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Guide to managing your business during the coronavirus outbreak
How to keep up with daily operations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
We’ll continue updating this page with resources and information as new details emerge on how Canadian leaders and businesses are responding to COVID-19.
The COVID-19 pandemic has put pressure on businesses across Canada to conform to mandatory closures while keeping operations afloat. Trying to decide how to proceed in a rapidly changing situation can be challenging. But with transparent guidance and helpful tools, you can manage daily operations, employees and finances during this difficult time.
How can the POST Promise program help my business re-open after the lockdown?
On June 9, 2020, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the POST Promise program to help businesses and customers stay safe during the initial phases of reopening. The program consists of a declaration that businesses will commit to implementing and practicing 5 key steps to keep workplaces safe:
- Maintain physical distancing. The distance should be at least 2 metres or around 6.5 feet.
- Stay home if unwell. Encourage employees to monitor their health.
- Practice respiratory etiquette. Cough or sneeze into your arm and wear a face mask where social distancing is impossible.
- Clean and disinfect regularly.
- Wash and sanitize hands. Hands should be washed for at least 20 seconds.
Participation is voluntary. Businesses that choose to commit can display the POST Promise logo to show customers that best practices are being followed to keep everyone safe.
The program is NOT a certification or official seal of approval from any regulatory body – it’s merely meant to provide a signal by which businesses and customers can comfortably interact. Visit postpromise.com to learn more.
How to continue business during the coronavirus outbreak
Continuing business during the coronavirus outbreak is possible — but it may require you to apply some protective measures to keep customers and employees safe.
1. Keep in clear communication with your employees.
Transparent communication with employees is crucial. The more your employees know about your expectations and intentions, the better equipped they are to prepare.
Create an email account specifically for coronavirus-related queries and communications. Provide scheduled updates on how you plan to tackle day-to-day operations. If you anticipate having to close up shop or plan to ask employees to work from home, give as much notice as possible.
Given the current circumstances, a play-it-by-ear approach is entirely understandable. But keep your team in the know with frequent updates.
2. Set up direct deposit for all employees.
Shifting payroll from paper cheques to direct deposit eliminates the need for employees to pick up paychecks in person. You can set up direct deposit through your business bank account provider or payroll software like ADP.
Collect the necessary banking information from your employees, including their bank account number, transit number and institution number. After you submit their information to your direct deposit provider, all that’s left is setting up a payroll schedule and completing your provider’s authorization process.
3. Shift employees to work from home.
While it may not be feasible for all business models, telecommuting can safeguard the health of your employees while keeping operations afloat. If it’s possible for your employees to get work done with a computer and an Internet connection, encourage them to work from home. Of course, your business may already be legally required to close its physical location, in which case, shifting to a work-from-home model will be necessary.
4. Come up with ways to continue serving your customers.
Does your business rely on in-person sales? Consider selling online. A number of merchant services providers like Shopify offer e-commerce store building software. You don’t need to be tech-savvy to set up your website, as most providers offer beginner-friendly website themes. You can even integrate your online store with your social media accounts for omnichannel marketing.
5. Strategize the best ways to keep your business running.
Business operations during a global pandemic are all about managing risk. And while it may be tempting to forge ahead with a business-as-usual attitude, the health of your employees and that of the greater community needs to come first. If you’re committed to keeping your doors open, consider reducing your operating hours and temporarily laying off nonessential staff.
How can I set up my employees to work from home?
For a smooth transition from in-person operations to an at-home workforce, consider implementing these strategies and tools:
- Communication software. Shift company communications to an online workspace with the help of communication software like Slack or Mattermost.
- Established desk hours. Set a daily schedule and structured desk hours to help remote workers establish a routine — but keep in mind that some staff members may be trying to balance child care while keeping up with work responsibilities.
- Schedule daily check-ins. Help your team stay connected and up to speed with team check-ins, conference calls and virtual town halls through Skype or Zoom.
- Explore business apps. Review your business app options to streamline operations as your team works from home.
What to do if your business stays open
If your business is still open amid the COVID-19 crisis, take proactive measures to keep employees and customers safe:
- Disinfect daily. Regularly disinfect high-traffic areas and surfaces, like doorknobs, tables, desks, light switches, keyboards and telephones.
- Remind employees to practice good hygiene. Make soap and hand sanitizer available while encouraging staff to routinely clean their hands and avoid touching their face.
- Avoid handling cash. Request that your customers use non-contact payment methods, like tap or online transfers.
- Open the windows. Consider increasing ventilation by opening windows.
- Limit in-person meetings. Cancel all nonessential face-to-face chats.
- Refrain from handshakes. Ask employees and customers to opt for non-contact greeting methods, like hand waves or head nods.
- Communicate with customers. Let your customers know how your business plans to conduct itself, including expected hours of operation and updated sanitization protocols.
Should I close my business?
Some provinces have already issued a mandatory suspension of nonessential businesses. Other provinces may employ this strategy in the weeks to come. And there could be consequences for refusing to comply.
If your province or territory doesn’t require your business to close, you may elect to remain open. But even if it isn’t forced, consider a temporary suspension of operations. Weigh the benefits of staying open against the potential risks to your customers and employees. Stay on top of local COVID-19 news about precautions to take and when it’s a good idea for nonessential businesses to close, even if it isn’t mandated.
How can I help my employees?
Remaining flexible and responsive can help your employees feel supported during the coronavirus outbreak. Employees may need to tend to their children or support a loved one in a high-risk group. Clarify your company’s sick-leave policies and prepare to deal with questions and requests.
