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Small businesses aren’t ready to reopen. But let’s build a plan for when we are

By April 22, 2020No Comments

(This post originally appeared on The Guardian)

As the Trump administration and states put together their plans for “reopening” the economy, hundreds of thousands of small businesses are eagerly anticipating getting permission to open their doors once again and get back to business. But are they really ready to get back to business? Probably not.

The world has changed and running a small business won’t be the same in May as it was in February. Widespread testing is still not available. A consensus on coronavirus treatment has not been achieved. A vaccine is at least a year away. Politicians are desperate to get the economy moving again and in doing so will be risking a reignition of the virus. They are hoping that with a phased-in approach, they can limit this potential damage to the extent that our healthcare system will be able to manage.

Small businesses – retailers, merchants, shopkeepers, gym and hair salon owners – will be an instrumental part of this plan. If we fail, the consequences will be dire and may force us – like some cities in Japan – to revert back to isolation because of a second wave of infections. We don’t want this to happen.

But unfortunately, and based on many conversations I’ve had with clients and other small business owners, the steps they need to be taking to minimize this risk aren’t happening either. Is your business really ready to reopen? How do you prepare? The good news is that there’s a template to follow.

All you need to do is look at the many “essential” businesses – big and small – that have been operating throughout this pandemic. What have they been doing? One of my clients, the owner of a small distributor of industrial gases used in the healthcare industry, has created a safe workspace. No, it’s not perfect. But it’s a model that we should all emulate if we want to restart the right way.

He’s assigned a worker to do daily temperature checks of all of his employees. He’s requiring workers to stay at least six feet apart and has moved around furniture to accomplish this. He’s purchased gallons of sanitizer and strongly – no, forcefully – encourages employees to sanitize frequently. He’s issued rules for congregating in break and lunch rooms and has workers wiping down common surfaces throughout the day. He’s required that all employees wear masks inside, throughout the day and frequently communicates the federal emergency leave benefits available to his workers (his company has decided on a “no argument” policy if they need to stay home). He tells me he will aggressively acquire kits to test all of his employees as soon as they’re available. He’s continuing to have as many employees as possible work from home.

No, this isn’t fun. But it’s a heckuva lot safer. This is what all small businesses need to be doing when they reopen. In addition to the safety of our employees, we must also be considering the safety of our customers. Which means limiting and controlling the flow – like grocery stores have been doing – of store traffic, diners and patrons. Will this also limit revenues? Yes, it will. Will it create additional costs? Yes it will. But doing this will not only hopefully sustain our businesses but speed up the time it will take for us all to get through this pandemic and get back to growth and profitability.

If your business is shut and you’re sitting at home, this is what you should be thinking about. Things are going to reopen soon and it’s your job and mine is to make sure we have created a safe environment for both our customers and employees. This summer is not going to be a profitable summer. But if all businesses do their part, we will contribute towards keeping the risk of increased infections low. That will be good news for both public health and the economy.

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