This blog is part 1 of our 4-part series on everything you need to know to reopen your business post-COVID closures. This post covers developing your business reopening plan, part 2 covers what should be done once you’re open, part 3 is all about the different cleaning methods you could implement, and part 4 is about finding a partner to help you do it all.
The pandemic is not over, but people are eager to get back to normal – even if that “normal” is a little different. That means it’s time to get back to business. To ensure a successful reopening you need to establish some plans and rules and make modifications to existing practices.
There are tons of materials from the CDC and various state health departments about requirements that must be met, but reopening is more than just checking the boxes. You want your customers to return to your business feeling safe and comfortable to do so. That’s why we have developed this guide to help you develop your business reopening plan.
Your business reopening plan needs to do more than just check the boxes to be successful – you need to make your customers feel comfortable coming back.
1. Check Local Regulations
COVID-19 rules and regulations are a constantly moving target. Before diving into creating your business reopening plan, make sure to review the regulations that are in place for your type of business in terms of location and operations. These rules will differ based on:
- Whether the business is considered essential or nonessential
- Whether operations are happening outside or indoors
- The level of face-to-face contact between individuals (customers and employees)
- The level of contact between individuals and surfaces, products, etc.
Regardless of your specific type of business, there are a few core requirements that should be part of your business reopening plan.
2. Develop Your Business Reopening Plan
Many businesses haven’t been open for months, and with things constantly in a state of flux, it may feel daunting to create your business reopening plan. So, we’ve outlined some of the things you should be thinking about that you may not have considered:
Evaluate Your Business Model and Finances
An important consideration for your plan is what needs to happen for your business to open and stay open. For many owners and managers, this will require taking a step back and looking at their current business model and finances. The way operations ran before COVID-19 may not be possible anymore, and previous income streams may be restricted or cut off completely. At the same time, processes that were put in place “temporarily” may need to be fully integrated into business operations to keep revenue streams stable.
- How have operations pivoted during COVID-19 (e.g., delivery services, curbside pickup, remote work, etc.), and what elements will continue, end, or expand further?
- Will you reopen all at once or in stages?
- If there are multiple locations, how are COVID-19 procedures being implemented across locales with different regulations?
- How will finances be impacted based on new costs associated with modifying business operations in terms of layout, cleaning/sanitation supplies, PPE for employees, hours, etc.?
Our new “normal” may require a temporary or permanent tweaking of your business operations.
Consider New Operating Procedures
With an understanding of how business operations will go, you’ll have a better idea of the different procedures that will need to be established in your business reopening plan. The main goal of these procedures is to ensure everyone is safe, to keep them safe, and to keep your business open.
Cleaning and Sanitizing
We used to think that with some standard supplies and a little effort that we were keeping our environments clean and safe. In light of the recent pandemic, we have been forced to reconsider what “clean” means.
Given that COVID-19 is a highly transmissible virus, most employers’, employees’, and customers’ top concern is ensuring everything doesn’t just look clean but is actually sanitized. Traditional janitorial services are not enough. Even if a cleaning crew comes to your business every single day, standard spritz and spray methods don’t fully sanitize surfaces and are not effective against COVID-19. Implementing COVID-specific routine cleaning and disinfecting procedures according to CDC guidelines is a must.
Evaluate your space as part of your business reopening plan. Consider what objects are high-touch vs low-touch and whether they are hard and nonporous (handles, buttons, etc.) or soft and porous (fabric furniture, carpets, etc.). These factors will determine the method and frequency of required cleaning. High-touch areas like door handles, keyboards, etc., must be cleaned multiple times a day or as often as possible between uses, while low-touch surfaces can be cleaned just once per day.
While many surfaces can be washed with soap and water, regularly disinfecting and sanitizing is the only way to significantly decrease the risk of COVID-19 spread. However, be careful when evaluating different disinfecting methods. It’s best to use an EPA-approved disinfectant, as some other disinfectants are not safe for children or animals. Make sure the instructions on the label are followed exactly to ensure the safe and effective use of the solution. And, of course, establish regular cleaning protocols with checklists to ensure cleaning tasks are being completed as needed.
