Most states have relaxed lock-down conditions since the “shelter at home” mandates that have shuttered businesses and changed the lives of countless Americans.
Along with these reductions in restrictions and cautious optimism of getting the country slowly back to “new normal” conditions, businesses of all sizes and industries now need to determine just how to go about opening post-pandemic.
Even beyond the painful actions of closing down the business and furloughing employees, business owners and managers must now deal with how to resume operations safely and effectively.
With the mixed messages provided by some government agencies including the Center for Disease Control (CDC) vs. opinions and guidance from government administrators and Congressional leadership, it can be confusing to understand just how to prepare your business to reopen.
How to Prepare for Opening
One of the goals of every business will naturally be to protect the health of employees and customers. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has valuable guidance for small businesses as they begin to resume operations. Important considerations include:
If employees have been able to transition to working from home, consider bringing employees back gradually to facilitate social distancing – even within an office or retail operation. Perhaps businesses should arrange a schedule where employees alternate weeks between working in the office and working from home.
Restrictions have largely been left up to state and local leaders to determine the best approach for opening various types of businesses. For all businesses, there are important guidelines that all agencies agree are relevant in protecting Americans:
Sanitize workstations, common areas, and any devices that may contact retail customers frequently – sanitize POS terminals and counters after every use. Clean and sanitize door handles, cash registers, and workstations at least daily.
Require and stress effective handwashing with soap and water frequently.
Workers should use face protection when near coworkers or customers. In some states or businesses, customers must also wear face masks. Employees should wear other personal protective equipment (PPE) to minimize exposure to the COVID virus, especially in foodservice industries.
As a business owner or manager, maintaining supplies for employees to adhere to these guidelines is your responsibility. Ensure there are adequate supplies of such items as hand soap, paper towels, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
Be certain that every employee and customer is aware of these health and safety procedures – post signage to keep these practices forefront in the minds of everyone.
Social distancing applies for the foreseeable future – reduce congestion in workspaces for both staff and customers. Staggering work schedules and limiting retail customer occupancy will ensure all parties maintain a safe distance from others.
In retail establishments, mark floors for adequate distancing of six feet where lines may gather such as payment locations. Where feasible, establish one-way guidance for shopping aisles to minimize customers passing in close proximity. Marking extends to areas outside retail businesses so that customers waiting to enter also practice social distancing.
Place physical barriers such as Plexiglas screens between customers and cashiers or other retail employees to reduce exposure and improve safety. These can be portable, to allow workers to move them if necessary, to maintain protection.
As Businesses Open – What If There Is a Resurgence?
As COVID-19 instances decline, allowing businesses to resume – even if slowly – what are the steps to take if cases climb again? Many healthcare professionals predict that without a proven treatment or vaccine, there is likely to be a resurgence either this Fall or next year.
Businesses must formulate policies and take steps to react accordingly with a contingency plan:
- Allow employees to self-monitor for symptoms each day – before reporting to work. Ensure that employees take their temperatures to detect any fever higher than 100.4 F. Under such conditions, employees should remain at home to avoid the spread of disease.
- Schedule workers in staggered hours where possible, to reduce close proximity to each other.
- Establish flexible and non-punitive leave policies that allow for staff to remain at home for medical reasons or to care for affected family members.
- Where feasible, assist employees with working from home, providing guidance and technical equipment to facilitate remote working.
- Evaluate critical business processes that are essential to conducting a reasonable level of operation, putting less important functions off until staffing is back to normal.
- Keep the lines of communication open with employees to understand their health and safety concerns, and to update changes in procedures and policies on a timely basis.
COVID-19 and the Financial Impact
Many businesses have struggled during the pandemic to pay rent, retain employees, and acquire supplies and critical products. There are several established programs that assist businesses with expenses and employee retention on a state and federal level:
Paycheck Protection Program to assist small businesses with employee payroll.
Employee Retention Tax Credit helps small businesses that have had revenue streams severely impacted by COVID-19 by offering credits for eligible companies that retain employees.
Congress have implemented additional programs through the CARES act, providing guidelines and programs to help both employers and employees cope with the “new normal” post-pandemic.
Will Business Return to Normal?
Sadly, there will be some businesses that do not recover from the financial hardships created by this global disease. For those that can reopen, it will take time to return to full staffing and re-establishing relationships with customers.
Some business customers will be lost indefinitely – or forever – if those customers are businesses that did not survive. For others, the needs for your services may have changed – for better or worse.
Maintain close communications with all your business relationships:
- Customers – assure them you will still be there to service their needs and advise them of your plans for being open for business.
- Suppliers – keep them apprised of your situation and when you expect to require their services or products. You may negotiate new contract terms or extended payment plans.
- Competitors – monitor how your competition is handling their recovery from the pandemic. Take notice of other marketing strategies and how your business may approach your own efforts.
Cartridge World – Serving Small Businesses
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