Running a warehouse or distribution center operation is challenging under most circumstances. Turning over product and meeting tight deadlines creates high-stress situations. However, if we’ve learned anything over the past few months, it is that new challenges always pop up; and how you adapt to those challenges often means the difference between success and failure.
This is what we now face with the current COVID-19 pandemic. We are all operating in uncharted territory right now and likely will be for months to come.
Still, there are several takeaways you should consider to ensure this virus or any future diseases do not threaten your business. We have put together some suggestions along with resources you can use for help and guidance.
Take Care of Your Most Important Asset
Robotics will never completely take over the work done by humans. Therefore, it is critical you adopt effective policies to ensure team loyalty and health. You know and have heard the most obvious ones countless times. We have added some additional information that will also help keep your operation running.
- Wash your hands. Enforcing a strong personal hygiene policy not only prevents the spread of COVID-19 now, it will also help keep employees healthy during yearly cold and flu seasons. Settings such as warehouses will never be confused with sterile clean rooms, but emphasizing the need for basic cleanliness will have a profound impact on the overall health inside your facility.
- Social distancing. This is not always an option based on the work requirements and layout of a facility. However, when it is possible, help your team by stressing the need to maintain a distance the equivalent of the width of a forklift. This has proven successful in limiting the spread of the virus in many facilities around the country.
- Protective personal equipment (PPE). Make sure team members have access to PPE, particularly in situations where social distancing is not possible. Provide facemasks, shields or both as needed. Make gloves and sanitizers available around the facility, particularly on the loading dock where interaction with non-employees is common.
- Regular cleaning. The days of cleaning and disinfecting once a month (or year) whether it needs it or not are gone. It is impossible to clean a warehouse completely, but you can mitigate the majority of issues by regularly cleaning common areas such as restrooms, breakrooms, desks, commonly used equipment, handrails, doorknobs and similar items. Clean multiple times daily if possible, but definitely clean between shift changes at a bare minimum. This includes sanitizing (when possible) shipments and paperwork.
- Talk. Nothing breeds mistrust and rumors faster than not communicating with your team members. Share information about changes in staff health and related issues quickly and openly. But do more than that, share what steps you are taking to keep everyone safe.
- Encourage a strong work ethic, and equally strong sick ethic. We all have days where we would prefer to do something else. However, most employees value having a good job and meaningful work. Let them know they are valued and that their absence is missed when they are gone. You should also emphasize the importance of knowing when to stay home if they are not well. Do not ostracize team members for missing work because of illness. Monitor employee health daily. If your facility is in a high-risk area, you may want to do a daily screening for employees to monitor if someone has a fever or other symptoms.
- Cross-train employees. It’s beneficial to train your employees to do multiple jobs within your company. If a portion of your workforce becomes ill, cross-training will help ensure your business doesn’t have a drop in productivity or delayed shipments.
In the past, few warehouse operations required a high level of security. Everyone from employees to vendors and truckers often had free reign to go anywhere in the facility. This cannot and should not happen anymore. Require employees to limit travel to and from their primary work area. Escort vendors to locations within the facility and do not allow random movement without permission.
Truckers should remain in the shipping dock area and if they may need to deliver paperwork to the office, try to set up a different method of getting that paperwork. Perhaps a temporary office on the loading dock or having it scanned and emailed could be workarounds.
You cannot control what happens outside of your facility. However, by implementing these suggestions, you will minimize risk for your employees and your business.
Resources to Help
All businesses across the country have and continue to experience challenges from COVID-19. The following are some resources to help you navigate through and remain a viable business.
Government – Federal – The federal government offers many resources providing information on the COVID-19 pandemic and agencies providing a wide range of help, including loans, taxes and more. The list below is only a few of the major programs. Go to https://www.usa.gov/coronavirus for a complete listing.
- Small business owner’s guide to the CARES Act from Senate Small Business Committee
- CDC Guide for Businesses and Workplaces
- OSHA COVID-19 Safety & Health Topics
- The Paycheck Protection Program Flexibility Act (PPP Flex) was signed into law on June 5. Read a summary from Forbes and the Interim Final Rule from the SBA.
- Summary of PPP Loan Forgiveness Interim Final Rule from the Journal of Accountancy (5-25-2020)
- Interim Final Rule on PPP Loan Forgiveness (5-22-2020)
- Interim Final Rule on SBA Loan Review Procedures and Related Borrower and Lender Responsibilities (5-22-2020)
- Updated FAQs on Paycheck Protection Program from the SBA/Treasury (updated 5-19-2020)
- A Deep Dive into the PPP Loan Forgiveness Application from Forbes (5-16-2020)
- SBA and Treasury Release Paycheck Protection Program Loan Forgiveness Application (5-15-2020)
- MHEDA signs letter in support of deductible expenses related to Paycheck Protection Program loans (5-7-2020)
- PPP Loan Forgiveness Example from The Capital ESOP Group at UBS
- Employees refusing to return to work? The SBA offers some protection of PPP forgiveness (5-4-2020)
- Short-Time Compensation (STC) Program Provisions (5-3-2020)
- Deductibility of expenses when loan is forgiven under Paycheck Protection Program (4-30-2020)
- Initial State & Local Income Tax Responses to the CARES Act (5-7-2020)
- Temporary procedures to fax Form 1139 and Form 1045 to Claim Quick Refunds of the Credit for Prior Year Minimum Tax Liability of Corporations and Net Operating Loss Deductions
- IRS Guidance for taxpayers with net operating loss (NOL)
- Overview and FAQs for tax credits for required paid leave from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- IRS Form 7200 for Advance Payment of Employer Credits Due to COVID-19
- IRS Guidance on Relief from Penalty for Failure to Deposit Employment Taxes
- Employee Retention Credit FAQs from IRS (updated Qualified Health Plan Expenses 5-7-2020)
U.S. Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA) (effective April 1)
- US Department of Labor Issues Additional Informal Guidance on Families First Coronavirus Response Act summary from Squire Patton Boggs (5-13-2020)
- FFCRA FAQs (updated 5-13-2020)
- Fact Sheet: Employer Paid Leave Requirements
- Employee Rights Poster and poster FAQs
U.S. Emergency/Financial Assistance
- Main Street Lending Program from the Federal Reserve
- DOL Wage and Hour Division COVID-19 Resources
- Small Business Administration (SBA) guidance and loan resources
State and local government resources. Your state and local governments may also offer resources to help various aspects of your operation.
U.S. Chamber of Commerce – The chamber also offers resources for small businesses at this link https://www.uschamber.com/co/small-business-coronavirus.