All 50 states have started allowing some businesses to reopen, with limitations, after the coronavirus pandemic. For most businesses, particularly those that serve the public and have a physical presence, reopening will be a slow and careful process.
Local and state requirements vary widely, so it’s essential to check in with those authorities for guidance. Not just before you reopen your business, but routinely as conditions evolve and requirements change.
If you’re a sole proprietor working from home, restarting should be relatively easy. But the more employees and contractors you have, and the more in-person customers you serve, the more carefully you should plan a phased approach to reopening. Consider these tips for getting your business up and running after a pandemic-related shutdown:
• Research federal resources: As a starting point, bookmark and familiarize yourself with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Small Business Administration (SBA), and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Research similar resources for the state(s) and municipalities where your business operates.
• Planning is key: Though it may be tempting, you can’t just open the front door and turn on the lights. Before you can reopen, you need a coordinated plan that accounts for disease transmission trends in your community as well as your employees’ and customers’ health and safety. Your reopening plan should be tailored for your specific workplace, identify all job functions that expose workers to possible transmission, and include specific strategies for minimizing exposure. When it’s complete, share your plan with workers so everyone understands what’s expected during this unusual recovery period. Be prepared to revise your plan as new data comes in.
• Steps to minimize transmission: Encourage sick employees to stay home, and consider implementing on-site or remote health checks as a precaution. If you do, conduct any on-site testing and health checks respectfully and safely. Establish return-to-work protocols that balance people’s need to work and your responsibility to provide a safe working environment. This helps build confidence that it’s safe for workers and customers to return to your business.
• Assess your risk: Before reopening, you should do a comprehensive review of the premises to flag any potential hazards, so you can address them before reopening. What personal protective equipment (PPE) do your workers need for the specific jobs they perform? Do you have adequate supplies? Does the space need to be reconfigured to allow for social distancing?
• Modify your business location as needed: Check the ventilation to make sure air is being filtered properly and recirculated often. Take a good look at workspaces to ensure that social distancing can continue. Consider Plexiglas® or other partitions and barriers, especially in areas where customers interact with staff. Retail businesses should have payment systems that come as close to contact-free as possible to minimize contagion. Reinforce social distancing guidelines with signage that’s friendly, clear and supportive. When feasible, offer curbside pickup and delivery options.
• Manage proactively: Your communication skills are critical as you start the reopening process. Make sure your employees and contractors know what symptoms to monitor themselves for, along with whom to notify and where to get help if they experience indications. Advise suppliers and partners about your policies and any adaptations you implement along the way. Continue avoiding large meetings and gatherings when possible by relying on technology. Modify work schedules to accommodate workers and reduce onsite traffic during peak periods.
• Clean early and often: Thoroughly clean and disinfect before you reopen; repeat the process during periods when your business is closed to the public. If you don’t have a cleaning checklist, develop one now to be sure your workplace gets properly scrubbed consistently. Be sure disinfecting and other preventive steps are taken every day. Focus on bathrooms and areas where you display merchandise, ring up sales and interact with customers.
• Bring workers up to speed: Provide thorough and ongoing training to reduce health risks, even on topics you might not have covered before, like basic hygiene, hand-washing, social distancing, and different types of face masks. Be sure to cover your reopening plan in detail. Distribute copies to all workers, so everyone follows the same guidelines. If possible, assign a key staff member to implement and monitor ongoing cleaning activities. Acknowledge the added stress of the situation and consider offering access to counseling services.
The process of reopening your business will require patience and flexibility as you, your workers and customers adapt to the new normal. What will the long-term effects look like? There’ll be plenty of time in the years ahead to identify new perspectives and key takeaways. For now, try to focus on staying healthy and getting your business back up and running safely. For help with resources and information, contact our small business professionals at 1-855-WHY-PANGO (1-855-949-7264).