Steps to Open Your Small Business After Covid-19

This guide is to help businesses of all types and in all regions navigate the complex process of reopening and evolving post-coronavirus pandemic.

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This guide is to help businesses of all types and in all regions navigate the complex process of reopening and evolving post-coronavirus pandemic.

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.

COVID-19 has impacted every business differently. Some were able to shift to a remote work model, while others adjusted operations or closed their doors entirely. Factors that have impacted businesses' timelines and their abilities to resume "normal" operations include:

  • The status of any existing stay-at-home orders in their provinces (s) of operation. See the Ontario's Province Reopening Guide for details on reopening plans in your state.
  • The severity and volume of COVID-19 cases within their locale.
  • Whether the business has a physical location.
  • The ability to enforce proper social distancing (at least six feet between individuals) within the business location.
  • The level of contact with customers and other employees (e.g., beauty salons and gyms with direct physical contact vs. retail stores and restaurants with indirect contact).

One thing is true across the board, though: Every business will face tremendous challenges as our nation begins the path to recovery, while still facing the public health threat of the virus.

When brick-and-mortar businesses are able to reopen their doors, consumers may be wary about being in an enclosed space with other individuals, regardless of the health and safety protocols in place. Even digital businesses that have remained fully operational may find it difficult to boost sales with so many customers facing lost or limited income.

The businesses that will survive and thrive are the ones that can be flexible and adaptable to consumers' new and evolving needs. You'll need to plan carefully and understand not only what may need to change about your business, but what new growth opportunities may exist for you in a post-pandemic world.

In this guide, we'll walk you through the steps your business will need to take to reopen as restrictions are lifted across the country. While your exact reopening strategy will depend on your home state and business type, you can use this playbook as a starting point to help you plan and prepare for the "new normal."

Learn

There's a lot of information out there about COVID-19, so you'll need to focus on the most reputable, reliable sources to find the right guidance for your business.

Government agencies and public health organizations are best places to find accurate, updated information for businesses that are looking to reopen. We've compiled a few key resources to help you get started.

Canadian Guideline Resources

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC has become one of the most widely referenced resources on COVID-19. Aside from general public health guidelines for reducing the spread of the virus, the CDC has also created several dedicated landing pages providing coronavirus guidance for businesses and workplaces and how to prepare your small business for the effects of the pandemic.
  • OSHA has also issued guidance for returning to work.

Provincial-level Resources

  • Your provincial's official government website. Provincial governments have been working hard to keep their websites up to date with the latest coronavirus-related guidance and regulations. There are several places to find the appropriate links to your state government’s homepage and departments, including Ontario informational resources.
  • Your Province or Premier's official social media accounts. Many states and their governors operate official accounts on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms. In recent months, these accounts have been largely dedicated to real-time updates on coronavirus statistics and executive orders.

Plan

Creating your reopening plan will require a lot of internal and external assessment of multiple factors that could impact your success moving forward. Here are a few important things you'll need to consider:

Regulations

Throughout the pandemicions have been tasked with determining their own guidelines for stay-at-home orders and business closures. Some p have even delegated certain decisions to the county or city levels, which may make it difficult for businesses with multiple locations to create a company-wide reopening plan.

Depending on the type of establishment you operate, your province may develop industry-specific policies, based on best practices and recommendations from public health officials. For instance, your city may mandate strict physical distancing and sanitation protocols, as well as require employees and customers to wear face coverings in your location and also in your industry.

By understanding your obligations under your province's regulations, as well as the generally accepted guidelines for your industry, you will be able to craft a reopening plan that instills trust and confidence among the individuals who interact with your company.

Safety

As a business owner, your primary concern should be the health and safety of your employees and customers. All places of business, including shops, restaurants, construction sites and offices, must take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on-premises.

Here are some considerations as you develop your new safety policies in the post-coronavirus workplace:

General hygiene practices

  • Think about how you can best reiterate and enforce the CDC's guidelines for proper, frequent hand washing and coughing/sneezing into a tissue or elbow when employees return to work.
  • Assess your business's current cleaning and sanitation practices against the CDC's recently released recommendations. What procedures can you implement or upgrade to reduce the spread of the virus, and how can your staff help maintain those practices? This may include sourcing and stocking up on cleaning products and sanitizers for employee use during work hours.

Personal protective equipment (PPE)

  • If your business was subject to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration's general requirements for employee PPE use, make sure you continue to adhere to those guidelines when you reopen.
  • If your province has issued requirements for your employees and/or customers to use face masks and gloves on-premises, have a plan in place to enforce that regulation and provide PPE to employees if at all possible. Otherwise, you may wish to encourage employees wear cloth face coverings in the workplace, per the CDC's official recommendation.

Social distancing

  • Consider how your current workspace can be reconfigured to encourage social distancing if telework is not possible. The CDC recommends installing physical barriers, changing layouts to put at least six feet of distance between work stations, closing communal spaces, staggering shifts and breaks and refraining from large events.
  • According to LifeLabs, you may wish to consider limiting the number of employees in the workplace and alternating teams to further encourage social distancing.

