In the early weeks of the lockdown measures prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us were under the impression that it was only going to last for a couple of weeks.
Days turned into weeks, then months, and here we are in August – a little bit unsure of when, and even if, things will ever go back to how they were.
Many small businesses had to shutter down permanently while others persevered with Government bailouts, shifting to remote work, or by adopting new ways of doing business.
Now as parts of the world commence opening up of local economies, as a small business owner you need to have a stringent plan in place in order to comply with State-enforced social distancing and hygiene measures.
Here’s a handy checklist to guide you through these complicated and often confusing times because let’s be honest, one thing is true across the board – adapting to consumers’ new and evolving needs is what’s going to eventually help your small business survive and thrive in this pandemic.
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So, let’s put on our masks and dive right into it:
Checklist: How to reopen your business post COVID-19 Lockdown
Step 1: Put A Safety and Hygiene Plan in Place
Step 2: Train Your Employees on Hygiene Protocols
Step 3: Work on a Back-to-Office Employees’ Transition Plan
Step 4: Proactively Communicate your Reopening with Customers
Step 5: Adapt fulfilment: Virtual Delivery and Pick-up
Step 6: Continue Mapping Out Road Back to New Normal
- Put A Safety and Hygiene Plan in Place
When brick-and-mortar businesses open up, many employees might not feel safe coming back to work unless adequate protection and hygiene measures are enforced. All places of business must take precautions to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19 symptoms.
If you are a retail business, you will need to divert your attention to high-touch areas such as checkout counters, door handles, washrooms, and changing rooms. You will need to clean places a lot more frequently than say once a day during pre-lockdown times.
On checkout counters for instance, you can offer new user-friendly modes of payments to reduce contact with credit card machines. Regardless of how you’re selling, there are some excellent payment providers out there to help you accept card payments in a way that keeps both – employees and customers safe.
Beyond regular sanitizing measures, you would need to supply Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as face shields, masks, and gloves to employees and have them readily available on hand. You may go a step further and offer masks to customers who don’t have one when they walk through your store’s doors.
- Train Your Employees on Hygiene Protocols with Learning Modules
While drafting a plan might be the easy part, how can you as a small business owner put these into practice?
To put these into place before you reopen your business, consider training your employees by creating a series of online courses that break down each part of the plan for clearer understanding and easier consumption.
Another crucial piece in this undertaking would be contingency plans. You should absolutely share with your employees on what they need to do when someone:
- Becomes infected with COVID-19
- Comes into contact with someone who has been recently diagnosed
- Returns from an international trip
These plans should ideally include clearly laid out steps on how to report a potential exposure to the virus, alert co-workers who may need to self-isolate, and what measures to take before returning to work. The package could include self-declaration forms as well as protocols for temperature checks and testing.
- Work on a Back-to-Office Employees’ Transition Plan
Many states have capped indoor capacity at below 50% of your normal capacity so first, review your local, state, and federal regulations around reopening protocols to follow.
If your business does not depend on any sort of foot traffic but cannot go fully remote, you still need to adopt a myriad of measures to keep workplaces safe.
You can’t expect your team to work functionally, so you always need to be a step ahead when accommodation for issues. For instance, to help with organization, you’ll need to leverage PM tools like ClickUp.
Consider how your current office location can be reconfigured to accommodate physical distancing measures, for example, putting up barriers between desk cubicles to ensure six feet of distance at all times.
Good-bye open-concept workspaces and say hello to remote desktops!
You may wish to weigh up on a phased ‘back-to-office’ transition plan for employees by surveying them on their concerns and questions before they completely return to office.
For example, essential staff functions like IT and Operations can join in the first phase while other teams can continue to work virtually. Another effective measure to encourage physical distancing is to alternate teams on odd-even days that helps limit the number of employees at a time in the office space.
While it’s not ideal, this will help you strengthen your small business’s virtual working capabilities and adapt by applying effective solutions to deal with remote team communication challenges.
Once you have sorted out a plan for keeping your employees safe, consider half the battle to reopen won.
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- Communicate Frequently with Customers of Changes to Business
If your business depends on high-foot traffic, for example, a restaurant or a retail clothing store, you may need to go many steps further than sanitization and physical distancing measures to make your location safe for visitors.
Based on your location, the measures to be taken by you could range from setting up sanitizing stations to rearranging your entire store layout.
Many coffee shops have done away with chairs and tables to discourage visitors from dining-in and offering only takeaway and drive-through options. Rental management companies and realtors are conducting virtual viewing appointments and allowing tenants and buyers to read and e-sign documents.
Chances are that you have curtailed your business hours drastically to adapt to the new restrictions which might have made many shoppers unhappy. To avoid customer dissatisfaction due to this, you must communicate with customers regularly of any changes to services and timings. This could mean updating your Google Business profile, posting informative Instagram stories and sending some communication to notify customers.
Consider investing in an email marketing service to reach out to your loyal customers. If you don’t have a budget for one, you can also use Gmail to send up to ten-thousand emails.
My dentist, for instance, prefers to use an instant messaging app to notify me of changes in hygiene measures I need to adhere to before an appointment. Or, you could also use an app builder to create one which is customized to take into account your business and customers’ needs.
- Adapt fulfilment: Virtual Delivery and Pick-up
You may have evolved into offering virtual delivery and pick-up options on your range of product and services since they help to keep your business afloat as you draft a reopening plan.
If your business wasn’t offering delivery and pick-up options prior to this, it becomes all the more important to educate customers on this new service and steer them onto your e-commerce website to shop safely.
To make it easier for them, ensure that the online product descriptions are accurate and consistent. You need to communicate clearly to stand out among many other businesses hastily trying to do the same.
Furthermore, develop an effective content marketing strategy to encourage your customers to continue to use contactless services by reiterating that using them keeps the both – the staff and the customers – safer. It also continues to allow you to serve all customers, especially high-risk ones such as the elderly and immunocompromised.
- Continue Mapping Out Road Back to New Normal
We can be hopeful that things might return to how they were soon, but physical distancing and hygiene measures are to stay for the foreseeable future.
To adapt to the new normal, consider permanent measures to help you navigate these times. This means substantially investing in strengthening your digital presence.
If you haven’t launched a website yet or updated your old one, then now is better than never! For those of you tight on resources and can’t hire a team of full-time web developers, there are many affordable landing page tools out there that help you build a website from scratch.
Beyond adopting measures temporarily, you might need to incorporate safety and hygiene protocols as part of the long-term functioning of your business. The safety and health of your employees and customers should be your primary concern before anything. Listen and check-in with them regularly to find out what you can do to address their concerns and provide them greater peace of mind as they slowly return to the workplace.
Your numbers likely won’t bounce back right away and it is going to be a tedious journey back to normal. All you can do right now is to take it one day at a time and keep learning, growing, and evolving to adapt to this new paradigm.