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Is the ‘Covid Chafe’ Irritating Your Startups?

It’s time for you to be the balm

Photo by Kristopher Roller on Unsplash

Seems like a lot of people are “chafing about COVID” these days, at least those I see working in my building. I don’t mean got-sand-in-their-swimsuit-and-rubbed-their-skin-raw chafe. (Who gets to go to the beach during a pandemic?) I mean they’re irritated and annoyed at “this whole COVID thing” and it’s wearing them down.

The word “chafe” can mean to irritate, scratch, abrade, wear down, annoy or bother. It can also mean “become or make annoyed or impatient because of a restriction or inconvenience.” Let me just state, for the record, that I’ve seen all of the above synonyms and definitions exhibited in the behavior of people in my building in the past few months. It’s justified, of course, but as an incubator director or manager, you can calm your clients. Be the balm.

What’s not to chafe?

Why are people “chafing over COVID”? Well, first off, it’s basic human nature. Dealing with the pandemic has included and continues to include ( ad nauseam) both a restriction and an inconvenience. Wearing a mask is a hassle; it can get itchy, scratchy, hot, and irritating — in short, it chafes — especially outdoors in the “lovely” weather we’ve been having here in Florida (“ Hell’s Half Acre” comes to mind, but climate change is a different topic).

Social distancing is frustrating, and it is particularly chafing when the people you couldn’t hear when they were up close now have to stand six feet away and speak through a mask. Yeah, right. “Mumble mumble mumble” is the gist of the conversation that I can discern these days.

Then there’s the hand sanitizer situation — it’s the new cologne or perfume of 2020. Most of the time it chafes us. It not only stinks, it’s harsh on your skin and dispensers don’t seem to grasp the fine line between having enough on your hands to do the job versus enough to take a bath in the stuff.

Plus, let’s throw in face shields as the ultimate chafe — what am I, a welder? They look weird, make it harder to breathe (plus, who wants to smell their own breath) and they’re not easy to wear.

All terrible stuff, eh? Well, compared to illness and death, not really — just an inconvenience that may save your life. It’s not unusual for us (as people, as Americans, etc.) to complain about being inconvenienced. After all, we’re used to having it our way, and doing our own thing, and living like we want to live. Well, not anymore.

We’re in a new age, a new dimension, a new reality — and we are stressed. When we’re chafed, we are REALLY stressed. However, taking care to wear masks, to socially distance, to use sanitizer, to be careful can save our life (and the lives of others), so in the end, it’s worth the hassle.

Consider your chafing clients

But what about your clients? (If you aren’t an incubator director and don’t have startups as your clients but instead manage employees, consider them.) Why are they “chafing,” besides the inconveniences I mentioned we experience to prevent the spread of COVID-19? Frankly, those issues are “small stuff.”

Right now, they’re probably stressed over finances — doing business isn’t quite as easy as it used to be. It is certainly different than it was. The shutdown hurt many companies, and since we’re not done with COVID, as much as we might like to be, the threat of another shutdown or some type of business-life-threatening restriction isn’t gone either. What affects our clients’ customers affects our clients.

In addition, our clients are chafing over employees — what if they have employees who are ill, who are out for long periods of time, or even worse? What if an employee contracts COVID-19 and works in the office or lab before the person is diagnosed? The potential of spread, even if it’s never proven, requires increased sanitation efforts, contact tracing, testing, and more.

Employees chafe over employees. They hear rumors of potential cases in the building, and they start questioning why the company is back to work. They listen to the news — yes, some of it “fake news” — and they want to drill down within county or even ZIP code stats because they are afraid the office is a hot spot. This is a real challenge for companies trying to lead their business into the land of the living — safely and fearlessly, if such a thing can be.

In addition, company heads are likely chafed by suppliers. If they manufacture something, they may experience trials trying to get parts and supplies. They’re chafed because they can’t network, they can’t socialize, they can’t find employees (and if they do, having them travel in for an interview is probably out of the question). So what can you — as a manager or as an incubator director — do to alleviate this stress?

Be the balm

Listen to your clients. Help them understand this is temporary; as they say, “This, too, shall pass.” Help them to see the potential future. Give them hope. Keep things calm, focused and directed, and remind them to “stick with the plan” and move forward.

Enlist the assistance of your mentors and advisors; make sure you’re all on the same page and giving the same level of service you’ve always given. Advise your clients. Counsel them. Mentor them. (They are different.) As an advisor, offer strategies. As a counselor, exchange opinions and advice and help your clients find a solution. As a mentor, connect or come alongside to share your expertise.

Be one or be all. Team with your mentors and advisors to be what your clients need most. It may be the balm they need.

In addition, provide the best and safest workspace you can for them. Don’t just make the place safe and clean. Tell your clients exactly what you are doing and why it makes the building safe. Tell them how they can help keep the space safe. Post signs reminding them of all the things I mentioned above that chafe them physically — masks, distance, clean hands. Encourage conference calls instead of conference rooms. Limit access to the building to those who work there.

Until we know more, practice what we do believe will prevent the spread. Communicate the message to everyone in the building. If masks or distancing are required, enforce it. Don’t undermine your own efforts.

Communicate as soon as you know you have a positive case in the building — and, of course, reassure your clients that the affected clients are in isolation and affected areas sanitized. Make sure contact tracing happens — and then communicate that it has happened. Relieve their anxiety by being transparent (while abiding by HIPAA laws).

All of these efforts will make you the stable force, the balm that a manager needs to be to help shore up the confidence of their clients.

After all, who likes to be chafed? Not us, and certainly not them. But provide the calm in this storm we call COVID and help your clients endure this trying time. It will soothe you, too, and pay off for everyone. Full speed ahead, and darn the COVID chafe!

Mark Long has long experienced the intricacies of business incubation, acceleration, coworking spaces, makerspaces and other entrepreneurial assistance venues. UF Innovate supports an innovation ecosystem that moves research discoveries from the lab to the market, making the world a better place.

Originally published at http://incubatorblogger.wordpress.com on July 21, 2020.

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UF Innovate connects innovators with entrepreneurs, investors and industry; incubates startups and growth companies; and fosters a resilient innovation ecosystem — all in an effort to make the world a better place.

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Tech Licensing, Ventures, Pathways, and Accelerate, which includes two business incubators, The Hub and Sid Martin Biotech. We build business on innovation.

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