The UK is slowly beginning to lift stay-at-home guidance and small businesses are preparing to reopen their doors. From June 15, non-essential shops in England have been given the go-ahead to open their doors again. This includes department stores and shops selling goods such as clothes, toys, books and electronics, as well as tailors, auction houses, photography studios and indoor markets.
While there’s no official rulebook for how brick-and-mortar businesses should approach reopening, the few recommendations below can help calibrate your restart while keeping employees’ and customers’ safety and wellness in mind.
1. Follow health and safety guidelines
According to the UK Government and other agencies, before reopening, several measures should be taken to protect workers and customers alike. In addition to sector-specific advice, the general guidance for all employers includes:
- Increasing the frequency of handwashing and surface cleaning, for example by providing handwashing facilities or hand sanitiser at entry and exit points.
- Enabling home working as a first option and where this is not possible, keep people two metres apart. Use back-to-back or side-to-side working instead of face-to-face and install screens or barriers to separate people from each other.
- Implementing flexible work hours and staggered shifts to reduce the number of workers on-site and provide alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads.
- Shifting from face-to-face interactions to phone conversations or other forms of communication as an alternative to in-person meetings where possible.
- Discouraging staffers from sharing or utilising other employees’ tools, equipment, phones, desks, offices and devices.
- Grouping staff into shift patterns or pairings to reduce contact as much as possible.
- Encouraging customers to avoid handling products while browsing, reviewing store layout to limit the number of customers in the store at any given time and implement a one-way flow through stores, with floor markings and signage.
- Engaging in regular housekeeping practices, such as routine cleaning and disinfecting of all work surfaces, equipment and office environments.
- Checking whether you need to service or adjust ventilation at your venue, for example, so that they do not automatically reduce ventilation levels due to lower occupancy levels.
- Championing healthy respiratory etiquette. For example, use signs and posters to grow awareness of good handwashing technique and frequency, and provide reminders to always cough or sneeze into a tissue, and avoid unnecessary face touching.
2. Maintain a healthy distance
Likewise, if you maintain cash registers, customer service kiosks or other areas where employees and shoppers interact, you’ll want to install physical barriers, such as plastic sneeze guards that separate staff from customers as well. Businesses which attract high levels of footfall may also wish to pivot to curbside checkout options or install a drive-through window for order pickup or customer service calls.
"Consider deliveries and click and collect," says Andrew Goodacre, CEO of the British Independent Retailers Association. "Even consider working on an appointments basis for customers, depending on the type of shop." He also suggests making it easy for customers to pay without cash and to focus on letting in people who are looking to buy, avoiding groups where possible.
Many local and neighbourhood fixtures such as banks, restaurants and retailers are also making a point to limit the number of shoppers allowed on-site, and designate specific areas (like certain aisles) for one-way traffic. Some are offering special times, such as early-morning hours, during which elderly or at-risk populations can swing by and shop while locations are less crowded.
You may also wish to replace commonly utilised workplace fixtures, such as doorknobs, with hooks, or employ smart home devices (those powered by spoken-word commands), in lieu of light switches and manual thermostat controls, to minimise physical contact.
Small businesses that rely on brick-and-mortar spaces or storefronts would also do well to implement new operating layouts and guideposts that help employees and customers maintain social distance. For example, you might start by repositioning desks, displays, demonstration areas and workstations to put more distance between them. If your workspace contains common areas, you’ll also want to make a point to limit or space out the number of seats contained within them to discourage people from gathering in groups.
Similarly, if customers need to wait in line in any area of your workspace, be sure to use colourful tape to mark off two-metre intervals that indicate where they should stand. Don’t forget to enforce social distancing within common rooms as well, and post signs throughout your workplace reminding workers and shoppers to maintain a proper distance from others at all times.
3. Make employees' health a priority
In addition to encouraging the use of masks, gloves, and hand sanitiser at employee stations, and enabling sick workers to stay home, think about checking employees’ temperatures before they start any given shift. To reduce the risk that those who feel unwell still turn up to work, remind staffers that they have your support (and will receive paid leave, to the extent possible) if they do become ill.
Up-to-date training and education on COVID-19 risk factors and protective steps to take against the virus should also be provided to your employees at regular intervals, such as on a weekly basis. Any workers required to use personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing should further be provided with proper instruction in how to wear these items, utilise them and sanitise or dispose of them correctly.
Signs about the importance of employing proper safety procedures, and instructions regarding how to maintain proper hygiene, should be posted in all work areas. Remember that notices and education should be provided in the appropriate language for all workers you employ, including if you have staffers for whom English is a second language.
4. Ask yourself some important questions
Creating a successful reopening plan also requires strategic planning. Before you hop back in the saddle, ask yourself: How you can you reengage customers and get them to come back in the door while minimising direct contact and maintaining social distance?
Note that some important tweaks to your business plan – such as updates to your products, pricing, operating model and more – may also be necessary at this time. Likewise, you’ll additionally want to examine any new marketing campaigns and start crafting supporting email or online outreach assets to reflect that you're reopening.
Reassuring your customers that it’s safe to start shopping again is important, says Goodacre. "Connect with the community through social media and local groups," he says. "Tell people you are open."
Be sure to update your website and social media profiles to let shoppers know you’re planning to be back in business, and reach out to staff to reengage them. Then, before you take the locks off, have an all-hands-on-deck staff meeting, engage in a thorough site cleaning, and send customers a "welcome back" email as well. On the day of your reopening, do a final cleaning, kick off your flurry of emails and social media posts, and then keep a close eye out to see if any modification to your strategies is needed.
Small businesses that rely on brick-and-mortar spaces or storefronts would also do well to implement new operating layouts and guideposts that help employees and customers maintain social distance.
Pivoting and learning to stay on your toes is part and parcel of running a small business these days – and that adaptability is especially put to the test during the COVID-19 crisis. Your staff and community will thank you for practicing caution and taking thoughtful measures to ensure the safety of yourself and others.