Small businesses have spent more than a year adapting to the many challenges of operating during a pandemic. Thanks to increased vaccination rates, many businesses are reopening and many employees are looking to return to the office. But while the future may be more normal, it won't be the old normal. 

In Wednesday's Small Business Week Town Hall, business leaders discussed how companies can survive and flourish in the post-pandemic future. The session was moderated by Inc. executive editor Marli Guzzetta. Panelists included Jessica Johnson-Cope, Johnson Security Bureau CEO and president; Alejandro Velez, the co-founder and co-CEO of Back to the Roots; and Natalie Kaddas, the CEO of Kaddas Enterprises and vice chair of the Small Business Council. Here's a roundup of some of the takeaways from the session.

Focus on employee safety and training in the months ahead.

The panelists agreed that there will be a greater emphasis on occupational health and safety and offices reopen. "As a manufacturer, what we are really focused on is taking care of our employees. We've always focused on occupational safety, but how we've taken that to another level has been really important for our engagement," said Kaddas. 

The CEOs anticipated increased investments by workplaces in Covid-safe technology, such as robotics, biometrics, and health security. 

"Our clients are asking us to help them comply with their safety protocols, especially as they apply to Covid," said Johnson-Cope. She said that the pandemic created ample opportunities in the health security space for her company, and she believed that would continue for the next 18 to 24 months at least. Johnson Security Bureau worked with local hospitals in New York City, for example, to provide security for hospital visitors and patients, as well as Covid testing and vaccination sites. 

Johnson-Cope said she's seen established technology, such as biometrics and camera access control systems, be repurposed for security during the pandemic. 

Her company anticipates that the increased reliance on health security will occur on a greater scale. "As a result, they'll use less of the human element and more of the technology element," said Jonshon-Cope.  

Invest in upskilling your current work force, as well as recruiting new staff.

The pandemic may have changed the nature of the work some businesses do. Businesses may now find that they have to recruit new workers with new skills, or "upskill" their current workforce. The panelists cautioned that it's best to do a mix of both in order to scale your workforce. 

"Say everyone is driving defensively. Who is going to drive offense? So we have to drive offense and defense when it comes to our workforce," said Johnson-Cope. "We do have to hire to promote from within, but we have so many new opportunities that the staff we have is not going to be sufficient. So we have to find new recruiting partners, new recruiting sources, and they're going to have a different set of skills, moving beyond Covid, than they did before the pandemic."

Look for new partnership opportunities.

Doors that were previously closed may now be open for small businesses. Large older corporations may now be looking for opportunities to increase diversity in their ranks, be more environmentally conscious, or invest in their local communities. 

"I think there are opportunities for small businesses and large businesses alike. I think there's just overall more self-awareness. Industries that are traditionally very old-school and have been really difficult to break into. Now's a good time to break into those industries," said Velez.