Why is it that the easing of quarantine restrictions beginning today have made many feel even more uneasy?
Now that the malls are open, offices are recalling employees from their work from home set-ups, and many companies declaring it will be business as usual, workers are leaving their homes literally fearing for their lives. We all need the security of having a job, but can our jobs also offer us security and safety from COVID-19?
With the release of the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) Advisory No. 18, series of 2020, it became clear that employers will be responsible for COVID-19 prevention and control measures in the workplace. That goes from testing to disinfection facilities to hand sanitizers, to personal protective equipment and signages, to proper orientation and training of workers. Moreover, while taking the lead, employers cannot pass on any of the costs to their people. The conglomerates and bigger firms may be able to take this in stride, but what about smaller and medium-sized businesses?
Amidst the confusion that surround the whats, whens, whys, and hows businesses can get back on their feet, I asked a 25-year old retail company to share how it is managing to stay open as the pandemic rages on.
Founded in 1995, Healthy Options is the country’s first and only all-natural products store chain.With 32 stores nationwide, it counts around 300 regular employees in its stores as well as back-end operations.
Because of the nature of its business, Healthy Options was classified as "essential" so it was allowed to continue store operations throughout the enhanced community quarantine (ECQ) and modified ECQ (MECQ).
However, managing director Romy Sia soon found out that there were many more problems ahead.
“Due to the absence of public transport and strict lockdowns imposed by various local government units, many of our employees couldn’t report for work. So, only 22 out of our 32 stores were able to stay open from mid-March to mid-May. Under the MECQ, we were able to reopen six more stores,” he said.
Things may be looking bleak but Sia was reminded of the late Henry Sy who built the first supermall in North EDSA in 1985 at the height of a political and economic crisis.
“Never let a crisis go to waste is a good mantra, meaning there will always be good opportunities even in a crisis for people with cash and innovative ideas,” shared Sia.
He added that the top priority now for all business owners is to restart their business as soon as possible to provide employment and livelihood to their people.
“The coming months are going to be very tough for everyone but [they need to] adapt or die,” Sia advised.
In the meantime, Sia generously offered 7 lessons he learned while running Healthy Options during the ECQ and MECQ.
#1 Keep communications lines open
“To reassure our people during the ECQ, I regularly sent emails to keep everyone informed and updated of the safety measures we’re doing to keep them safe,” Sia said.
Many employers were caught flat-footed by the pandemic and according to DOLE, over 80,000 businesses temporarily closed shop when the quarantine was imposed. One of the industries severely affected by the pandemic is retail so Sia staying in touch with his employees was a smart move.
#2 Promising jobs are safe from COVID-19
Sia said he also promised his team that “I do not wish to add to the companies that are laying off people.”
That’s quite a bold declaration that not many employers were able to do. As of May 23, DOLE reported some 2.7 million workers were affected by the pandemic. That’s about 6.3 percent of the country’s workforce of 42.65 million Filipinos.
DOLE also recorded at least 102,607 commercial establishments nationwide have either closed shop or adopted flexible work arrangements. Both scenarios affected affect the income of workers.
#3 Inviting employees to come to work, if they can
“During the ECQ, reporting for duty was entirely voluntary. Nobody was forced to work if they didn’t want to. But everyone adapted very quickly thanks to our mostly Millennial employees who proved to be highly committed, resilient, and flexible in times of crisis. Many volunteered to report for work not only to support their families but also to serve our customers and the local community,” Sia proudly pointed out.
#4 Taking care of your people, so they will take care of you
The absence of public transport was a major problem for Sia and his people.
“In the first chaotic week of the ECQ, we were able to solve the transport problem by having our managers use their company cars to ferry store employees to and from work. Then we hired shuttle service vehicles soon afterwards (to the relief of the managers!). We plan to continue the shuttle service for our frontline employees until June or July. This way, we don’t risk our employees’ safety in queuing for public transport,” he said.
Beyond transportation, Sia also offered accommodation with free meals.
“When the shuttle service is not practical or available, we are providing accommodation with free meals.”
And how did his people pay Sia back?
“Everyone quickly adapted to the new mode of work. They also discovered a new sense of purpose – to defeat Covid-19 and not let it ruin their lives by doing their best to serve our anxious customers.”
#5 Plus hazard pay, because there is a pandemic raging on
“All employees who reported for work during ECQ were given daily hazard pay plus free lunch. Non-mission critical employees worked from home to keep the operations running smoothly,” related Sia.
“For me, this crisis is a revelation to the true character, caliber and toughness of our people, especially my leadership team. I was very happy to see them rise to the challenge in the hour of need and assisted me in crisis management.”
#6 Healthy Options made healthier for staff and customers
Accoding to Sia: “We were early to put in the safety measures (face masks, thermal scanners, hand sanitizers, floor markers for social distancing, etc.) to make our people feel safe to come to work. Naturally, all these measures entail extra expenses, but we believe it’s a small price to pay to give peace of mind to both our employees and customers.”
These extras paid off when Sia saw they attracted even more customers.
“In times of crisis, people naturally stick to the brands they know and trust. And this was proven by our customers who, despite the quarantine and travel restrictions, still chose to come and shop personally in our stores.”
#7 Turning the crisis into an online store
During a crisis, most people start to look inward and for ways to pull back. Sia decided to forge ahead and launch the Healthy Options online shop.
“We have been planning to launch our e-commerce site for the past 2 to 3 years but when COVID-19 hit and ECQ was imposed, we got it up in just two weeks! Albeit a basic one (i.e. without the membership privileges like rebate vouchers and discount) but our customers love it. When we launched shop.healthyoptions.com.ph in early April, we attracted even more new customers.”
Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.