When Employees Can’t Work from Home

Businesses that must interact with customers should follow these five tips.

By Alexandra Walsh

COVID-19 has pushed many companies to adopt remote work practices.

Some businesses in the United States and around the world have swiftly changed their policies to deal with the crisis. Major corporations such as Google, Facebook, and Microsoft have recommended or mandated remote work.

However, many employees can’t work from home. Thus, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has provided tips to consider for those businesses whose employees do not have such an option.

In industries such as water well drilling and pump installation, workers certainly don’t have the luxury of performing their duties at home. For small- and medium-sized businesses in industries such as the groundwater industry, they instead need to manage expectations and develop new strategies to protect both their employees and customers from COVID-19.

The Chamber has created a Coronavirus Response Toolkit (see the shaded box for link information) that includes recommendations and sharable graphics from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for businesses and employees to help keep people safe.

The graphics can be shared on social media, websites, and more. But there are other things business owners can do to manage critical employees during this important time.

The Chamber suggests five ways some companies are managing coronavirus concerns for employees who can’t work remotely. Some of these ideas can be adapted by small businesses too.

1. Enforce sanitary health practices.

As obvious as it seems, make it a priority to enforce basic hygiene standards to prevent germs from spreading. Like any siege, the longer the virus remains, the greater the risk of complacency.

Follow guidelines from the CDC for employees (link provided in accompanying box) which include mandating that workers wash their hands for 20 seconds frequently, cover their nose and mouth with their inner elbow when sneezing or coughing, not touch their face, and sanitizing surfaces often with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-approved disinfectants (see shaded box below for link).

Offer hand sanitizer around the workplace for employees and customers to use if hand washing is not immediately available.

2. Encourage social distancing.

Employers are implementing new rules involving social distancing when possible. Effectively, this means employees and customers need to avoid handshakes, hugs, and all close social contact. Instead, use elbow bumps, small bows, or waves in order to have employees acknowledge each other or customers—or maybe even “jazz hands“ if you want to bring a little humor to what feels like a strange and stressful situation.

In some cases, social distancing may also include limiting travel, even by company vehicle, if it means staying from a coronavirus outbreak cluster.

3. Expand sick leave.

The coronavirus crisis has pushed many companies with employees who can’t work from home to expand sick leave. Corporations and others have created new sick leave rules to help stop the spread of coronavirus between employees and between employees and customers.

For example, Walmart, the nation’s largest private employer with 1.5 million workers, created an “emergency employee leave program” that was spurred by one of its associates in Kentucky testing positive for COVID-19.

However, small businesses do not have the same financial cushion that a company like Walmart has. Other options can be explored for small businesses that can’t afford something like that. Business owners should talk frankly and openly with employees about sick leave to create set expectations.

4. Communicate with customers.

With coronavirus concerns high, this is an ideal time to communicate with customers about what you’re doing to keep your business clean, keep the employees healthy, hours-of-operation changes if there are any, and more.

One business communicating frequently with customers is Amtrak, which notified customers about its new enhanced cleaning protocols and other policy changes via email. Social media also offers a wealth of information on communicating with employees during these uneasy times.

One helpful resource for customer communication is Facebook’s Business Resource Hub (link in accompanying box below), which has guides and tools for customer support and engagement during the coronavirus crisis.

5. Close and clean if exposed.

If a worker has been exposed to the coronavirus or confirmed to have it, best practices calls for the company to close for at least a day and give the facility a thorough cleaning.

COVID-19 Resources for Businesses
Go to these resources to aid your business during this ever-changing time.


Alexandra Walsh is the vice president of Association Vision, a Washington, D.C.–area communications company. She has extensive experience in management positions with a range of organizations.