All across the country, closed signs are flipping to open and lights are being flicked back on. The hum and drone of life is once again taking a hold of streets that, up until a few days ago, only housed an eerie and disconcerting silence. Despite the illusion of normalcy trickling its way back, it’s impossible to miss imposing signs in every window indicating safety measures and rules businesses have taken amidst the pandemic. Inside, masked employees can be seen fervently scrubbing and washing every nook and cranny.
Just a few months ago, we would have been shocked at this emerging sight, imagining it to be a sobering scene from a movie rather than our current reality. This is our current environment, however unfortunate. And although the threat of COVID-19 is still far from behind us, the ripple effect of businesses’ closing doors has become too much to handle. For many businesses, getting back to work is the difference between staying afloat and closing shop forever.
Disclaimer: First and foremost, the tips below are merely suggestions. By no means treat this as a comprehensive list of local, state, and federal requirements. Do not treat this as a document of legal requirements or advice. Consider this nothing more than useful information to point you in the right direction and give you something to think about.
Basic Opening Procedures
Every business is different, and no two businesses will have the exact same reopening issues to consider. With that being said, there are some basics that every business must consider when reopening while the pandemic still exists. The tips below are what we are calling the “must haves” for reopening your business.
- Social Distancing Markers: Make sure that you have clear social distancing markers. Will people be waiting in line or congregating in one place for any reason? Consider making sure this can’t happen if possible, but if this is not possible, then make sure you have markers to help your customers abide by social distancing.
- Signs: By the time of your reopening, you’ll have taken many precautions to protect your employees and customers, so make sure to display these facts in windows and on the door. This helps instill confidence that you are taking safety seriously. Also, let customers know of the rules that they must abide by, your employees are not the only ones responsible for keeping others safe.
- Zero-Tolerance: Seriously consider a zero-tolerance policy for employees and customers alike. You may lose a few customers that don’t want to follow your rules, but better than scarring off the majority of your customer base.
- Sanitation Stations: You should have a sanitation station at the entrance so every customer that walks through the door can sanitize their hands. This protects other customers, your employees, and helps to ensure that potential hazards are nipped in the bud before customers start touching objects. Consider other stations at high-touch points in your store.
- Ramp-Up Cleaning: This is obvious, but needs to be said. Most normal cleaning habits will not cut it, both for customers’ trust as well as for protecting your business’s environment. Implement strict cleaning policies that all employees must abide by.
- Employee PPE: Another obvious one, but make sure employees are following safety standards. This means social distancing, wearing gloves/masks, and regularly following cleaning standards.
- Regular Meetings: Make sure to have regular meetings with staff (abiding by safety standards, of course. Consider doing it online if possible) to remind them about the standards and to freely discuss personal experiences. Listen to employees, they are seeing how implementations are exercised firsthand. Maybe they have suggestions on how procedures could be changed to be more effective.
- Pre-Opening Work: What needs to be done before you open? What signs, indicators (such as social distancing markers), and cleaning must be done before you open? How will your business need to be rearranged? Will you guide customers through your establishment to ensure social distancing? Plan what needs to be done before opening and allowing your everyday staff inside.
- Restrooms & Common Areas: If you’re a restaurant, common areas and restrooms will likely need to remain open to accommodate customers, but what about other businesses? Are these areas necessary? Do they cause more issues for employees and customers? Even in the best of times, bathrooms can be sanitation hazards. Consider closing these areas if they are unnecessary to your business.
- Drinking Fountains: Just as in the above case, consider closing drinking fountains or anything that may be touched by lots of people. These are huge sanitation hazards.
- Special Accommodations: Do you have employees or customers that are in a vulnerable category? Whether they are susceptible because of age or illness (or something else), consider special precautions to protect them.
Precautions Other Businesses Are Taking
In this time, more than ever, we must learn from each other. Regardless of how much time and effort we put into safety precautions, this is uncharted territory for most of us and we will likely miss some important factors. So, take a look below and learn a little bit about what other businesses are doing and what states are requiring during the reopening phase. Whether these businesses are similar to yours or completely different, consider how what they’re doing could apply to your business.
- Take a look at Orlando Health’s great resource for precautions in protecting employees and customers.
- Memphis & Shelby counties in Tennessee are requiring gyms to limit customer’s workouts to 45 minutes and limiting occupancy to 25% of its normal levels.
- Florida is allowing outdoor and indoor seating with a minimum of 6 feet between tables, and is limiting occupancy to 25% of its normal levels.
- Many businesses are controlling the flow of traffic to one way entrances and one way exits. This is not possible for all businesses, but could you implement something similar?
- Some businesses are using non-invasive temperature checks for employees and customers. Before doing this, make sure you consider local, state, and/or federal requirements to ensure you are not violating any laws.
- Many businesses are allowing employees that do not need to be on-site work remotely. Does an employee spend four hours completing the upcoming week’s work schedule, or do you have a part time accountant that usually works in the back? Tasks/jobs like these aren’t likely necessary onsite. Consider letting them work from home.
Reevaluating How You Run Your Business
Let’s face it, some services your business supplied might not be applicable during the pandemic. Or, it may just not be possible because of lack of suppliers or low demand. This is the reality for many businesses. This doesn’t mean they need to remain closed. We understand that on-the-fly changes aren’t possible for many businesses, and many are suffering and incapable to make any kind of shift, but for the businesses that can: have you considered making changes? Have you considered adding to what you already do, and changing aspects of your business to meet the environment? Below you’ll find some important information to consider.
- Cutting-costs: Saving money is important during any situation, but is it always a good thing? If you did cut some costs, would it be because it’s needed to stay afloat, or is it because you think it’s something you have to do during the pandemic? If you have the means, consider making an investment into certain areas of your business that could actually ramp up during the pandemic. Maybe you can grow your way out of the pandemic…
- Revisit Your Business Model: Lots of businesses have recently made big changes to their model, such as home delivery or curbside delivery. Most would have never expected these businesses to do something like this. However, these changes have allowed them to continue to make money in the current environment. Is there something you could change that would allow you to provide a beneficial and convenient service in these difficult times?
- New Vendors: Just because you’re opening up, doesn’t mean your vendors are. And even if they are, maybe you can find new vendors that align more accurately with the times we are experiencing. It doesn’t hurt to look. Maybe new, or additional, vendors provide something that you hadn’t previously considered?
- Relief Programs: Check local and state relief programs that could help keep your business afloat or meet the demands of the environment. Consider the deals and special loans that some banks or organizations are providing. Find out if your business applies and see if a relief program could help.
- Your Strengths: Consider where your business’s strengths are. Is there a way these strengths could be utilized in a different way to sync with the current environment? Could you use these strengths to grow your business and come out stronger?
- What Doesn’t Apply: Not everything you did in 2019 (in a normal environment) will apply during the pandemic. Think long and hard about what isn’t malleable enough to bend to the current environmental demands. Put these services on the back burner and focus on what will be good for your business, employees, and customers in the now.
For many business owners, this is one of the most difficult challenges they’ve ever faced. Many businesses are having to change in ways that they never perceived as being possible. This does not mean that all the changes must be negative or permanent. In fact, many businesses will likely find themselves making positive changes that will outlast the pandemic. We hope that you and your employees can make adjustments and acclimate in ways that benefit your overall success.