The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the United States economically. Many states started to relax lockdown orders over the past two months. The re-opening efforts have provided an economic boon to the owners of small and medium-sized businesses.
But how do you reopen safely? What can you do to protect your employees and customers safe? Is it reasonable to reopen or should you wait? These are all pressing questions in the minds of business owners.
Keep reading to get tips on reopening your business the right way.
The Key Considerations for Reopening
If your business is in a state where reopening is an option, below are the primary details to consider before you do so:
- Your state’s guidelines for reopening
- The nature of your business
- The safety of your employees
- The safety of your customers
State guidelines for reopening can vary widely based on a variety of factors. You should check to make sure you understand legal requirements set forth by the state (or states) in which you operate. For example, you may need to put social distancing markers in place or install plexiglass shields.
The nature of your business plays a role as well. If you can safely maintain social distancing between employees and customers, it will be easier to reopen than it would be if employees must come into direct contact with customers.
Of course, the safety of everybody involved is paramount.
Prepare Your Office or Store for Reopening
Once you’ve decided to reopen, it may be helpful to create a checklist. You can use it to work through state requirements and any additional precautions you’ve decided to take. Below is a helpful checklist from the US Chamber of Commerce:
- Make a plan that incorporates recommendations from local, state, and federal officials. You can find the CDC guidelines for businesses here, and their cleaning and sanitization protocols here.
- Buy supplies and make any required preparations. These may include adding social distancing markers on floors, installing plexiglass barriers to protect employees, and other measures.
- Completely clean and disinfect all areas of your business.
- Create a schedule for maintenance of cleanliness. Regularly touched surfaces will need to be cleaned and disinfected at least once a day.
Remember that it’s your responsibility as a business owner to create a safe space for every single customer who steps foot on the premises.
Prepare Your Employees to Reopen
The health and safety of your employees must be a priority when you reopen. Your communication with them should be clear and compassionate. The following measures will help:
- Communicate your intention to reopen to employees.
- Identify essential job functions.
- If you have laid off employees and want to rehire them, reach out and give them the option of coming back.
- Understand that not all employees may want to come back or be able to come back. For example, employees who have underlying medical conditions that make them vulnerable to COVID-19 or who share living space with a high-risk person may not be able to work safely.
- Create a sick policy that requires employees to stay home if they are experiencing any symptoms of COVID-19 or have had direct contact with an infected person.
- Let employees know if their job requirements have changed. For example, have your hours changed? Will they be required to take on cleaning responsibilities that differ from what they did prior to the business closing?
- Put an emergency communication system in place to effectively let employees know if they have been exposed to COVID-19 and what they should do if they experience symptoms.
Clear and ongoing communication is the foundation that will support and reassure employees they are safe in returning to work.
Create Customer Guidelines
Once you have addressed the needs of your employees, the next step is thinking about your customers. Follow these measures to keep them safe:
- Decide which safety precautions are necessary including:
- Limiting occupancy
- Requiring customers to wear masks
- Adding hand sanitization stations near the entrance
- Placing social distancing markers on the floor – for example, making store lanes one-way and putting six-foot markers near cash registers
- Use your email list or social media pages to communicate the new customer guidelines.
- Put procedures in place to enforce guidelines. For example, you may need to place an employee near the door to check for masks, install an occupancy tracker, or monitor customers while they are in your store.
- Provide employees with guidance to handle complaints or a refusal to adhere to guidelines. Unfortunately, it’s likely that some of your customers will refuse to comply and it’s important to support your employees and give them the tools they need to address these customers.
This is one situation where “the customer is always right” needs to take a back seat to the welfare of your employees and other customers.
Monitor the Situation
Finally, you’ll need to monitor the situation as you reopen. It may be that some of the guidelines you put in place need to be refined or adapted to the reality of doing business.
If you can’t reopen and have not yet received government assistance, remember that there is still Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan money available. You should also be aware that on June 3, 2020, Congress passed a PPP reform bill that allows businesses more time and leeway in how they spend the money. You can find the details here.
Reopening your business requires careful planning and attention to detail. Provided you adhere to the appropriate guidelines and prioritize the safety of your employees and customers, you will be able to navigate the process successfully.