Every business has been uniquely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. Likewise, the process of deciding and preparing to resume normal--or "new-normal"--operations will be just as different on a case-by-case basis.
For some, the timing won't be right even after the green light from government officials is given. So how can you determine if your business is ready? At minimum, you should check off the following criteria.
1. You have met all conditions set by authorities.
As the decision to reopen private businesses is a matter for states to decide, each is running its own phased approach. New York State, for example, has issued detailed guidance under Governor Cuomo's "New York Forward" plan. Eligibility for reopening is determined by health metrics guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the World Health Organization, the U.S. Department of State, and other public health experts.
There are several other official resources businesses can refer to. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce State-by-State Business Reopening Guidance features an interactive map that tracks the differences across each state, including the latest guidance, timelines, and other information employers need to restart safely and sustainably.
State governments are also keeping websites updated with the latest guidance and regulations (find yours at usa.gov or irs.gov) and many state and governor's official social media accounts are posting real-time pandemic-related news and updates. Always look for the "Verified" checkmark next to account names to confirm authenticity.
Some cities and counties have set restrictions or guidelines beyond state mandates, especially in big, metropolitan, or densely populated areas. If your business operates in one of these areas, check official government websites to make sure you're adhering to guidelines.
At an industry level, the CDC has created individual guidelines for various sectors impacted by Covid-19, including education and health institutions, veterinary clinics, retirement communities, and more. The American Industrial Hygiene Association has also created detailed industry guidelines for businesses with special health considerations such as gyms, salons, retailers, and restaurants.
2. You have established comprehensive health and safety measures.
Before reopening, most businesses will need to make physical and procedural changes that facilitate social distancing and prevent the spread of Covid-19, such as installing clear barriers and increasing cleaning and disinfecting. As an essential business, my company has taken these measures, among others, to ensure optimal safety for our constituents:
- providing daily Covid-19 updates addressing social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), and changes to normal business operations (e.g., staffing, business hours, etc.);
- continuation of remote work, including video meetings for any staff working onsite;
- daily temperature screenings of all employees before they enter the building;
- providing PPE for employees who must be onsite; and
- limiting visitors to the building, offices, and other physical spaces.
3. You are prepared to address concerns from your employees.
Every business owner should prioritize the health and safety of their employees above all else. It's good humanity, first and foremost, but it also happens to be good business.
Whether for fear of becoming infected with Covid-19 or for other reasons, some employees will be hesitant to return to work environments. Regardless of what their concerns are, manage with kindness and fairness. Meet with your human resources department, employment attorney, or other trusted counsel to be as informed and prepared as possible for those conversations.
By the same token, be prepared to assume the risk that someone may contract Covid-19 at work. Establish a protocol in accordance with recommendations from the CDC to protect your employees and your business. Keep a record of all your efforts, as you may be asked to provide documentation should the situation come to pass.
4. You've considered the consequences of resuming operations prematurely.
Aside from potential health risks, reopening your business before it's ready could be more damaging than remaining shut down. Weigh the risks versus the rewards. If you are in retail or manufacturing, for example, are your customers ready to return to the marketplace, and if so, are they in the market for your products or services?
Second, what shape is your supply chain is in? If you don't have enough inventory to accommodate demand, re-opening may be riskier than remaining closed.
And third, what do your fixed expenses look like? If they are on the higher end, the longer you go without revenue, the worse off you'll be. If they are more modest and you don't run a severe risk of losing market share permanently by delaying reopening, some short-term loss may benefit the long game.
As in every other stage of this pandemic, in attempting to restart operations, many lessons will be learned on the fly. Everything won't go smoothly, and it will be a while before most businesses are operating at pre-pandemic levels. This is a case of slow and steady wins the race; recognizing the signs that your business is--or isn't--ready to open is the next leg.