The events of 2020 have required agility, heightened communication, and new regulations that have put small businesses to the test. To keep up and running during the COVID 19 pandemic, reopening business guidelines have been issued to ensure safety and well-being for both employees and customers. These include an updated cleaning and sanitization plan, communication strategy, business needs assessment, and contingencies as the pandemic has only shown the need for adapting swiftly and executing effectively.
Implement Safety Measures for Employees and Customers
As a small business, it’s mandatory to follow the requirements as enforced by national and state guidelines, which means regularly checking for updates and new resources to help you during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has provided guidance on how to reopen business operations safely, which includes regular cleaning, disinfection, and maintaining safe behavioral practices, such as social distancing and mask mandates.
Plan a schedule for employees regarding which areas need regular sanitization and when it will occur. Urge employees to wash their hands frequently and stay at home if they’re feeling sick or may have been exposed to coronavirus. Many small businesses already have high cleaning standards in place.
Most local reopening business guidelines also temporarily limit how many customers can be in the store at once. This reopening protocol requires having an employee stationed near the door to check for how many people are in the space at a time. This person may also be in charge of taking employee and/or customer temperatures, if deemed necessary for your business.
As you reopen, now is a chance to revisit your current policies and review where updates need to be made and areas where you can cross-check that you’re operating as safely as possible. A quick checklist includes:
- Take inventory and purchase cleaning products and sanitizers during and after business hours. The rate of replacement is likely much higher when compared to this time last year.
- Post reminders of proper hand washing (at least 20 seconds) and sanitizing surfaces. Wipe down counters, door handles, and other commonly touched areas on a consistent basis.
- Supply personal protective equipment, including masks and gloves, and guide employees on how to enforce similar protocols for customers and guests.
- Create social distancing markers and/or rearrange layouts to accommodate for at least six feet of distance for employees at work and customers waiting in line.
- Monitor employee health daily by taking temperatures and monitoring symptoms. Make sure employees are aware of updated work from home or sick time policies to ensure they remain isolated as much as possible if they feel ill without fear of repercussion.
Communicate Frequently with Updates, Big and Small
Both employees and customers are looking to you for answers as to how to proceed. Once there’s a clear business continuity action plan in place, it will instill confidence in others when operating if it’s communicated on a regular basis. A few tips to keep in mind are:
- Be clear about what’s required during business hours. At a minimum, this should include masks worn by all and maintaining at least six feet of distance. If your business has limited capacity, create a place for those waiting to stand in line where they can maintain their distance from others.
- Share updates on your social media channels when hours change or new options are available, such as curbside delivery. The goal is to make it comfortable for customers to frequent your business and for the employee to feel like they can do their job well.
- Be as transparent as possible when changes occur. If your state has implemented certain restrictions, share these changes, why they are taking place, and the projected timeline of how long they’ll be enforced. In a time of uncertainty, everyone wants to get the most up-to-date information possible.
As a small business owner, coronavirus-related state and local regulations are new for you as well. Take time to process reopening business continuity guidelines before deciding and sharing how you want to proceed. Communities want their small businesses to thrive, which means they’ll be ready to support you in any way they can.
Assess Basic Business Needs
The opening and closures of small businesses and the limitations the COVID 19 pandemic has caused has left many looking at what revenue will cover their most basic business operation needs. Seek out resources from federal, state, and local financial aid programs and resources, such as the employee retention tax credit under the CARES Act and disaster assistance loans from the U.S. Small Business Administration.
Work with a lean staff in the beginning as you slowly reopen for business. Figure out if this means bringing back a full staff a few at a time or a smaller staff to take on a greater task load in the absence of additional team members. Choose the key personnel you need in place to keep the business operating at its most basic level and set markers for when you’ll hire more personnel.
Plan for Contingencies in Preparation for Obstacles
As much as you clean, set up your space for social distancing, and communicate changes, there’s likely to be obstacles along the way. Consider scenarios that may occur to help you feel more prepared when these challenges arise.
- Do you have a business continuity plan if a temporary shutdown of in-person operations goes into effect again?
- How can you get ahead of communication regarding shipping delays?
- What changes or investments can you put into place now that will serve you in the future?
As an example, many local restaurants had to switch tactics when the pandemic began and offer to-go meals only before switching to largely outdoor dining. Many expanded their current outdoor spaces or created makeshift seating arrangements to keep their doors open. As they start to slowly reopen for inside dining, having extra outdoor space already available offers a contingency plan if the mandate is enforced once again.
Small businesses across all industries have strategized ways to limit contact, which likely will remain intact indefinitely. These protocols include touchless payment options and QR codes to scan menus or offerings, as well as automatic doors and touch-free water refill stations. As more operations go online, update your cybersecurity to ensure safety for the long-term. Technology plays a big role in business to help streamline operations and in this case, keep people as safe as possible.
Best Practices for How to Run Business Operations During Pandemic
When considering the health of your employees and the state of your small business, being adaptable is key. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind to allow everyone to feel protected.
- Adjust sick policies. Employees must feel like they can stay home when they’re not feeling well or when needed to take care of a family member without the fear of punishment. Assess whether your business can accommodate telework, emergency sick leave, on-call employees, and flexible work arrangements.
- Create clear signage for your storefronts and business windows that include mask requirements, social distancing, and any other policies that will help maintain the safety of everyone as best as possible. This may also involve guidelines for store capacity or information about temporary closures during the day for sanitization.
- Promote cleaning protocols. The majority of small businesses already have signage and regulations in place to wash hands frequently. In addition to this, make hand sanitizer, tissues, gloves, and masks readily available for all.
- Identify and prioritize areas of your business. When following guidelines for how to reopen business safely, there are certain parts of your business operations that may be limited or temporarily put on-hold. Focus on the areas where your business and customers can benefit most during the pandemic, such as implementing virtual solutions when possible.
- Communicate regularly with supply chains. Production and delivery for all businesses are working overtime to meet the demands as best as possible. Make sure you know when orders may be delayed so you can pass that information along to your customers.
Encouraging a Positive Attitude Among Your Team
Small business has always been the heart of local communities, and they understand what it takes to succeed against all economic climates. One of the best things you can do as you begin to navigate how to reopen business safely is maintain a positive attitude for the sake of your team. Turn to your community for feedback and support. Show appreciation for loyal customers, and focus on movement forward, no matter how small it may seem.
Although the stress of a small business owner is ongoing, the ability to guide your team through the pandemic with positivity and transparency is beneficial for all. That’s not to ignore the challenges of what this time has brought, but to find solutions and leave room for mistakes as everyone continues to learn how to operate during this highly difficult time. Don’t forget to alter physical arrangements for a meeting that meet social distancing guidelines to get your team on the same page regarding reopening.
As the country keeps moving forward, there will be new plans and innovative ways to operate. RIght now, implement reopening business guidelines that employees can easily refer back to as needed. A clear direction and strong mindset go a long way to successfully sustain your small business.