The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly hard on most small businesses. Companies that rely on direct physical interactions and in-person customers have been forced to close without revenue for months.
By contrast, firms that can function in a digital arena have scrambled to create a remote work system that allows operations to move forward. Thus, some businesses have thrived during the pandemic, but most entrepreneurs have been stressed while trying desperately to stay afloat.
If you want to maximize your odds of surviving, let alone success, you’ll have to make some significant changes to your business, from the inside out.
Tips to Adapt Your Small Business:
Changes to Physical Layout
If you plan on reopening a traditional office environment, or you have a physical retail space for customers, these are some of the physical changes you might want to make:
- Install physical barriers. First, install barriers when possible, which can serve multiple purposes. Tall physical barriers will help you control the flow of customers and employees as they move throughout your workspace, and encourage them to maintain social distance. These will also block the flow and spread of air particles. Smaller, plastic barriers can function as shields between people when they interact; for example, you can place a plastic barrier between a cashier and a customer when collecting payment.
- Make hand-washing easier. Make adjustments to ensure hand washing is easier and more accessible for employees and customers. The more frequently people wash their hands, the less likely they’ll spread the virus. Installing more handwashing stations, or at least locations with accessible hand sanitizer, is another smart move.
- Allow more space between people. You should also rearrange the furniture and layout of your area to create more distance between individuals. The recommended distance of course is 6 feet. If you’re managing a restaurant or another space where people will interact, you can place tables and fireplaces farther apart, so groups of customers aren’t forced to sit too close to one another. If you’re running a traditional office space, you can move desks farther apart. You could also encourage safer social distancing habits by installing markers that illustrate intervals of 6 feet throughout your business.
- Improve ventilation. Another powerful change you can make is to improve your ventilation. COVID-19 and other illnesses spread easily through the air, but if you constantly cycle in air from outside, and filter your indoor air effectively, the risk is lessened. For some firms, this could mean completely overhauling your HVAC system. For others, it might entail simpler changes, such as keeping the doors and windows open whenever weather permits, and installing more ceiling fans.
- Monitor occupancy. Though this is more of a policy than a physical change, you should also control the physical occupancy limit of your business. How many persons can normally occupy your building or office space safely? How should you modify that to guard against increased risk of viral spread?
- Post warnings and instructions. At this point, the majority of the American population should understand the basics about the novel coronavirus and the COVID-19 pandemic. However, some of the finer points may not have sunk in—and it’s safer to offer a reminder. Try posting notices around your company that explain the nature of the pandemic and provide tips for people to keep themselves safer. For example, your signage might explain how the disease is transmitted, and caution readers to engage in suitable practices for their protection.
Policies and Procedures
In addition, you’ll want to institute new policies and procedures that will keep your employees and customers safer while the pandemic is happening. Here are four examples:
- Take employee temperatures. Think about conducting periodic employee health screenings to evaluate your staff on an individual basis for possible infection. If you proactively detect someone who might be infected, you can stop him or her from coming to work and spreading the illness. One of the simplest ways to do this is to measure employee temperatures before they return to work: COVID-19 is often associated with a fever. Of course, not all COVID-19 patients display symptoms, so this is a limited form of screening.
- Mandate face masks. Despite some early confusion on the matter, it’s now clear that face masks are highly effective at mitigating the spread of the virus, especially when they are worn both by people carrying the virus and people vulnerable to its spread. If everyone in your business, employees and customers, wears a face mask, the risk of transmission will be lower. You could make face masks available to people who don’t have access to them.
- Sanitize everything. The COVID-19 pandemic is demanding stricter standards for sanitation and hygiene. If you’re running a restaurant, bar, or other area that features frequent human interactions, you should already have an appropriate sanitation policy in place. Either way, you’ll need to step it up. For example, you ought to have set times for wiping down commonly touched surfaces within your business. You might consider temporary closures for part of the day to give everything a full cleaning.
- Stagger shifts (if possible). If you can make this work, you might also stagger your employee shifts. Avoid having too many people on shift at the same time, and reduce the potential for all your employees entering or leaving the premises at the same time.
Some of the above policies may be controversial, but it’s worthwhile to adhere to them consistently. You’ll also want to stay informed of the ongoing orders in your state, so you can abide by them and maintain legal compliance.
In addition, it’s important to communicate your policies with your audience. Make the policies known on your website and social media. Then your customers will know what to expect if they plan to visit your business.
Remote Work and New Service Options
Many businesses have already made adjustments to support employees who work from home. If remote work has been possible for your operation, despite having to scramble to put new procedures in place, you might consider going fully remote—or at least supporting remote work for a few more weeks/months.
If you’re going to make working from home more of a long-term practice, you need to treat it as an institutional change, and not a temporary arrangement. To do this effectively:
- Create formal policies. Most businesses impulsively transition to remote operations by simply taking their existing work processes and performing them from home. But if you want to be successful with remote business activity over the long haul, you’ll need to create formal policies. What do you expect from your employees? How are you going to track their progress? What are they allowed and not allowed to do? Can you support asynchronous work?
- Restructure your communication. Higher volumes of emails and video conferences instead of in-person meetings are acceptable short-term fixes, but they’re not conducive to an effective system of remote communication long-term. Instead, try to eliminate some of your standing meetings, and incorporate more social media-style interaction and project management platforms to encourage employee collaboration.
- Rethink management and supervision. Traditional managers and supervisors spend much of their time making sure employees are on task, and repeatedly touching base on goals. In a remote environment, however, this is redundant. Rethink the roles of your managers and supervisors: What can they do to empower your workers without constantly slowing productivity with unnecessary communication?
- Invest in security. Many companies have transitioned to a remote work environment without thinking through the cybersecurity vulnerabilities they may have introduced during the move. If you have staff accessing company data and doing vital work for the business online, you have to make sure their devices, apps, and connections are adequately secured.
If your company depends on interactions, you may need to consider new service options and products for your customers. Many restaurants, for example, have already shifted to offering take-out options, rather than dine-in activities. Are there other modes of gathering revenue you can establish? Can you perform your services for customers in new ways over the long term?
Revenue and Financial Considerations
If your business has been struggling in the wake of the COVID-19 shutdowns, you might have secured emergency funding in loans or grants. But what can you do if you’re still finding it a challenge to make ends meet?
First, polish your cash flow management strategy. Because the future of the COVID-19 pandemic is so uncertain, it’s hard to plan long-term practices. So focus on keeping your business afloat as long as possible.
Second, cut expenses. That may mean furloughing employees, eliminating fixed expenses that are no longer relevant, and operating leaner in as many areas as you can identify.
Third, try whatever you can to increase your revenue. Your options may admittedly be limited here, so think about establishing a secondary line of revenue.
Managing a Successful Reopening
Across the nation, states are starting to attempt reopening. Some states have been more successful than others; for example, Texas and Florida attempted to reopen bars and restaurants, but were forced to shut down again shortly thereafter due to a spike in new infections.
If you’re going to reopen successfully, you have to do so in a measured, safe, and responsible manner. Closely monitor and analyze your results, and be prepared to make further changes to accommodate constantly shifting conditions.