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How local businesses can adapt to a post-COVID pandemic environment

Web developer Annie Davis works on her laptop at Salt Mine Productive Workspace in Sandy on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.
Web developer Annie Davis works on her laptop at Salt Mine Productive Workspace in Sandy on Wednesday, May 13, 2020.
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The coronavirus pandemic has forced businesses and the individuals who provide the labor force to rethink how to operate in the workplace. With the transmission of a potentially deadly virus on the top of everyone’s mind, the status quo will no longer suffice, a Utah professor notes.

“It’s obviously a whole new ballgame. And in many respects, we’ve been here before — if you want to go back to the Great Depression, if you want to go back to the Great Recession, the impact has been monumental,” said Salt Lake Community College economics professor Dennis Watson. “Businesses, out of necessity, have to find a cheaper way to do business.”

Employers around the country are making adjustments and implementing new policies to enhance safety for employees, customers and anyone else who visits their workspace. In Utah, those changes includes increased physical distancing in retail establishments such as stores and restaurants or staggered scheduling in office buildings where worker density can be an issue.

Analysts contend that these kinds of changes will be necessary for businesses to remain viable in the post-COVID-19 world that will also include increasing operational efficiency.

“Any employee feels that we’re going to go right back to normal the way it was — for some businesses, that’s probably going to be the case,” Watson said. “For other businesses, the new norm will have very little resemblance to the way it was. We’re learning a lot as a result of this pandemic.”

He said businesses must be flexible and rethink their approach to selling their goods and services. Restaurants with takeout services have to regularly sanitize their venues and maintain proper conditions at all times, in addition to providing convenience to their customers and being adaptable to new trends such as cashless transactions.

“Cash is dirty, it carries germs and any way to get rid of that is going to help,” Watson said.

For other businesses, making deliveries more readily available will help boost viability, as well as promoting working remotely when possible, he added. Among the other options many employers will begin to reconsider is how to yield a profit via lower costs.

“The No. 1 cost is employee expense, so businesses will analyze it and just say, ‘Do we need all the employees? Are we going to bring back everybody that we are furloughed? Did we find new ways to do things?’” Watson explained. “A business owner and entrepreneur that is doing that is going to survive. Those that just say, ‘Well come on back everybody, we’ll go ramp up to where we were’ is probably going to be facing some real headwinds and real challenges from a competitive standpoint because their competitor is always finding a way to do it cheaper.”

For workers to stay on the payroll, they must increase their productivity, show their value to the employer while realizing their wages may remain stagnant unless they consider adding new skills, he said.

As some enterprises are weighing drastic changes to their business model, others are instituting new policies to mitigate the health risks of COVID-19.

“Much of what we did was helping people gather, connect and learn,” explained David Edmonds, founder of Salt Mine Productive Workspace in Sandy. “And that means that several tech companies and educational institutions use our space to gather many people. That’s over now.”

He said organizations that used to reserve event space now do their gathering virtually, which forced his venue to make some changes to the way it operates.

“What we did for the six weeks that we closed our community area was use team members to do a lot of deep cleaning and then really kind of pivot on some of our offerings,” he said.

They began offering video livestream as a service as well as Zoom (virtual meeting) integration. He said the space is set up as half private offices and dedicated desks, with the other half designated for larger communal gathering — which was closed down for six weeks. He said while the “faucet turned off,” the business has been able to resume some functionality and hope to business pick up later this summer.

Until then, he expects many people to continue working from home as they wait out the worst of the coronavirus outbreak.

“Just like 9/11, COVID is a moment in history that will change the way we live, think, travel and work,” Edmonds said. “The good news for co-working operators is that the romance of working at home I think is over. People are built for community, so I don’t think that everyone will always work in their basements or their closets forever.”

Last week, one of Salt Lake City’s high-profile lodging destinations, the Grand America Hotel, hosted the Republican gubernatorial debate under strict guidelines to maintain safety between candidates and others in attendance. The forum was the first event at the Grand America since the coronavirus shutdown.

The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
The Grand America Hotel in Salt Lake City is pictured on Tuesday, May 12, 2020.
Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The number of people allowed in the ballroom was kept close to 20, with others sent to an overflow room or the individual green rooms assigned to each candidate.

Hotel employees are required to wear face coverings in public areas and follow physical distancing protocols. On-property first responders are trained in first aid, biohazard cleanup and cardiopulmonary resuscitation and also receive additional training on COVID-19 awareness to help make better-informed decisions, according to the hotel website.

High traffic areas are cleaned and sanitized several times a day. Additionally, eMist Electrostatic Disinfectant Sprayers are included as part of disinfecting public areas.