Standard janitorial cleaning procedures cover only 40% of surfaces and are good only until the next touch.
Businesses should look for disinfecting and sanitizing solutions that last for longer periods of time.
You need staff to run your business – how they’re brought back will depend on your needs. Some businesses may choose to scale back employees while others may need more staff to handle new procedures. Employers should consider:
- What’s the required balance of staff vs customers needed to maintain social distancing and meet financial business needs?
- How can potential exposure be limited? Is it possible to stagger shifts or create employee work “pods” (sometimes called cohorting)?
- How can employees cover each other’s responsibilities? What type of cross-training do employees need?
Layout and Business Operations
All of the factors above will influence how business operations will need to be modified to meet new regulations.
- How does maintaining a 6-foot social distance impact layout and operations?
- Is there a way for furniture and fixtures to be moved? Does furniture need to be eliminated to discourage gathering?
- What health screening procedures are in place for staff and customers?
- Do hours need to be modified for cleaning requirements to be met?
- Is there a way to establish a one-way route through your business to prevent people from gathering?
Establish a Response Plan
It’s impossible to completely eliminate the risks of COVID-19, so you need to have a response plan in place in addition to your business reopening plan. This plan should be communicated clearly to both employees and customers. OSHA recommends that plans include the following:
- How employees and customers will be notified if exposure occurs
- What employees can expect of business operations if someone tests positive (immediate closure, required quarantine for exposed staff, etc.)
- What to do if someone with obvious symptoms comes into your business
- Procedures for enforcing distancing and mask protocols for customers and employees
- How to handle operations if staff availability is reduced because of infection or exposure
- Ways to accommodate interrupted supply chains or delayed deliveries
Don’t wait until someone tests positive and scramble to figure out how to handle it – include proper procedures in your business reopening plan.
3. Communicate Your Business Reopening Plan
It’s critical to not just establish a plan to operate safely but also to communicate that plan to everyone. This includes your employees and customers. Effective communication will help people feel confident and safe when returning to your business.
Next, your business reopening plan must be clearly communicated to employees well in advance of opening, and employers should keep communication lines open. This way, management staff can have a better understanding of how their employees are feeling and what their expectations are for returning to work. Let them know:
- The details of the plan, including reopening timelines
- What new procedures and rules are in place
- How operations will be shifted / handled in case of infection
- What happens with compensation if an employee can no longer work due to sickness
- When and how employees will be trained on new procedures
- What PPE will be provided by the business
If your employees feel safe, comfortable, and confident, they will communicate that to your customers. If they don’t…
To get customers back in your doors, you’re going to need to let them know you are open, what you’re doing to protect them, and what procedures you have in place to stay open. Work to develop effective messaging that’s both compassionate and confident.
Customer-facing messaging should include details about:
- When you’re open, including any changes to operating hours or special hours dedicated to at-risk groups.
- How you’re open, with details that address common COVID-related questions like capacity restrictions or appointment requirements.
- What health protocols are in place, including information on how you’re enforcing social distancing and mask requirements, how often facilities are being cleaned, etc.
- How you’re supporting employees, including sick policies and compensation. Since your employees are often the most customer-facing, customers want to know that they are being taken care of and not feeling pressured to come into work when they’re sick.
- What to do if customers have questions by offering the best way to contact you (phone, email, text, online form, etc.) and when or how they should expect to receive a response.
- Industry-specific questions regarding regulations. Customers know that there are different protocols for gyms, retail, restaurants, etc., and want to make sure they have most of their questions answered before coming in.
Setting clear expectations about the customer experience will help put everyone at ease and feel better about coming back to your business.
Developing your business reopening plan isn’t easy – but it essential to ensure success. Planning effectively ahead of time will streamline the entire process and put you on the right track not just to opening but to staying open long term. Once you’re able to open, one of the biggest requirements is going to be implementing and maintaining proper cleaning protocols (which we will cover in part 2 and part 3).