Freedom week has brought a mixture of relief and happiness for some along with remaining anxiety and caution. We are living with Covid and retailers need to go beyond the minimum to flourish. Managers with a clear purpose to protect their staff and customers will be the ones to define what this new era looks like.
The only glimmer of a silver lining in this news is that it’s a chance to assess again business continuity policies and staff protection plans. Have you really done everything you can to mitigate against the virus causing further disruption to your business? And have you thought about regular testing of your employees?
Many of the business leaders I’ve spoken to in recent weeks have set up recovery funds to try and minimise the impact of the virus on their bottom line. They understand that the pandemic isn’t over, and also recognise their duty of care to protect and support their team so that they can get people back into work willingly.
The questions they now need to ask are: how can these funds be best deployed, and what should their Covid protection strategy look like?
Incentivising employee diligence is a good start by amending sick leave policies to ensure full payment for employees who cannot work due to self-isolation. Reconfiguring shop layouts and workspaces to create more space for employees and customers, and investing in improved ventilation, are also smart ways to reduce the possibility of Covid-related disruption.
However, the priority for retailers really needs to be regular employee testing, because stopping Covid-positive staff from setting foot in the workplace is the best way to halt its spread.
But hold on, why do we need to keep testing? Isn’t the worst of the pandemic over in the UK? Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as that. While the NHS’s vaccination programme has been a great success, it’s still a long way from providing immunity to the entire population. And it only takes a few cases among key employees for your business to suddenly be on the back foot just as you need it to be operating at full strength.
High street and destination retailers are particularly vulnerable to this scenario because many of their staff and customers will be young and unvaccinated. The government has only recently invited the under-30s to apply for their first Covid jab, and it’s likely that uptake will be slower than in older generations. And even for those employees who are fully vaccinated, it’s still not an absolute guarantee that they can’t catch the virus.
Staff testing has come on a long way from employees having to stand in the car park for half an hour each morning, waiting for a health professional to carry out an uncomfortable and invasive procedure. Instead, saliva-based lateral flow tests – such as Vatic’s Know Now, the UK’s only CE-approved saliva-only rapid Covid test – can be easily self-administered by employees before they leave home. They take just minutes to deliver an accurate result, and each test generates its own unique QR code that can be scanned and checked before they enter the workplace
As the country shifts from government control and challenging testing methods – leaders in business – however small will take on a crucial societal and economic role. That will require smart Covid protection and efficient testing procedures.