If Schools Close

In times of COVID-19, business continuity plans are essential to help employees with school-age children

As it turns out, pandemics and natural disasters both give businesses and communities the same amount of warning: none. In the wake of COVID-19’s disruptions, many spa retailers have been swapping notes to help adapt to a new normal, which has especially affected parents with school-age children.

Rachael Pritz, vice president of RB Pool and Spa Software in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, says she was lucky her team was able to move all operations to remote work immediately in March when schools and businesses started to close. They plan to continue remote work through the end of the year.

“I would say 98% of employees have taken advantage [of the remote work option],” Pritz says. “This spring was a nightmare, to say the least. When this whole thing broke out in March, I was working at home with my kids while they were doing school online, so that was a challenge.”

Pritz opted to place her elementary-age children in private school this fall so they can go to school five days per week, because most public schools are operating with an online/in-person hybrid model, which does not work for her family.

Kathi Belcourt, retail manager of Aqua-Tech in Manitoba, Canada, says most of her team does have school-age children, but their local schools are now open full time with reduced class sizes.

“We have always been very flexible with our staff in terms of arrival and departure times for their day, but now more than ever,” Belcourt says. “Our team tells us the days and times they can work, and we create schedules around that.”

At the start of the pandemic, Belcourt had many staff who chose to isolate, which created staffing issues. To help counteract, Aqua-Tech hired more people to broaden their resources. They also set up remote working capabilities. 

“There is a huge amount of staff appreciation for this build-your-own-schedule model, so even when COVID-19 is no longer an issue, we will likely keep going in this vein,” Belcourt says.

Theodora Sergio, vice president and COO of Nicholas Pools in Toms River, New Jersey, says her retail location experiences were very similar to Belcourt’s, except their systems were built to be able to login from home, making remote work easier to accommodate upfront.

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“Now that school is back in session, some of our employees have to go back to flex hours,” Sergio says. “Our schools are all different. One of my employee’s children are all in school face-to-face, and another one of my employees has a 10-year-old son at home. She leaves around 3 p.m. to go home and help him with his virtual learning.”

Rachael Pritz, vice president of RB Pool and Spa Software in Monroeville, Pennsylvania, with husband Brian and children Ainsley (age 9) and Hudson (age 5). Pritz says she has been working from home with her family throughout most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

When it comes to preparing your business for the worst, Karen Shannon, vice president of business consulting at Ollis/Akers/Arney Business Advisors in Springfield, Missouri, says a little prep work and communications can make a huge difference.

“Open, frank conversations are needed to determine the needs of each employee, which will not be a one-size-fits-all solution,” Shannon says. “Some will have support from spouses, family and friends, while others carry the load alone.”

Shannon has been advising her clients to take a look at a number of things, including their business continuity plan for the fall and winter. She anticipates continued setbacks in various communities related to COVID-19 management.

A business continuity plan outlines procedures an organization will follow in the face of disasters; it covers business processes, assets, human resources, business partners and more. Shannon cited several scheduling solution examples that should be outlined within a business continuity plan at this time.

“Employers should ensure they are making benefits available under the new Emergency Paid Sick Leave (EPSL) and Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act (EFMLEA), if applicable,” Shannon says. “Additionally, they can make other benefits more accessible than stated in their policies during this time such as vacation, sick leave, paid time off, extended illness banks, personal time or leaves, etc.”

She also encourages businesses to continue to be creative during these unusual times. A few ideas include various flexible work arrangements such as teleworking, compressed work weeks, core hours and split shifts.

“An employee may be able to work from home and perform their job early in the morning before assisting children with learning, then complete their workday later in the afternoon and evening,” Shannon says. “A flexible work agreement and work plan that both employee and the manager sign is recommended to document expectations and work schedules.”

Belcourt says if she could give any advice to other retailers, it’s to continue to practice patience. “We need to be extra patient and even better-than-usual communicators of our expectations,” Belcourt says. “We need to focus on our ability to make people’s lives healthier and happier. We need to bring this to every interaction with every customer and with every team member. If this becomes our focus, the sales numbers naturally follow.”