The governor of Connecticut earlier this year signed an order shutting down non-essential businesses. Fortunately for our patients, medical cannabis made it onto the list of businesses that were deemed essential. Although this designation allows us to continue providing medical cannabis to our patients, it also creates a huge responsibility for our company to safeguard the staff who continue to work on the front lines.

Essential businesses are just that to the people and patients who depend on them. As they remain open, it’s important to acknowledge the stress and strain it puts on the lives of employees and their  families — even if like ours, they’re driven by a sense of duty to help patients.

The reality is that COVID-19 is not business as usual. Kids are home from school. A spouse or roommate may be out of a job. People are worried about becoming sick – or perhaps worse, infecting their families.  Everyone is dealing with a unique set of circumstances and the situation generally in their own way. To remain operational, businesses must accommodate a mix of different employee situations.

Strong leadership is fundamental to keeping your company running smoothly and ensuring consistent communication and enforcement of policies across departments. It is the executive team’s responsibility to help keep their workforce both physically and mentally healthy in the middle of this pandemic.

A healthy staff continues to be the most important resource right now. They can ensure the seamless performance of the supply chain, from cultivation to sales, in order to provide patients with uninterrupted access to their medicine.

Leaders must take a look at the hard realities of working in a pandemic and the real possibility that a considerable level of their workforce could come down with  COVID-19. Protocols need to be in place to avoid entire departments or shifts of employees from being affected by the virus.

This is a time-sensitive situation. It is important to move quickly to develop a strategy around this possibility. One option is to divide staff members into distinct teams so they can continue critical functions without physically interacting. In this way, growers working at the same grow site and pharmacists and technicians at the same dispensary are separated to contain infection, should it occur, and to stop it from spreading throughout the facility. Employees who can work remotely should continue to do so until further notice.

It is also important to allow flexibility for shift scheduling based on outside commitments and commute times, keeping in mind that the lives of many staffers, parents included, have been upended by the pandemic and the mass closure of schools. They need to know you understand what they are going through and that you are on their side.

As 20 million people have lost their jobs, many cannabis companies, including ours, are hiring. Hiring temporary workers not only helps to ease the burden of unemployment, it also helps companies meet demand as well as space out workers and help cover missing shifts. These new hires strengthen the workforce in the face of COVID-19.

In the first weeks of dealing with coronavirus, employees from every sector were dealing with the fear of the unknown. But by staying focused from the very beginning and communicating with staff on the significance of being deemed essential as well as the measures your company is taking to meet the unique challenges and risks, it’s possible to quell the stress.

Our employees have adapted extremely well. I’m proud of seeing how people adjust to the unknown while being conscious of their personal health and also of their colleagues while continuing to support the essential business of providing cannabis to our patients.

Now more than ever we know how crucial it is to concentrate on our employees as much as the patients who rely on the medicine we grow and produce. They’re all part of this great cycle, from plant to patient.

Nicole Leja is President of Curaleaf CT. The company grows, cultivates and dispenses cannabis in the state.

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