In the early months of 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic prompted wide-sweeping shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders across the United States. Now, as parts of the country look to start relaxing these strict measures, small business owners need to think about what’s next and how they will adapt and move forward safely and sustainably.
For many businesses, the key to getting back to business will be prioritizing the health and safety of both employees and customers in a clear, demonstrable way. You and your staff will need to strictly adhere to and enforce any new health guidelines put in place by your state and/or municipality, and effectively communicate those protocols to your patrons.
Public health organizations have recommended businesses that are able to operate remotely (fully or partially) continue to do so to mitigate the spread of the virus. In fact, many large corporations, including Amazon, Twitter, and several others, have extended their work-from-home orders for all employees whose jobs can be done remotely. However, if your employees will soon be reconvening in the workplace, it is advised to include the following items in your wellness plan:
Personal protective equipment (PPE) or face coverings for employees.
Proper PPE has been an important part of protecting essential healthcare workers and limiting the spread of the virus throughout the pandemic. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) does require certain industries to use standardized PPE like N95 masks, but if yours is not one of them, you may wish to provide cloth face coverings, masks and/or gloves for your employees to wear in the workplace.
Temperature checks to enter a workplace.
Temperature checks are already a requirement for some essential workers and are expected to be a requirement for reopening many types of businesses. If you decide or are required to implement temperature checks, designate one person as the recorder, such as a manager.
Daily wellness checks.
Self-reported “symptom surveys” that are completed by employees before entering the workplace are likely here to stay, too.
Employer-led COVID testing for workers.
The onus may soon be on employers to have a record of employee COVID-19 status or vaccination. As scientific and medical research on COVID immunity evolves, this may become part of the employer testing process as well.
Everyone has had to make significant behavioral changes to reduce the spread of COVID-19. SO in addition to the above practices, employers, employees, and possibly customers will need to continue these practices:
Vivek Cherian M.D., an internal medicine specialist, says “If it applies, workspace … should be reconfigured to allow for 6-foot distances between workers and customers. Personal/physical contact should be minimized including handshaking or meetings in closed spaces. … Common areas such as break rooms may have to be reorganized to maximize social distancing.”
Frequently washing hands
Wash hands in soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water aren’t available, you can use alcohol-based (at least 60% alcohol) hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available. In addition, “Hand sanitizers should be made readily available throughout the business,” says Cherian.
Wearing cloth face coverings
And finally, Cherian says, “Facemasks should be worn as often as possible.” Leave the N95 masks to healthcare workers. Cloth facemasks are fine to wear according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Once you have your health and safety plans in place for your reopening, you need a clear communication strategy to ensure your staff and customers understand their role in mitigating COVID-related risks.
Communication is critical. With so much uncertainty in the news and employees asking questions, you must communicate even more. Holding short huddles everyday with your teams to share anything new can really help.
When you tell your customers about your reopening plans, be ready with a unified message across all your channels and reiterate that message in-store and through regular transactional touchpoints. Most importantly, be prepared to provide updates, take feedback to heart and adapt your operations accordingly.
Continue mapping out your road back to normal. Normalcy is not going to happen overnight. In fact, “normal” for you moving forward may look very different from what it looked like pre-pandemic. Your journey back to the volume of customers you had before may take time, but all your business can do is keep learning, growing and evolving as new information becomes available.