Businesses all over the country are beginning to reopen, but that doesn't mean the pandemic is no longer a threat. If you're thinking about reopening, you should be prepared to instate changes to keep your employees and your customers safe. Doing so will improve the health of your local community, allow your business to remain open, and even improve your business's reputation--attracting more customers and warmer interactions in the meantime.
But more than that, you'll need to remain flexible and adaptable; as we learn more about the coronavirus and as we adapt culturally, your business will need to "roll with the punches" to remain relevant, respected, healthy, and safe.
1. Write and Keep Updating New Policies
First, don't assume that your employees or customers are going to follow best practices on their own. Each business is responsible for writing, publishing, and enforcing its own policies, so physically write yours out and make those guidelines available to whoever needs to see them.
For example, you can send out a mass internal email notifying employees of new habits, actions, or behaviors you need from them. You can back this up with a team meeting, and with physical postings throughout the workplace. For customers, this usually means making posts online and on social media to notify them of forthcoming changes, coupled with in-store notices to make sure they abide by your new rules.
Additionally, this means regularly revisiting your stated policies and updating them. Put a plan in place to make revisions on a periodic basis, and monitor all your active communication channels to ensure they remain up-to-date.
2. Make Physical Changes and Encourage Personal Hygiene
If possible, make physical changes to the layout of your business. Moving shelves, furniture, and other obstacles allows for more space between individuals, reducing the possibility of transmission. Separating desks in an office environment will keep each employee safer, and roping off communal areas like meeting rooms can prevent people from gathering too closely of their own accord. Additionally, in stores, it's important to use physical markers to help people visualize the six feet of recommended distance they should keep between themselves and others. Limiting occupancy is also important.
It's also important to allow for (and encourage) good personal hygiene. Installing new hand wash stations, complete with soap, running water, and instructions on proper hand washing, can help your customers and employees wash their hands more frequently. Barring that, you can include more hand sanitizer dispensers throughout your business--just make sure you're using an effective type of hand sanitizer.
As your business begins to operate consistently, pay attention to how people are following these sanitation regulations, and where people are gathering. Are there loopholes people have found to get around your recommendations or that jeopardize public health in any way? Be prepared to respond to them.
3. Adapt to Reduce the Potential for Spread
Most of the strategies we've already discussed are aimed at reducing the potential for the coronavirus to spread, but there are additional strategies worth incorporating, all of which can have a dramatic impact on transmission:
- Facemasks. Facemasks work well in preventing the transmission of the coronavirus, so encourage their use throughout your business, and consider making them mandatory. This goes for both employees and customers. If many people seem to be lacking facemasks, consider making masks available for them.
- Ventilation. It's also a good idea to encourage as much ventilation as possible in your building. Circulating outdoor air makes it less possible for the virus to be transmitted between human hosts. You can improve ventilation by inspecting and cleaning your ventilation systems, or by simpler measures like keeping doors and windows open--with fans on.
- Social distance. Social distance should be an obvious strategy at this point, but make sure it's easy to monitor and enforce. Customers, employees, and other individuals should always be at least six feet away from one another, and if you can't manage that, mitigate the risk with clear plastic barriers. If you notice people violating social distancing guidelines, consider enforcing them with a different approach, such as physical store layout changes.
- Cleaning. Your business likely has cleaning policies in place already, but those may need revisiting in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Disinfect commonly touched surfaces regularly, and shut down operations temporarily if needed to give your business a more thorough cleaning.
4. Pay Attention to New Information
Perhaps most important, remain aware and knowledgeable of new information and changes in best practices. As we learn more information about the coronavirus, major health organizations have offered new suggestions and warnings; it's important to monitor these, and heed them whenever you can. Additionally, if your state announces new rules or changes amid your reopening (like rolling back to shelter-in-place orders), you'll need to be prepared to respond.
The pandemic remains a major public health threat, and a legitimate frustration of business owners everywhere. But collectively, we're starting to make progress to allow for responsible reopening. Just make sure you're actively improving your business in ways that can help it thrive while keeping patrons and employees safe.