Safely Reopening Your Business During COVID-19
Jun 16, 2020 12:35PM
The massive shutdown of businesses from the Covid-19 pandemic has been one of the most dramatic economic disruptions in history. In many parts of the country states are easing restrictions on businesses and they are cautiously resuming operations. This caution is warranted as public health officials tell us that rushing to reopen without protective measures could lead to future waves of infection and another shutdown.
If you’re a small business owner that’s been given the green light to reopen, how do you do it in a safe and responsible way? The task may seem daunting but take heart, there are two powerful forces working in your favor. First, you’ve got plenty of support from a variety of organizations including government organizations like the SBA, SBDC, along with small business associations and non-profits such as GROW, LocalFirst and the Grand Rapids Chamber. You also have sympathy, loyalty and pent up demand from your customers. In fact, according to Kelli Smith, Director of Lending at GROW, some of the best resources for businesses are customers and peer companies.
Second, there are templates and guidelines about how to reopen already available. Many companies have adjusted operations because they never shut down. These businesses can provide a road map for businesses like yours, which are ramping up again. Of course, much depends on what kind of business you have, how many employees, the location of the work, and the location and volume of customer interactions.
According to Smith, “We’re all in the same storm but we’re riding it out in different boats.”
Below are some key ideas to keep in mind that apply across a range of businesses.
Before you open, have a plan.
Smith sees this as perhaps the key issue for reopening. Don’t assume you will simply flip the sign over and it will be business as usual. Understand the financial path ahead, think in phases, get input from industry professionals and most importantly, “be prepared to pivot, especially based on customer feedback.” A good plan takes into account two key groups – employees and customers.
The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) recently issued guidelines to better protect workers from Covid-19:
•Discourage them from using other workers’ phones, desks, offices, or other work tools and equipment.
•Install high-efficiency air filters or increase ventilation.
•Have a plan for immediately isolating employees or customers who become sick in your workplace.
•Replace face-to-face conversations — internally as well as those with customers, clients, and vendors--with phone calls or other remote forms of communication as much as possible.
According to Smith, “Your employees are your walking, talking billboard.” They will tell others whether they feel safe or unsafe. And this could affect the second key group, your customers.
It’s not enough to follow CDC guidelines and keep your customers safe. They need to see these precautions and feel safe. Government leaders may ease restrictions; however, customers will ultimately decide when and how they reconnect with businesses and who they feel is looking out for their safety.
Understand that safety measures will affect sales and profits.
•Safety materials for workers. Protective and cleaning equipment such as masks, gloves, sanitizers and temperature monitoring equipment may be needed. Office modifications could include warning signs on commonly touched objects, greater distance between office cubes or installing panels between them.
•Process changes to reduce employee interaction and congregation. OSHA recommends measures such as alternating workdays or extra shifts that reduce the total number of employees in a facility at a given time. Nonessential travel to locations with ongoing Covid-19 outbreaks should be postponed. If some workers can do their work from home, they should.
•Modifications to employee/customer interactions. These include limiting the volume of customers coming into your business and modifying how customers interact with your staff such as distancing in checkout lines. Customers may also need masks, sanitizers, and signs to control movement through your location. These steps could reduce the amount of business you will conduct on a given day.
After you open, be proactive and responsive.
•Monitor employee health. In addition to the measures mentioned above, some employers are taking their employee’s temperature daily. Depending on the availability of testing, some employers are considering offering it at the work site.
•Be prepared to handle issues over new restrictions. Be clear about your company’s policies and procedures from mask requirements to changes in routes through the location. Both employees and customers should know exactly what is expected of them and what will happen if policy is not followed. This can include new cleaning and sanitizing protocols, too.
It’s a time of great stress for small businesses. “The unknown is the greatest challenge,” Smith noted. But it’s also a time of innovation. She also shared that companies are being creative and finding new revenue streams they never would have four months ago. The key is planning, reaching out for support, and continuing to move forward.