The government advises that if someone feels sick or has a sick family member at home, they self-quarantine to lessen the risk of potential infection. Let your employees know what coronavirus financial assistance programs exist to help them cope, including unemployment benefits and banks that have begun to offer financial aid.
Financing options for businesses during the COVID-19 outbreak
If your bottom line has begun to suffer, look into ways your business can access cash during the outbreak:
- Canada Emergency Wage Subsidy. Until June, 2021, eligible businesses as well as nonprofits and charities can apply to receive a wage subsidy for specific 4-week “claim periods.” The number of employees businesses have is irrelevant — this subsidy is to help both large and small businesses. Funding does not automatically renew. Business owners must reapply for each claim period after the period is over.
- For claim periods 1-4 (March-June, 2020)
Employees of subsidized businesses can expect to have 75% of their incomes covered up to a maximum of $58,700 (up to $847/week). Business revenues must have decreased by at least 30% as a result of coronavirus. Business owners can use sales figures from January and February (2020) to demonstrate their losses. Additionally, they only need to show a 15% drop in revenue during March, given that most businesses didn’t feel the effects of COVID-19 until half-way through the month.
- For claim periods 5 and onwards (July, 2020 – present)
For claim periods 5 and onwards (July, 2020 – present), employees of subsidized businesses can expect to receive a base rate percentage that varies depending on how much revenues have dropped. If your business has lost more than 50% of revenues, an additional top-up rate will also apply. The maximum rate a business can receive as of claim periods 8-10 (October–December, 2020) is 65%. Check the Government of Canada website to get the latest information for the current claim period.
- For claim periods 1-4 (March-June, 2020)
- Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance. The Canada Emergency Rent Subsidy program provides rent subsidies of up to $75,000 per business location and up to $300,000 per business group (including any affiliate entities). Eligible businesses include for-profits, non-profits and charities. The amount businesses receive is a base rate percentage that varies depending on how much revenues have dropped. Businesses located in areas affected by public health restrictions may also qualify for an additional 25% through Lockdown Support. You can apply through your CRA My Business Account or through the Government’s “Represent a Client” service. Visit the Government of Canada website for more details.
- Canada Business Emergency Account. Until March 31, 2020, the federal government is guaranteeing up to $55 billion in interest-free loans to eligible small businesses. Lines of credit up to $60,000 will be available with a 0% interest rate to businesses that spent between $20,000 and $1,500,000 total on payroll in 2019. Once approved, businesses should be able to receive funds within a few days. If your loan is repaid by the end of 2022, then 33% of it will be forgiven (up to $22,000). Applications are now available through your financial institution. Businesses that already applied for CEBA funding under the previous lending limit of $40,000 can apply for a $20,000 expansion.
- Innovation Assistance Program (IAP). In April 2020, the government introduced the Innovation Assistance Program (IAP) to support innovative small- and medium-sized businesses with high potential. If you received this support between April 1 and June 23, 2020, you may be eligible to receive extended IAP funding that was made available in November, 2020. However, you can’t get IAP support at the same time as the CA Emergency Wage Subsidy or BCAP financing. Former IAP recipients will be contacted with more information.
- Government Work-Sharing Program. The government offers income support to prevent layoffs when a business’s normal level of activity is reduced because of circumstances beyond the employer’s control. To be eligible, employers and employees must sign and submit a work-sharing agreement together.
- Loans from the Business Development Bank of Canada (BDC) and Export Development Canada (EDC). In light of COVID-19, the government has devoted billions of dollars in extra funding to organizations like the BDC and EDC to provide additional loans to businesses that need support. Additionally, the Domestic Stability Buffer has been lowered so that banks can legally make somewhat riskier lending decisions to allow more businesses to qualify for financing.
- Financial relief from banks. Financial officials from the Canadian government have been in direct contact with representatives from some of the nation’s biggest banks (BMO, CIBC, National Bank of Canada, RBC, Scotiabank and TD) and have been assured that these banks will be flexible with making arrangements to help individuals affected by coronavirus. Requests will reportedly be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
- Innovation Canada database of business funding opportunities. Innovation Canada has a website has a large database of programs and services (including grants, subsidies, loans, tax credits and other sources of funding) that are available to businesses from private and public sources. Use the search tool to find opportunities that could suit your business.
- Business credit cards. Some business credit cards offer a low introdutory APRs, which let you make purchases or balance transfers without worrying about paying interest for a period of time. You may also get to earn rewards on your purchases and redeem those rewards for cash back, travel perks, merchandise and other benefits.
Will my business insurance cover lost income?
Businesses that hold business interruption insurance might assume lost income as a result of the outbreak is covered by their policy. But here’s the problem: Business interruption insurance is sometimes an extension of property insurance designed to cover damage to physical property after natural disasters (or the “named perils” in your policy). On the other hand, “comprehensive” business insurance may cover a much broader range of perils. However, in either case, pandemic such as COVID-19 are not usually covered.
Is it too late to get business insurance?
While it’s not too late to get coverage and many providers allow you to submit applications online, it may be difficult to find a provider willing to cover lost income as a result of the novel coronavirus outbreak. This is especially because insurance companies often exclude preexisting conditions/circumstances from coverage – so, if COVID-19 was hurting your business before you signed up for insurance, there’s a chance you won’t be covered for COVID-19-related damages regardless of your policy.
Many businesses across Canada are in the same boat and seeking support from business insurance providers. You may be better off pursuing government support or private funding options instead.
Businesses can navigate the COVID-19 outbreak by planning ahead, using resources and taking a proactive attitude. Stay up to date on the latest COVID-19 developments through our coronavirus hub.
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