Small businesses are reopening across the country, but it’s hardly business as usual. While the COVID-19 pandemic continues, business owners are faced with a number of difficult decisions about how best to reopen, from immediate concerns like how to keep employees and customers safe to forward-thinking considerations about how to prepare for future disruptions.
Work environments differ greatly depending on the nature of your business, so there is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to reopening or resuming operations safely. Whether you can reopen at all depends on a number of factors, including:
- The current status of stay-at-home orders in your jurisdiction
- The number of COVID-19 cases in your area
- Whether or not your business has a physical location
- Your ability to implement and enforce physical distancing at your facility
- The level of contact you and your employees will have with customers and other employees
To make things even more complicated, health and safety restrictions are constantly changing and vary by jurisdiction. Combined with widespread uncertainty about the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic, this can make repening your business safely a difficult task to navigate.
There are two keys to reopening successfully and navigating any future disruptions:
- Flexibility: The situation could change quickly and flexibility will help you adapt to any unexpected shifts.
- Understanding: Stress levels are high and your employees and customers are taking a risk whenever they enter your business. An extra dose understanding will help you adopt compassionate policies that support and safeguard your staff and clientele.
Keep reading to get our expert advice for reopening safely, including safety measures all businesses must take, additional hazards and safety measures to consider, and tips for a smooth and successful reopening.
Essential safety considerations for all small businesses
Regardless of what industry you operate in, reopening your business does not mean a return to normal operations—even if it’s safe for your business to open its doors, there will be fundamental changes to how your business operates while the pandemic continues, as well as after the novel coronavirus has been contained or eliminated.
When it comes to reopening, McKinsey and Company, a global business management advisor, has identified two major considerations common to all businesses:
- Creating safety measures that are tailored to your unique business environment
- Implementing them across the full range of your business’s activities, not just on site
With these considerations in mind, all small businesses should complete the following before reopening their doors:
- Review applicable government, health, and industry guidance to ensure you are in compliance before you reopen. Nothing halts a reopening like being shut down for violating requirements.
- Evaluate your workplace for possible hazards, including travel to and from work, accessing and departing the workplace, and moving throughout the workplace. You should also consider instances when workers may come within 6 feet of another person, such as breakrooms. Ask what you can do to lessen or eliminate these hazards, such as providing PPE, reconfiguring your workplace, adjusting scheduling, or installing physical barriers.
- Train employees on the proper use of PPE.
- Create signage to inform employees and customers about distancing, mask requirements, and other safety protocols in place within your facility.
- Devise and implement enhanced cleaning and sanitation procedures throughout your facility.
- Develop a plan for monitoring your employees’ health and how you will handle a positive COVID-19 case after you reopen. Implement a flexible sick leave policy so it’s easy for employees to stay home if they feel ill or if another family member is sick.
Additional hazards and safety measures to consider
All small business owners are encouraged to implement as many health and safety policies and protocols as possible. In addition to the essential actions listed above, McKinsey and Co. breaks their reopening recommendations down into phases that cover all aspects of business activity, from before you reopen to after you experience a positive COVID-19 test. Proactive business owners will carefully consider these additional aspects of reopening their workplace so they can adjust quickly if local circumstances change or an employee or customer tests positive for COVID-19.
Here’s what McKinsey and Co. recommend:
Pre-entry safety measures
- Embrace contactless or remote work: Adopt contactless services or continue to allow employees to work from home if it’s possible for your business.
- Testing and symptom assessment: If widespread testing isn’t available in your area, symptom screening before entry can help safeguard employees and other patrons of your business.
- Training and education: Comprehensive training and education about PPE and potential COVID-19 hazards can play a significant role in instilling safer habits among employees and customers.
- Childcare: Will your employees have access to adequate childcare, especially if schools in your area are closed?
- Mental health: Everyone is feeling the strain of months of isolation—ask what you can do to prioritize your employees’ mental health as the pandemic continues, especially if they will be returning to the workplace.
Travel to and from the workplace
- Modes of transport: Consider the various modes of transport your employees may use to get to or from work, including public transport and private vehicles.
- Staggered entry and exit: Can you adjust your employees’ schedules so that crowding is minimized at entrances and exists? Can you limit the number of people in your facility at any given time by scheduling appointments or enabling widespread remote work?
- New cleaning protocols: Adopt enhanced cleaning protocols at points of entry/exit, especially for retail businesses, such as sanitizing baskets or carts or making hand sanitizer available at all doors.
- PPE: Entry and exit is an ideal time to remind employees and customers about PPE requirements such as face coverings.
Safety measures at work
- Physical distancing: Enforcing physical distancing can be easier in some environments than others. Ongoing reminders such as signage for one-way aisles, floor decals where customers should stand while they queue, loudspeaker announcements, or spaced apart tables can help encourage physical distancing throughout your facility.
