accepting drinks from customers
- Having breaks outside or in well-ventilated areas
- Assigning the minimum number of workers to each job so they can stay two metres apart from each other and the customer
Should my franchisor give me guidance?
Yes, your franchisor should be instructing you how to make your franchise ‘Covid secure’. Many franchise networks will already be circulating advice on how their franchisees should adapt to the new guidelines. If you’ve not heard anything from your franchisor or franchise support team, get in touch as soon as you can. The government guidelines were only released a few days ago, so it may be that your franchise is still working out how to comply with them, but it’s vital you speak to them before introducing any new measures.
One of the key parts of being in a franchise network is that there are certain expectations about how you run your business, to make sure every franchised location looks, feels and operates in the same way. If you rush ahead and implement new measures like screens between you and your customers, your franchisor could ask you to replace them with branded protective screens or request you don’t put them up at all.
What if I don’t agree with my franchisor’s stance?
Let’s say you’re not in favour of measures like screens or marking the floor with tape to make social distancing easier. Unfortunately, you don’t have much choice but to comply at the moment. If you fail to follow procedures that have been set out by your franchisor, you’re breaching your franchise agreement. Obviously, there won’t be a specific pandemic procedure section, but it’s likely your franchisor will view your refusal to follow franchise-wide conduct or location design rules as against your contract.
Even if your franchisor doesn’t take action, the government could shut down your business. The UK’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, announced that the frequency of health and safety inspections would increase, and that inspectors would have the power to visit unannounced. So it’s definitely in your best interests to follow your franchisor’s guidance and make your business ‘Covid secure’.
Your franchisor shouldn’t ask you to ignore any of the guidelines. For example, if you run a food takeaway franchise or restaurant franchise that’s now only offering takeaway, the guidelines state you should put signs on interior and exterior tables reminding customers they can’t sit and eat your food on the premises. No franchisor should ask you to take down signs, or even allow customers to sit down, as your business could get shut down if you’re found to not be complying. If you’re in serious disagreement with your franchisor, it’s best to seek the help of a franchise lawyer, who will outline your rights and hopefully resolve the conflict.
How can I guide my franchise network?
This is a difficult time if you’re a franchisor. But you must provide clear guidance and reassuring leadership to your network of franchisees, even if you’re feeling confused and frightened yourself. Your franchisees, who have much less experience of running a business, need your support more than ever. We’ve tried to make the guidelines as clear as possible using only reliable information from places such as the government’s coronavirus hub, but it’s up to you to do your own research too.
Encourage your franchisees to continue working from home if they can and to use virtual methods of reaching out to customers. Shuttercraft, for example, is holding virtual consultations for new customers, so they can pick out new blinds and plan their home makeover without unnecessary social interaction. And even if it’s not possible to interact with customers, encourage them to continue working on their business development during this quiet period. Even though it’s time consuming and tiring, you need to be there to answer your franchisees’ questions as much as you can.
If you’re head of a franchise that can’t open yet, such as a restaurant franchise, beauty franchise or sports franchise, use this time to plan out clear guidelines for your network and offer as much information as you can to your franchisees about how you plan to get back to business. Check reliable news sources daily to keep yourself informed, but try not to overwhelm yourself by constantly watching/reading the news. This will help you adapt your business practices to the current guidelines and ensure there isn’t a delay in re-opening your locations when you get the green light.
A new normal
Its likely these social distancing measures will be in place for some time, so it’s important to adapt your workplace as soon as you can. The sooner your teams get used to this ‘new normal’, the happier and more productive they’re likely to be, and your business may see its fortunes turn around.
Sophie Cole, Point Franchise ©