Colorado’s economy is poised to open in fits and starts when the statewide stay-at-home order is lifted next week.
Businesses are preparing to take baby steps towards normalcy after Gov. Jared Polis said the most stringent limitations on residents’ movements due to COVID-19 will expire on April 26. Many restrictions remain in place. Haircuts and real estate showings can resume. Dining out, live music and baseball can’t.
Companies across a broad spectrum of industries are wrestling with how to balance social distancing with the needs of their business as they slowly bring employees back. Large offices will be allowed to operate at 50 percent capacity as the state enters the next phase of its response to the novel coronavirus.
Still, in many instances, the workday won’t look much different than it has for the past several weeks.
Bruce Wagner of Wagner Equipment, an Aurora-based Caterpillar equipment dealer, has 400 employees currently working from home. He won’t be calling them back to the office in the immediate future.
“I plan to take a more conservative approach,” said Mr. Wagner, who employs a total of 1,500 people across three states. “I can’t see putting 200 people back in our locations and our offices next week.”
At TTEC, a global customer-service outsourcing firm, nearly all of 783 workers employed in and around the company’s headquarters in Englewood are working from home, according to chief marketing officer Nick Cerise. TTEC is assessing how to bring its Colorado employees back to a physical space, but for now, management is comfortable having employees work from home.
“The last thing anybody wants is to see a resurgence of the virus, and so I do think employers are really going to be thoughtful no matter what the rules of the game here are,” said Kelly Brough, president and CEO of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce.
Some businesses have a more complicated calculation when it comes to reopening physical spaces. For retailers, who are theoretically reopening with appropriate social distancing and curbside pickup next week, there are more questions than answers right now, said Tami Door, president and CEO of the Downtown Denver Partnership.
Store owners are contending with securing protective gear for staff, deciding whether or not to accept cash, how often to clean signage and where to put tape on the floor to direct foot traffic, Door said. On top of that, customers won’t be able to handle products, taking away the tactile experience of shopping in a store, she said. For many, it’s unclear whether they will even have enough customers to make it worthwhile, Door said.
Different orders from different municipalities are leaving some businesses in limbo. The stay-at-home order from Denver mayor Michael Hancock currently runs through April 30. Taubman, the owner of the Cherry Creek Mall, says they don’t have a definitive answer yet on when they can open.
“While the governor may lift the stay-at-home order, we will follow suit with the mandates ordered by the City of Denver,” Taubman spokesperson Maria Mainville said in an email. “If we are able to open next week, we envision that resuming operations will be a gradual process.”
Economic incentives aren’t the only things to consider when it comes to getting people back to the office, said Jay Seaton, publisher of Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel. Seaton anticipates keeping the majority of the staff working remotely for at least a few more weeks, but is wary of the impact being isolated at home can have on mental health. He hopes to be able to loosen restrictions on people coming into the office before too long.
“The other side of this is, people start going nuts,” Seaton said. “Frankly, the office is where they get their adult interaction and social interaction, and those things are really important.”
Regardless of how companies decide to direct their plans to reopen, the business community will be prepared to reverse course should the need arise, Door said.
“The criteria are going to continue to evolve," she said. "If there is a change in the cases that is cause for deep concern, there will be an adjustment again."