The U.S. Chamber of Commerce (USCOC) reported that, as of the end of June 2020, most U.S. businesses (79%) were either fully or partially open. However, it is far from business as usual for most of these companies.

The majority of the businesses (80%) in the USCOC survey were planning, or had already implemented, significant changes to the way they do business in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These changes included asking employees to self-monitor, taking temperature checks of employees and of the public, additional cleaning and disinfecting, the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and the requirement that customers and workers stay at least six feet apart.

We’ve now gone through another round of temporary closures in many areas, and businesses are once again focused on opening their doors to the public. Considerations for reopening aren’t solely about protecting your customers. They are also about protecting you and your workers. It is a delicate balance but a critical one. Here are some factors to consider to ensure you’re doing it right.

Local and State Laws for Reopening

Compliance is a crucial consideration for businesses at any time, but it’s even more critical for reopening your business during a pandemic. Local and state laws vary widely and occasionally are also in conflict. First, be sure that you can safely and legally reopen in your area. Then, determine the regulations in your particular area regarding social distancing, masks and sanitization procedures.

Unsure of what the rules are in your region? You’re not alone. Check with your local Chamber of Commerce or business association. Local and state governments will also typically have web pages dedicated to information about reopening, and will likely have contact information if you require clarification.

The U.S. Department of Labour has produced guidelines to help businesses reopen and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has also released guidance on safe reopening that are industry-specific. While not legally enforceable, these guidelines do provide you with an excellent starting point for information on a safe reopening.

Personal Protective Equipment

Your workers are your eyes and ears on the ground. Liaise with them to help you identify any potential hazards at your place of business and provide them with the personal protection equipment (PPE) necessary to avoid those hazards. Provide training on the proper use of PPE and provide guidance on how your workers can safely interact with their customers.

Some of the PPE you should consider providing include:

  • Plexiglass partitions that separate workers from customers at cash registers or that separate your customers from one another (in the case of a salon or restaurant)
  • Disposable, reusable or surgical masks (consider keeping a supply on hand at your door for customer use and provide a receptacle for disposal at the entrance as well)
  • Disposable gloves
  • Goggles or face shields (these may be a good idea for employees who have an elevated risk for COVID-19 complications, as they offer enhanced protection)

Changes to Procedures and Processes

When workers enter the building, you can take their temperature and ask them to answer a set of self-screening questions focused on their health and recent contact information.

Be flexible about sick days

It's also crucial to be as flexible as possible with your workers concerning sick days or days off need to care for a sick relative. Make sure to communicate this flexibility to your people, so they do not jeopardize anyone's health because they are concerned about their job.

Create clear procedures for all potential circumstances

You should also ensure that you create a set of clear procedures for every eventuality. A few questions you should have a ready answer for include:

  • What should screeners do if responses suggest a potential exposure or symptoms?
  • What should workers do if they feel sick?
  • What happens when a worker is diagnosed with COVID-19?
  • What should happen when a customer refuses to follow the rules?

Consider your supply chains

How should procedures change regarding the delivery of products and supplies? Curbside delivery is an option and of course, you can protect your workers by insisting on full PPE — masks and gloves — when they open deliveries. Be prepared by identifying alternate sources in advance of a COVID-19 disruption to your supply chain.

Other factors to consider

Have your cash out procedures changed? Will you accept cash, or will you encourage or insist on the use of credit or debit? How can you adjust normal processes to minimize the customer contact and handling of product by your staff? Thinking about all the elements of your business that could be impacted will help you prepare for any situation.

Physical Design of Your Workplace

In an office

If possible, redesign the office and manufacturing workspaces to maintain a social distance of at least six feet to help reduce contact. Reconfigure high traffic areas such as paths to cash registers, photocopiers and other shared devices to further minimize the potential for close contact. Consider placing social distancing symbols on the floor of the office in these areas to keep people apart. Consider also closing lunchrooms or staggering rest breaks so that you minimize large gatherings of people. Reconfigure meeting rooms to maintain physical distance and discourage meetings of more than ten people.

In a public-facing business

In shops and restaurants, carefully examine traffic patterns. In retail outlets, you can manage traffic flow with arrows and other indicators on the floor, and in restaurants, have a hostess seat people and guide them out. Greeters who can welcome customers and explain your process are a good idea in any public-facing business. You may also want to remove some product displays or tables to create more space and eliminate overcrowding. Post signage at the door and elsewhere that clearly explains any new processes that directly affect the public. You may also want to include this information with any advertising you buy to announce your reopening.

Cleaning and Sanitizing

Regardless of the nature of your business, you will want to enhance your cleaning and sanitization processes. This could mean wiping down cash-out areas, deep cleaning stations between customers or shifts or steaming clothes in a retail outlet. It might mean hiring extra staff or changing your hours to allow extra cleaning to occur before opening and after closing. If you are unable to do either of these, be aware of the additional time that enhanced cleaning requires of your employees. Their duties may need to change slightly to accommodate all their added tasks.

Provide hand washing and sanitization stations for your workers and place hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance and exit to your business and wherever else it makes sense to do so.

Write these procedures down, communicate them clearly to all staff and provide copies.

Communication is key

Communication is probably the most crucial aspect of your reopening. In this climate, you cannot overcommunicate. Consider including your reopening plans in your business blog if you have one, as well as in any advertising you do. If you have a customer e-mail list, send out an announcement of your reopening and include your plans for keeping your employees and customers safe. Before you open, post information outside your business.

Keep your employees informed

Communication with your employees is also a critical aspect of the successful implementation of any reopening plan. Meet with your employees to discuss the plan and solicit their input. As the people on the ground and interacting with your customers, they offer a different perspective and can provide useful suggestions. They can also pinpoint potential areas of difficulty that you may not have considered. Discuss scenarios with your workers as well as your expectations. What if someone refuses to wear a mask, for example? What are your people expected to do or to avoid doing? Have a clear procedure in place for each scenario and insist your workers follow it.

Success comes with having a solid plan in place

Reopening to the public can be stressful for everyone, but a little advanced planning can go a long way to alleviating concerns and reinvigorating your business.