Employee health monitoring

  • Develop a plan for monitoring your employees' health, with a particular focus on COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Decide how you will handle a positive case of COVID-19 in your workplace after you reopen. OSHA’s guidelines give specific steps on how to manage and isolate employees displaying COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Reiterate your sick time and paid time off policies to employees and discourage them from coming to work if they feel ill.

Assess your business needs

Once you've determined the new precautions and protocols your business will need to follow, it's time to consider your operational needs. From limited funding to supply chain disruptions, you may encounter a few challenges as you seek to ramp up your core business activities.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you get a better picture of what you might need to get things moving again:

What does my business need right now to survive?

The biggest obstacle most businesses are facing as they plan to reopen is financing. Even businesses that have remained partially open during the crisis have likely seen a hit to their revenue, and many now need help covering basic expenses like rent and utilities before they can ramp back up.

Look at your numbers and figure out the bare minimum you need to get things going again. Then, consider provincial aid resources like the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) program and Small Business Support.

What will my initial staffing requirements be when I reopen?

If you're one of the many businesses that had to lay off or furlough employees during the crisis, you may not be able to bring them all back at their full capacity right away. Consider whether you can offer limited hours to the majority of your pre-pandemic staff, or whether it makes more sense to have a few key individuals on for their regular hours, while slowly re-expanding your employee base as business picks up again.

What employee concerns about workplace health and safety will I need to address?

As a small business, your staff will be a critical part of your recovery, so it's important to let them know you will take their safety seriously when you reopen. Clearly communicate all plans and policies you develop regarding PPE and employee health monitoring and take the time to answer any questions and concerns from your staff.

What will my customers’ needs and demands look like now and in the foreseeable future?

Your customers' lives have all been impacted by COVID-19, and they may need different things from your business right now. Their disposable income is likely limited right now, so get creative and think of how you can help solve the challenges they're facing at this point in time. This may be as simple as changing your marketing messaging, but some businesses may need to reposition or update their core offerings to fill the needs of their market. Either way, Salesforce recommends rapidly innovating your products and services to better meet immediate customer needs.

What's possible for my business?

The reality is that most businesses will not simply be able to "pick up where they left off" when they reopen their doors. Based on your current available resources and potential funding sources through coronavirus aid programs, make a thorough, honest assessment of what might be feasible for your business in the following areas:

  • Your budget. How much capital can you access, and how can you best put that money to use?
  • Your space/location. Can your physical space be adapted to encourage social distancing?
  • Your supply chain. What do your supply chain vendor relationships look like right now? Would it make sense to look for any new vendors to help you meet short-term needs as you reopen?
  • Your products/services. How can you pivot your offerings to be relevant to your customers' needs right now?
  • Your revenue impact. What is the scope of your coronavirus-related losses right now, and how much do you expect to recoup once you're fully operational again?


Communicate

Your business will likely need to communicate plans to several different audiences, and each one requires a tailored approach to ensure the right message is received.

As part of your post-COVID-19 communications, you'll need to set clear and accurate expectations with those who interact with your business. Your employees, customers and vendors will need to know what to expect from you as you execute your reopening plan.

Follow these tips to communicate with your business's various stakeholders throughout the process:

Employees

As the people who help you serve your customers, your employees need to be kept in the loop about your business's reopening plan. According to Cushman & Wakefield, your employee communication plan should provide thorough, accurate information about physical workplace changes and safety measures, as well as set appropriate expectations for following new procedures. Use multiple communication channels (email, chat, video, social media, physical displays in the workplace, etc.) and invite any questions they may have after you share your plan.

A few important things to address:

  • Details of the changes, including any actions taken in their absence to sanitize and prepare the workspace.
  • New work practices and guidelines for health and safety.
  • How you will transition policies such as remote work, time off and flexible schedules if they had been adjusted during the pandemic.
  • Resources available to employees if they have questions or concerns.

Customers

During these difficult times, customers understand and expect that your business will be operating differently. However, they still expect transparency and timely updates as you establish a path forward. EY advised companies to follow these best practices when communicating with customers:

  • Use multiple channels to ensure your message is widely received and reinforced.
  • Demonstrate that customer interests are a priority and address their concerns directly.
  • Create and share an FAQ document outlining specific questions around your supply chain, your health and safety practices and potential risks to your customers if they continue to patronize your business.
  • Reach out to affected customers and offer assistance where appropriate.

Vendors/partners

Take time to meet with each of your vendors and partners to review your agreements and contracts. If you plan to continue working together as your business reopens, let them know what (if anything) might need to change about your working relationship, and whether it's possible to adjust your arrangement. Salesforce recommends co-creating business continuity plans with your partners and suppliers to help both of you streamline operations.

Regardless of your audience, make sure your message to each is consistent and clear across every touchpoint and channel.

Resources: https://www.uschamber.com/co/start/strategy/small-business-coronavirus-reopening-guide

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