How to Reopen Your Business Safely
When businesses first shut down several months ago in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, nobody was sure what would happen, when we would reopen, or whether we would even have businesses to reopen in the first place. Several months later, after weathering weeks of challenging shutdowns and remote work, business owners in many jurisdictions all over the world are starting to restart and reopen their businesses. And the thought that is top of everyone’s mind is figuring out how to reopen your business safely.
During the height of the pandemic, essential businesses like pharmacies, healthcare, grocery stores, banks, and gas stations remained open. Every work environment is different so there is no one-size-fits-all solution but we can take away valuable lessons from how those businesses coped with operating under this “new normal”.
Enforcing Physical Distancing Practices
As we all try to chart a path forward, the biggest thing to keep in mind is to tailor safety measures to your unique business environment. A business that requires physical contact like a salon or significant public interaction like a grocery store or gym will implement safety measures that are very different from professional workplaces requiring physical presence like a laboratory or work that can be done alone like software development.
Most businesses will operate in multiple environments. For example, a grocery store will have a high-interaction store but also a low density warehouse and a more isolated work environment for their delivery workers. To respond to this, businesses must adjust safety measures to fit specific environments. Offices may need to rearrange their work stations and customer-facing employees may be supplied with personal protective equipment (PPE).
Common measures in high-traffic areas include staggering entry and exit times to eliminate crowding or setting up pre-defined paths for customers and staff to follow when lining up, entering, exiting, and navigating the store. Where physical distancing is not possible, many businesses have instituted a mandatory sanitization, temperature check and/or facial covering policies.
These last few months have been an unbelievably stressful time for business owners and their employees. As we resume some semblance of our regular lives, this stress will take some time to fade. If it is the job of the employee to take care of your clients, it is the job of the business owner to take care of their employees.
Speak with your group benefits provider to see what types of Employee Assistance Programs are available for mental health and counselling. Many companies are also providing free access to video counselling or mediation apps to help address this issue.
Entering certain businesses like gyms or dental offices carries a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19. Business owners in these industries should consider protecting themselves by requiring their customers sign waivers of liability acknowledging this risk.
While everyone knows the standard safety protocol of washing hands, wearing a mask, and staying 6 feet apart, the challenge is being consistent with these things and reminding others to do the same time and time again for as long as it takes.
When reopening your office or business, consider investing in employee training to reinforce these habits with deliberate practice. Another way to make sure these practices are adhered to is to keep score publically. Shame is a powerful motivator so making compliance scores publically available to other teams will help reinforce these critical practices.
To add on to the challenges of reopening, many jurisdictions are adding more mandates around leave, benefits, and worker protections during a pandemic. As a small business owner, you need to understand your responsibilities under these regulations to avoid fines or lawsuits for non-compliance.