States are slowly beginning to lift stay-at-home restrictions and small businesses are preparing to reopen their doors. While there’s no official rulebook for how brick-and-mortar businesses such as restaurants, retailers and hair salons should approach reopening, a few key recommendations can help calibrate your restart while keeping customers' and employees' safety and wellness in mind.
1. Follow Health and Safety Guidelines
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (which provides cleaning recommendation guidelines), before reopening, several measures should be taken to protect workers and customers alike, including:
- Providing employees and shoppers with a place to wash their hands (including access to soap and 60%-minimum-alcohol-based hand rubs, disinfectants, towels and no-touch trash cans) and promoting frequent and thorough hand washing.
- Discouraging staffers from sharing or utilizing other employees’ tools, equipment, phones, desks, offices and devices.
- Engaging in regular housekeeping practices, such as routine cleaning and disinfecting of all work surfaces, equipment and office environments.
- Championing healthy respiratory etiquette, including the use of masks, the practice of social distancing (standing six feet or more apart), and the covering of coughs and sneezes.
- Asking individuals (including both staff and customers) to stay home if sick, and building action plans that allow you to immediately isolate and get professional help for shoppers or staff who become sick at the workplace.
- Implementing flexible work hours and staggered shifts to minimize the number of employees on site and increase physical distance between individuals.
- Shifting from face-to-face interactions to phone conversations or other forms of communication as an alternative to in-person conversations where possible.
- Boosting ventilation at your venue and installing high-efficiency air filters, as well as sectioning off and isolating high-risk areas of your workplace (such as treatment rooms at urgent care centers) if necessary.
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 foot traffic may also wish to pivot to curbside checkout options or install a drive-through window for order pickup or customer service calls.
Many local and neighborhood 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. Still more 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-utilized workplace fixtures such as doorknobs with hooks, or employ smart home devices (i.e. those powered by spoken-word commands) in lieu of light switches and manual thermostat controls, to minimize 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 colorful tape to mark off six-foot intervals that indicate where they should stand. Don’t forget to enforce social distancing within your breakroom 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 requiring the use of masks, gloves and hand sanitizer at employee stations, and encouraging sick workers to stay home, think about checking employees’ temperatures before they start any given shift. To reduce the risk that those who feel under the weather 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, utilize them and sanitize 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 minimizing 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.
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.
After all, if there’s one thing that COVID-19 has taught us, it’s to expect the unexpected. Pivoting and learning to stay on your toes is part and parcel of running a small business these days. And while everyone loves a grand re-opening, you may wind up closing and reopening again several times over as we all get adjusted to operating in the new normal.
Photo: Getty Images
The information contained herein is for generalized informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute investment, financial, tax, legal or other professional advice on any subject matter. THIS IS NOT A SUBSTITUTE FOR PROFESSIONAL BUSINESS ADVICE. Therefore, seek such advice in connection with any specific situation, as necessary. The views and opinions of third parties expressed herein represent the opinion of the author, speaker or participant (as the case may be) and do not necessarily represent the views, opinions and/or judgments of American Express Company or any of its affiliates, subsidiaries or divisions. American Express makes no representation as to, and is not responsible for, the accuracy, timeliness, completeness or reliability of any such opinion, advice or statement made herein.