- Enhanced hygiene: Additional hygiene protocols are especially important in environments where employees are required to be in close proximity. Consider actions such as sanitizing carts and equipment after each use, upgrading air filtration systems, and frequent deep cleaning for businesses like daycare centers or medical facilities.
- Workplace design: Can you redesign your workplace to prioritize health and safety, such as installing plexiglass partitions at checkouts or workstations, or redistributing cubicles to ensure physical distancing is easy to maintain?
- Consistent teams: Divide employees into teams or pods that will be in the office at the same time to reduce contact with other people. Daycares and schools could also consider splitting children up into groups who interact only with one teacher every day, with separate meal times as well as separate start and end times.
- Common spaces: Take measures to minimize or eliminate gatherings in common spaces, such as conducting video conferences across multiple rooms for large meetings, delivering food to employees’ desks to avoid crowding in lunchrooms, staggering lunch breaks, and removing shared appliances from kitchens.
Safety measures in the event an employee contracts COVID-19
- Communication: If an employee tests positive for COVID-19, it’s critical that you communicate post-infection processes to all levels of the organization as quickly as possible. Develop a communication plan and ensure everyone is familiar with the correct protocols before you have to address a positive test result.
- Contact tracing: Whether you use technology, manual contact tracing such as collecting contact information from customers, or both, contact tracing is essential for sustaining a safe working environment. Make sure your choice of contact tracing method is consistent with local privacy norms and standards.
- Cleaning and isolation protocols: This includes actions like deep cleaning areas that may have had virus exposure or isolating individuals who may have been exposed.
- Return to work: When can employees return to work after a positive COVID-19 test? Examples include multiple consecutive negative tests, a positive antibody test, or a two-week period of self-quarantine during which no symptoms are present.
9 practical tips for successfully reopening your small business
There’s often more to reopening than navigating the challenging task of creating a safe environment—for some businesses, reopening requires a major adjustment to how they operate. For example:
- Restaurants offering delivery or takeaway only
- Retail stores limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time
- Health care providers conducting appointments online
- Adjusting scheduling and working hours so fewer people are onsite at any given time
For others, reopening means embracing new technologies that help businesses stay agile in a changing environment or which provide data to help decision makers understand what customers value and want in the “new normal”.
Now that we’ve covered safety considerations, here are 9 more practical tips for successfully resuming operations:
- Focus on the products or services that generate the most revenue for your business before returning to full-scale operations, especially if your workforce capacity is reduced or you’re working with reduced hours.
- Identify and empower employees with strong leadership skills. These individuals will be indispensable for helping you navigate the pandemic as it continues.
- Adopt an “action over testing” mindset. If you have an idea, put it into action rather than investing time, money, and effort into analyzing potential outcomes.
- Regularly ask your customers for feedback so you can focus on the things that matter most to them.
- Talk to vendors and partners before you reopen to let them know if there will be any changes to your working relationship, or to find out if there are any changes on their end so you can avoid unnecessary disruptions.
- Ask for input from your team. What will make them feel safe as they return to work? Do they have any innovative ideas for reopening? Check in regularly to ensure all is well and give them greater peace of mind, and make it easy for employees to provide anonymous feedback if they have concerns.
- Let your customers know what to expect. Communicate protocols and requirements clearly using signage, social media, and your website so customers know when you’ll be reopening as well as what health and safety measures you’ve put in place.
- Expect mistakes. No one is perfect and we are all learning how best to handle the COVID-19 pandemic in our communities. If a mistake happens, the best thing you can do is acknowledge the shortcoming and let employees and customers know what you’re doing to make it right.
- Consider your funding needs. If your business experienced a temporary closure or reduction in operations, it may be difficult to find the working capital you need to reopen, especially if you’re adjusting your products or services to suit the “new normal”. With approval in as little as one business day, funding from alternative lenders like Greenbox Capital can help you navigate these changes quickly and with confidence.
Health and safety is the number one concern for small business owners as the country continues to reopen. But for many businesses, resuming operations means making major adjustments to how they conduct business and interact with clientele. Adjusting to meet the needs of your employees and customers amid the COVID-19 pandemic may come with additional costs that can put an additional strain on your business, but fast funding from alternative lenders can help kickstart your recovery as you get back to business.
Alternative lenders offer a number of advantages for businesses impacted by COVID-19, including:
- Easier qualification criteria with less paperwork to gather
- Faster review and approvals, with approval in as little as 2-5 business hours and funding in a little as 1 business day
- No restrictions on how your funds are used—use them for payroll, everyday operating expenses, or to kickstart new ideas
- A variety of funding options are available to suit your business’s needs, including merchant cash advances, small business loans, invoice factoring, collateral loans, and business lines of credit
- Businesses with low credit can receive funding. Instead of focusing on your credit score, our Funding Advisors will review the overall health and potential of your business
- Businesses in high-risk industries can also receive funding