Some state governors recently announced that non-essential businesses will reopen in May, and many other states will be following with full or partial reopening in May or June. If you own or manage a business that was shut down due to COVID-19, it is important to first learn your state’s rules for capacity, distancing, hours or other topics. In addition to this, you will need to develop a comprehensive reopening strategy that protects customers and employees. Trying to reopen hastily or overnight can lead to problems. However, if you take a little time to address important issues beforehand, you can help make reopening easier and more profitable for your business and your staff.
Study the FFCRA
The Families First Coronavirus Response Act was passed to help provide relief to affected employees. It applies to workers in high-risk groups, workers who must stay home to care for children whose schools remain closed and workers who must care for ill family members. If you have not yet read it and updated your employee policies, be sure to incorporate those changes. The Department of Labor provides the details that you will need to do this.
Review Your Operational Strategy
Some types of businesses may have a difficult time returning to what was normal immediately before the shutdown. For example, you may decide to add curbside pickup or reservation-only dining if you are reopening a restaurant. Be sure to add any operational or hours-of-service changes to your communication plan. You may also need to adjust your inventory orders if you will be operating at a reduced capacity. There may also be contract or supplier issues to consider.
Plan Your Workforce
If you are among the many business owners who had to make the difficult decision to lay off staff, you now have the expense and task of rehiring them or trying to find new workers. Also, you will need to train both existing and new workers how to follow your updated policies and procedures, which will be covered in upcoming sections. If your state has restrictions to allow you to function at partial capacity, you will also need to make important scheduling decisions. For example, if you are working with an existing workforce instead of new employees, you may need to decide between offering reduced hours or only letting a few of your employees return.
Create a New Sanitation Policy
Every type of business will need stronger disinfection and protection plans. Carefully examine your budget first to see if there are areas that you can adjust. If you can make a few adjustments or cuts, plan to use the savings to purchase more protective gear and cleaning equipment. These are some suggestions that may benefit you:
- If possible, purchase masks and gloves for employees and customers to use.
- Purchase disinfecting wipes for customers and employees to use when they enter.
- Put hand sanitizer at every checkout station or counter.
- If possible, install a plastic shield on any checkout counter to keep a barrier between employees and customers.
You can limit the spread of viruses by developing more rigorous disinfection practices. Plan on cleaning anything that customers touch regularly. For example, in the past, a stylist may not have disinfected a chair between customers. Actively and thoroughly disinfecting chairs, tables or other susceptible surfaces between each customer contact can help put customers and employees at ease. Be sure to use an effective cleaning agent.
Create a Social Distancing Plan
How you want to approach this depends on your state’s guidelines, the nature of your business and your workspace layout. For example, if you have a clothing boutique with several circular racks, you may decide to set up rules that allow only one person to browse a rack at a time with gloves. If you own a restaurant, you may decide to space out dine-in customers two booths apart. If you own a small home accessory store, you may decide to paint arrows on the floor to guide one-way traffic down aisles and through the store. These are a few general suggestions:
- Place signs that clearly state your social distancing policies in visible places.
- Decide how many people to allow into your business at one time.
- Look for ways to change or alter operational procedures that involve direct contact.
Nail or hair salons and other types of businesses that are based on direct contact cannot eliminate it. However, you can implement other policies, such as requiring employees and patrons to wear protective gear and following stricter sanitizing procedures.
Create an Employee Training Program
After you outline your new strategies for disinfecting and protecting, make sure that your workers understand what they need to do. You may also have to rearrange duties, which may warrant additional training. Take the necessary time for thorough training sessions, and be sure to allow time for employees to share their concerns or ask questions. These are a few tips for training:
- Show employees how to follow new cleaning rules.
- Ensure that employees can communicate your new policies and the reasons for them to customers.
- Ensure that employees understand any potential disciplinary measures for failing to follow the new rules.
Communicate With Your Customers
A good piece of advice to remember is to keep a sensitive approach. Many people are still fearful, and letting them know that you are doing all you can to address those fears and protect their safety will help give them a little peace of mind. Let them know that you value the health and safety of all individuals and families. Using specific verbs and details, clearly state the actions that you are taking, and explain the reasons or details. These are a few examples:
- Tell customers how you are improving disinfection policies and why they are important.
- Let customers know the types of cleaning products that you use to disinfect surfaces and how they work.
- Communicate your PPE or distancing improvements and your reasoning for the changes.
You can concisely communicate these and other important details with your customers through email, social media and any other outlets that you use. If you plan to offer alternative choices, such as restaurant curbside pickup, let them know that they have choices. Although it is important to be firm about any protective policies that you add, remind customers that changes are for everyone’s safety.
As a business owner or leader, community members and employees look to you to be a pillar of strength. Since the financial and emotional effects of the pandemic have been hard on nearly all business owners who had to shut down, it is also important to prioritize your mental and physical health. If you need a little extra time to care for your own family or personal needs, you may also check to see if you qualify for any recent grant or loan programs before you start planning to reopen.