The coronavirus pandemic is causing widespread disruption on a global scale and will likely impact all industries, including the interior design trade. Because they work closely and often in-person with clients, interior designers have to make adjustments both to mitigate their personal risk while also maintaining close contact with their clients. In the coming weeks, we’ll plan to provide insight and tips from other designers in the industry about how they’re navigating this transition.
How to Minimize Exposure to COVID-19 for Employees, Vendors, and Clients
By now, you’ve almost certainly heard the term “social distancing”, which in the current context refers to the practice of reducing close contact between people to thwart community transmission of the coronavirus. As a team leader, you have a responsibility to facilitate social distancing among your employees and network of contacts. This may mean closing your office and having employees work from home, or at the very least, stagger the number of people in your office at the same time.
“This is uncharted territory for any business, but even more critical for a small business like ours. We are working with our management accounting firm, vendors, and credit card companies to determine the best course of action in case clients put projects on hold and/or there is a nationwide quarantine and we have to close the office. We have a daily meeting where we will discuss how we can implement a work from home strategy in case we have to close the office. Lastly, we are limiting our contact with clients, contractors, and vendors.” - Todd Howard Ezrin of TOBE DesignGroup
If you choose to close your office, you will need a plan to ensure workflow can continue as close to usual as possible. If you do not already have a policy and infrastructure to support a work- from -home scenario, draft one and share it with employees as soon as possible so that everyone can be on the same page in terms of expectations. There are several videoconferencing companies to rely upon for communication, including Google Hangouts, which is free and easy to use in the immediate term.
Public health experts recommend you leave six feet of space between potentially contaminated persons, which you may assume is everyone/anyone, since many people are silent carriers of the virus who show no symptoms. It is essential to practice vigilant hygiene practices, including washing hands regularly and disinfecting all surfaces, particularly high-touch areas like keyboards, light switches and doorknobs. Check in regularly with the CDC Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers website for updates, including those on best cleaning practices.
Beside the risk of contagion to yourself and your employees or coworkers, there are also big risks to your business posed by this pandemic.
1. Product supply: A large share of furniture and fixture manufacturers are located in Europe, where the dire effects of the coronavirus have triggered shutdowns of entire cities. Italy, an epicenter of luxury design, has been particularly devastated and may not resume a usual production schedule for several months. Of course, much of China, where COVID-19 originated, is currently under quarantine with no determined end date. It’s safe to assume that orders from overseas will be delayed. Luckily, 1stdibs.com, is a way to shop online and support small business artisans all at the same time.
2. Employee availability: Workflow in the US may also be affected, with several offices implementing work from home, and some businesses closing altogether for the foreseeable future. With a rapidly evolving situation such as the current crisis, it is reasonable to assume more closure and disruptions are coming. Another consideration is that with public schools closing across the country, parents without alternative childcare are forced into working from home- with a myriad of distractions.
“Where we are located, the COVID-19 restrictions aren’t really affecting our schedule with how we work or when the staff comes in. Currently, though, our office manager now has her children at home for the next several weeks and has to arrange for childcare in order for her to continue to work. Our bigger concern remains the supply lines and our clients economic outlook with the markets. Those two aspects cause me more stress. We have had a few clients call us to reschedule appointments because they were not feeling well, which we appreciate! As of right now, we haven’t had any orders affected; however, that could change in the future. I work hard to try to source product as locally as possible, so not much comes from overseas, but our entire industry is connected and falling dominoes can travel long distances!” -Michael Maszaros of Cabin Creek Interiors.
3. Client availability: Change in clients’ circumstances may also affect interior design projects underway or in the future pipeline. Not only may clients be in quarantine, which limits meetings and halts construction/installation, it is possible their financial situations become strained or unstable to the point they can no longer meet the commitment they have made to you. As a business owner, you will have to decide how to handle the breach of contracts, plus the impact the loss of business will have on your bottom line. It would be prudent to cut business costs immediately and develop a mitigation plan with your financial planner, accountant, bank and credit card providers.
Check out our recent webinar that we had with Financial Planner, Brad Clinard.
Many of the major design events of 2020 have been either cancelled or postponed, including the Spring High Point Market, which is tentatively rescheduled for June 12-14. More changes to the industry event schedule are likely, so stay tuned to the Design Manager blog for further updates.
But regardless of an event’s status, it's important to assess whether attending a large public event is the right choice for you. If you, or anyone you have frequent contact with, is considered high-risk, put your health first and take the greatest precautions. Staying healthy will allow you to pursue your passion for interior design when the worst of COVID-19 is behind us and the world resumes business as usual.
“We’re all in this together. It’s certainly a time for compassion and patience, with school closures and business changes. The need for flexibility and creativity is going to be critical in getting through this. We are all in uncharted territory here, aren’t we? And finding solutions will be the order of the day. Calm is contagious, too, and the human spirit is stronger than any virus that we encounter. We’re going to march right through this thing as a community, just like we do everything else.” – Jennifer La Caze of Jadestone Consulting
Ultimately, staying calm and resisting panic will help you make the best decisions for your interior design business in the long term. Being flexible with employees, clients and vendors, will protect the relationships you have been nurturing since you began your career. Now is the time to lead your team but also to lean on your community more than ever!
To continue to empower design businesses through these challenging times, Design Manager is offering free users through May, read our COVID-19 Response.