Wondering how to reopen your small- or medium-sized (SMB) workplace in the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic? While individual states, counties, and townships are in charge of reopening plans in their jurisdictions, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) has released guidance specific to small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). The US Chamber of Commerce has also published a playbook for reopening small businesses, and business publications are compiling useful guides as well.
The CDC’s guidance is just that — recommendations — not hard and fast laws or regulations. How your individual business implements physical distancing and other recommendations will vary according to local regulations and by industry. For example, a restaurant run by a small staff and offering takeout service only presents a different set of logistical challenges than an office or manufacturing setting with dozens of employees working side-by-side in an enclosed space. To this end, the CDC has issued a series of industry-specific guidelines, as well.
Our own account of reopening Salesforce offices in South Korea, Hong Kong, and China walks through how our leadership determined which workplaces to return to, and how to do so safely. While not everything we’re doing translates directly to small- and medium-sized businesses, there may be some valuable takeaways for SMBs in our approach.
As your team goes back into the workplace, it’s important to develop action plans for COVID-19 infections, various closing and reopening scenarios, supply chain disruptions, sick leave, and more. You should review the guidelines with your specific industry, operational setup, and organizational roles and responsibilities in mind.
What follows is our comprehensive guide to reopening your small business. Specifics will vary according to your individual business, industry, and location. But you can use these tips, ideas, and resources to help you navigate the reopening process.
CDC guidelines outline seven steps to prepare for reopening. They also include a key point worth making your golden rule if at all possible: prepare to be flexible in how your business operates.
Businesses used to in-person operations should prepare for mandatory — and possibly recurring — cycles of closing and reopening as the public health situation evolves. Technology offers many businesses the flexibility to keep operations going regardless of the public health status of your current locale. Cloud-based solutions that allow employees to securely log in from anywhere are particularly well-suited to supporting on-site and remote work simultaneously.
Depending on your industry, you may be able to identify new opportunities to shift your operational focus, if only temporarily. For example:
Look to see what gaps are newly emerging in your industry and communities where you do business. New opportunities may arise to adapt your business strategy to fill some of those gaps. Stonewall Kitchen, a specialty foods retailer in York, Maine, is an inspirational example of a company that quickly adapted its operations to better support customers and fill new needs as COVID-19 took hold.
Employee and customer safety is a top priority. If your team can work remotely even part of the time, that’s the safest option. Staggered shifts and other means of reducing the number of people sharing physical space are also effective.
Make a plan for what happens if an employee tests positive for COVID-19. Sick employees need to stay home, and self-isolate. You also need a protocol for sending other members of your team home, and possibly (temporarily) shutting your physical location down, in the event of infection.
A few site-specific guidelines:
Offices, manufacturing facilities, medical and health care facilities, and anywhere else where people need to be in close quarters for extended periods of time need policies around sharing physical space. Deep cleaning, temperature checks before employees or clients enter the workspace, and mandatory face coverings are all appropriate policies to adopt.
Workstations of any sort — desks/cubicles, machinery, food preparation areas, etcetera — should be separated by at least six feet. Consider installing plexiglass “sneeze guard” partitions between workstations to further prevent transmission of respiratory particles that can transmit the virus.
For more best practices — and photos of reconfigured workspaces — check out our guide to create a return-to-work plan.
It’s critical your employees understand when it’s not just okay, but expected, that they stay home from work. Create a very clear, easy-to-understand leave policy and make sure everyone has read it. Include information regarding paid vs unpaid sick leave, employee assistance services, and ways to protect themselves at work and at home.
Make continuity plans in case essential employees and partners, and/or a significant number of your employees are unable to work. Scenario planning ahead of time makes it easier to shift between different operational plans depending on how many employees are available to work at a given time.
Distribute well-being surveys to identify ways to help your employees’ mental and emotional health, too. The specter of COVID-19 can be incredibly stressful even for people who stay physically healthy. Survey your team to find out what might help them, whether it’s more 1:1 meetings, flexible work schedules, or nonworking virtual hangouts to maintain connectedness.
Secure your supply chain of essential health and safety supplies like masks, gloves, soap,hand sanitizer, disinfectant, and other cleaning supplies. Identify backup suppliers in case of disruptions.
Establish an emergency communications plan (all businesses should already have them). Identify key contacts, establish a chain of communications, and outline processes for communicating emergency messages and status updates to employees and other stakeholders. Share your response plans with employees and clearly communicate expectations should cases of COVID-19 be identified in your workplace or communities where you have a workplace.
Instituting additional safety measures may feel cost-prohibitive, especially for SMBs already reeling from the economic slowdown. But there are many essential, cost-effective ways to improve workplace safety, including:
Hand sanitizer — If possible, dispensers built into desks or enclosed by translucent plastic partitions are safer and more permanent than individual bottles.
Air filters that push air down and not up.
Outdoor gathering spaces to allow collaboration without viral transmission.
Windows that open, to promote freer airflow.
For companies used to feeding employees, boxed individual meals and individually packaged snacks are a safer alternative to buffet-style catering and shared snacks and drinks.
Flexibility and planning are key to preparing for reopening your SMB, and for navigating what’s to come after your doors open. The safety of your employees and customers is paramount, and establishing protocols for physical distancing, cleaning, communication, and emergency situations are important parts of the process. Beyond that, the more your business is able to adapt to the evolving health situation and market needs in the communities you serve, the better situated you’ll be.
For more, read our step-by-step guide to safely reopening your business.
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