How to prepare for reopening your small business after COVID-19
One of the most challenging aspects of the coronavirus epidemic for businesses is uncertainty. Uncertainty not only about how to continue operations during the shutdown, but also about how long the shutdown will last and how to resume business once it lifts. In fact, 48% of small and medium-sized businesses in the service industry don’t think their business can survive more than a month or two (if things continue to operate this way). Add to this that industry leaders estimate 30% of restaurants may close permanently, and it’s no surprise that small and medium-sized business owners are concerned.
Then again, it’s important to remember that the shutdown will lift; that, in fact, it's already happening in 38 states. The debate around these states’ choices notwithstanding, it’s an important reminder that there will be a time after coronavirus and that you should begin considering how you’ll reopen your business when that time comes.
Four steps to consider before reopening your small business
Preparing to open up your business after lockdown is not the same as returning to business as usual. Whenever the lockdown lifts, we’ll be living in a different world, and the safety measures taken to control the spread of coronavirus are not going to disappear. It’s important that you set your business up so that both your employees and your customers feel safe.
Customers are unlikely to flock to businesses where they risk being exposed to the virus, so it’s essential you implement appropriate safety measures to reduce close-quarters contact. Making a safe and comfortable environment for your employees will not only help prevent any further disease outbreaks, but it will also show your staff that you care about their health and wellbeing. This will, in turn, promote employee retention and productivity and start you off on the right foot as you open.
Any return to operation should feature health and safety training, but it’s especially important now. Develop a procedure for handwashing and surface sanitizing that minimizes the risk of infection, then roll out training for staff at all levels. It will help if you involve hourly-paid staff members in this process: they will be the ones taking the risk, they should have a say in how to prevent it.
Ensure you have adequate protective equipment for your staff, whether it be gloves and masks or installing windows and screens to limit employee-customer interaction. If possible, provide hand sanitizer or hand washing facilities for customers as they enter and leave your businesses.
Accept the fact that you will have to open up with limited capacity to adequately enforce safe distancing, both for the sake of customers and employees. This might mean setting tables out with the recommended six feet of distance between them or limiting the number of customers that can be in your establishment at any one time.
While you will have to limit yourself in some areas, you may have to expand your offerings in other directions to care for your customers and employees at this difficult time. Consider implementing dedicated hours of operation for at-risk customers so they can use your business safely. You also might consider reevaluating your sick leave policy, considering your employees may suddenly have to self-quarantine for two weeks if they begin showing symptoms.
What you can do right now for your hourly workers
If reopening seems like a lifetime away, there are still things you can be doing now to take care of your customers and staff. While you may not be able to continue your normal functions, there may be ways you can continue to serve your customers. As for service employees, a great number are currently panicking about their paychecks: that they’ll either dry up or that they can earn more on unemployment benefits. You may find you can do more good than you thought during the shutdown.
Think about innovative ways in which you can continue to offer your services to your local community and abide by social distancing regulations. Take, for example, the restaurants converting their pantries into grocery stores to serve their neighborhoods. Now is the perfect time for creative thinking and community support.
If your business is closed due to COVID-19, the best thing you can do to make your employees feel safe is to guarantee their job security. The Senate has approved a $310 billion injection into the Paycheck Protection Program, so you can apply for money to carry on paying your staff. On top of that, some states are beginning to reopen non-essential businesses with certain restrictions. Let your staff know if this is enough to secure their paychecks for the foreseeable future.
For those employees who would prefer to receive unemployment benefits, try to communicate to them that their paycheck with you is more reliable than the benefits. There is a future and when this lockdown is lifted, you’ll need staff—the future of the benefits program is uncertain.
This is certainly an unprecedented time, so it helps to be prepared in whatever way you can. Investigating the potential for the future might be just the thing to keep you and your staff motivated and ready to get back to work.
About the AuthorMore Content by Tom Quinn