As the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland lifts restrictions on businesses after weeks of quarantine, many retailers could be on the verge of breathing a sigh of relief. However, conducting business is likely to look different, as governments are encouraging — and in some cases requiring — heightened safety precautions to help slow the spread of COVID-19. Maintaining open communication with your employees about coronavirus concerns can help you adapt as a business owner and respond to their needs.
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When should I reopen my business?
It depends on your state and regional guidelines. After your local government gives the green light to business owners to reopen, it’s up to you as the owner to devise and implement a plan that considers the safety of your employees and customers.
The CDC recommends that businesses reopen only when they are “ready to protect employees at a higher risk for illness,” which means that precautions are in place and you’ve developed a system for monitoring employee symptoms. From a staffing perspective, keep in mind that you’ll need to be prepared to send sick employees home.
Resources from the CDC
Official guidelines can be a handy way of ensuring all your boxes are checked before and during the reopening process.
Here’s a roundup of helpful links:
- Workplace decision tool. A step-by-step guide to help business owners determine whether they’re ready to reopen.
- Communities, schools, workplaces and events. A hub of articles with reopening tips for organizations from churches to colleges and universities.
- Worker safety and support. Health and safety practices for specific occupations, including transit workers, grocery delivery services and meat processors.
- Guidance for cleaning and disinfecting. Tips for doing what you can to prevent the coronavirus from lingering in your place of business.
How to safely reopen your business
State and local governments are setting their own policies for what is and isn’t required for a business to reopen. While states like New York require businesses to provide masks for its employees and patrons, others leave it up to each business owner. Likewise, the maximum occupancy for retail and restaurants differs among states.
Consider seven steps to shoring up a successful and safe reopening when lockdown restrictions ease.
1. Write out a reopening plan.
Carefully read the reopening guidance for your county or state and write out the steps necessary to meet them. Your local government or chamber of commerce website may provide plan templates and other tools to help.
Your state may require you to post a safe reopening plan at the entrance to your business. And you’ll likely need to post signage and policies for employee protection, social distancing, cleaning and disinfecting.
2. Communicate with your customers.
It may be more difficult to maintain contact with your customers during lockdown, but technology can help you keep an ear to the ground. Many businesses are inviting interaction and feedback on private Facebook groups to gain a better understanding of customer needs and concerns. By talking directly with the public online, you can hear about what might keep them from returning to your business and explore ways to address those concerns together.
Consider other ways that technology can help. Depending on your business or industry, virtual appointments or televisits can help you meet your customers halfway, as does delivery or curbside pickup to limit in-person interaction. When it’s time for in-person interaction with customers, live chat or text messages can communicate what to expect and whether there’s anything you need them to do.
3. Take it one step at a time.
Under the circumstances, business-as-usual is anything. Local authorities are encouraging businesses to allow employees to work from home when possible. In states where only limited reopening is authorized, restaurants and businesses are limited to delivery and curbside pickup. And many businesses are reopening with limited hours to accommodate extra cleaning or other safety measures, further limiting staff capacity.
If you aren’t yet set up for contactless payments, many companies allow merchants to sign up and begin accepting mobile or online payments quickly. Contactless card readers not only make ordering online or by phone more efficient, but they’re also a safe option for in-person payments when you fully open your doors.
4. Rearrange your physical spaces.
Social distancing is a major part of state reopening plans, and you’ll need to think about how you’ll manage long lines and crowding to prevent confusion or discomfort among your employees and customers.
Your city or state may require you to install spacial markers to help customers stay at a safe distance or implement density restrictions designed to keep spaces from becoming crowded. If you run a storefront, that could include one-way traffic directions for narrow aisles. Physical barriers may also be required to protect your employees behind the counter.
5. Provide your staff with tools for protection.
The CDC recommends business owners to provide their employees with access to:
- Face coverings, including bulk disposable masks or reusable cloth masks to protect your workers.
- Hand-washing stations complete with soap, running water and a method for drying their hands.
- Hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Disinfectant wipes to help with frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces.
- Tissues and a no-touch trash receptacle for easy disposal of used materials.
- Sneeze guards or versatile clear barriers to protect customers and staff in stores.
If you own a business where social distancing isn’t feasible, consider providing gear for specialized protection. For example, stylists at barber shops and beauty salons might use disposable paper capes, safety glasses or even face shields.