29 Jun Plan to get your small business premises open and back to work
As businesses reopen there will be significant differences in the way and extent to which businesses can return to normal operations. When it’s time for your business to reopen after Covid-19 government agencies and public health authorities in your location will have the most accurate and up to date information. There will be specific requirements you’ll need to fulfil before you re-open depending on the industry you operate in, the population density where you’re based and the nature of your premises. It’s essential that you check the specific regulations for your individual circumstances before you start planning your re-opening.
As a business owner clearly your first priority must be the safety of your employees and customers. Every business regardless of whether you’re operating an office, retail or hospitality premises, studios, or even external construction sites you must take precautions to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 on-premises.
Hopefully, you’ve been able to continue operating remotely, either way before you get back to working on site, you’ll need to get together remotely with your team to create your reopening plan. This will require a lot of internal and external assessments covering pretty much every aspect of your business life and it’s doubtful even with a small business that the small team at the top will be fully aware of every aspect that will require consideration.
Risk assessment prior to return
✦ If it’s not essential, don’t do it! If working remotely is going well, consider extending it.
✦ Make sure you’re aware of the specific advice, protocols, and cleaning regimes within your region in case at any point you experience a known or suspected case of Covid-19 within your business or from a customer, visitor, or contractor.
✦ Calculate the number of employees, customers, visitors, and contractors it’s possible to have in your workspace or retail outlet and maintain the 2m social distancing and other safety requirements.
✦ Review the layout of your premises, workflows, and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other respecting the 2m distance.
✦ Review workflows and processes to reduce the number of contact points required between employees or between employees and customers or visitors.
✦ Assess the current cleaning and sanitation practices you have in place against revised local authority and government guidelines and regulations. Revise as required.
✦ Establish employee hand washing and hygiene procedures.
✦ Check ventilation system is operational. If shared premises, verify the settings and in all cases ensure it is not automatically set to reduce flow for low occupancy. If so, override to maximum.
✦ Identify where it might be necessary to install screens to protect staff such as Reception, Goods In or other high traffic areas
✦ Restrict non-business deliveries including all employees’ personal deliveries and establish the protocol for receipt and cleaning of all deliveries.
✦ Consider larger more frequent delivery schedules to reduce number of contacts. Where it’s safe to do so allocate individuals to unload vehicles to restrict contact and maintain distances.
✦ Highlight activities within the business such as retrieving office supplies or specific equipment with high contact levels and introduce drop-off points or transfer zones.
✦ Look at schedules for all upcoming essential maintenance and facility services and request after hours service to minimise external contacts.
All facilities will need to undergo a stringent clean and the sanitisation processes established by your local and regional authorities applied before reopening your business premises.
Establish dedicated team for shared equipment cleaning and workspace and meeting handover cleanses.
Increase frequency of cleaning. Pay particular attention to:
✦ Busy areas
✦ Shared equipment such as printers, copy machines, whiteboards, door handles, staplers, phones, and telephonic equipment.
Clean all shared workspaces between occupancies without fail.
In the longer term, it is reasonable to expect further new regulations that redefine minimum standards for disinfection processes and stricter sanitary practices. It will be important to establish clear instructions for something as simple as hand washing instructions to complex new set up and cleaning techniques for machines and revised processes. Employee acceptance and adherence to these changes will be one of the significant responsibilities for business owners.
Who can or can’t work and when?
There will be members of your team who fall into the high or higher risk categories whereby it may not be advisable for them to return to work at this time. This might include those who suffer from diabetes, hyper-tension, asthma or who are older members of the team. For any your more vulnerable employees it’s important to have a plan and open communication so they are able to continue social distancing at home.
If some of your team do continue social distance from home or to work from home, ensure they are included in communications and check in on their physical and mental well-being as the return of work colleagues whilst they are still isolated may cause additional stress after long periods of confinement.
Depending on where you are and what stage you are currently at this will vary. For some public transport remains unavailable. Some staff make have been away from their normal place of residence when the lockdown began and remain unable to return.
Review layouts, workflows, and processes to allow people to work further apart from each other (minimum 2m)
Produce revised digital staff handbooks and procedures to ensure first level of communication and clarification
Avoid the use of hot desks
In circumstances where shared or hot desk use is unavoidable, completely clean workstations including all shared chairs, tools and equipment between each occupant. No one should have contact with the workstation until the established cleaning procedure has taken place.
Introduce clear signage and visible reminders
Where possible use floor paint or tape to indicate one-way traffic flows through the workplace.
Introduce posters, screen savers and staff notices around the premises as ongoing reminders and location specific instructions e.g. for meeting rooms and toilet facilities.
Set up clear use guidelines for employee toilets (in many regions customer toilets are required to remain closed)
Introduce paper towels instead of hand dryers
In some cases, if there is restricted space relative to the staff you have it may not be possible for everyone to be present at the same time to ensure social distancing is maintained. Fix your teams and shifts so that that where contact is unavoidable, this happens between the same people.
Maintain and enforce the risk assessment plans regarding the numbers of people allowed on the premises at any one time. Stagger arrival and departure times, also stagger breaks and ensure there is a safe space to disperse to.
PPE and Employee Health Monitoring
As has been well publicised throughout PPE has played an important role protecting essential workers and limiting the spread of the virus throughout the pandemic. Depending on the industry you operate in the use of PPE such as N95 masks may be compulsory. This doesn’t apply to all businesses and even for those not required to do so you may decide to require masks and / or gloves to be worn in the workplace.
Some locations now require temperature checks to enter a workplace especially if you are located within a larger metropolitan office building. If you decide or are required to implement temperature checks at the entrance it’s important to designate a specific individual to carry out the checks and maintain a register. such as a manager.
It’s important to ensure that all employees are aware of Covid-19 symptoms and the ongoing need for responsible self-assessments.
As reliable antibody tests and any vaccines are as yet unavailable and their potential use somewhat controversial in most cases this remains a wait and see how it develops situation.
10 Tips for Meetings
✦ Ask if it’s really needed for the business to function
✦ Use video if possible (even within the building)
✦ Close and lock all small meeting rooms
✦ Restrict the numbers to essential personnel and distribute comprehensive meeting notes
✦ Provide hand sanitiser for those that attend
✦ Ensure 2m spacing between participants.
✦ Avoid sharing pens and
✦ Use well ventilated spaces only. If it’s possible hold meetings outdoors or in large spaces such as receptions and canteens
✦ Restrict the length of meetings
✦ Ensure full cleaning or all surfaces and equipment including whiteboards, marker pens, chairs and projection equipment between meetings.
Customers, visitors, and contractors
✦ Avoid if at all possible
✦ Use video conferencing as the first option
✦ Restrict the number of customers or visitors on the premises at one time
✦ Where possible assign timed appointments
✦ Introduce one-stop shop approach to limit the number of people each customer or visitor has contact with
✦ Keep a record of all visitors if possible
✦ Ensure handwash and sanitisation is available on entering and exiting your premises
✦ Provide washable or disposable containers for any bags or equipment visitors or customers need to leave aside e.g. handbags while you’re having your hair done
✦ Observe social distancing at all times
Where 2m apart isn’t possible
Where people cannot be 2m apart, it’s really important to manage the transmission risk:
✦ Is the activity avoidable or is it absolutely needed for your business to operate?
✦ Keeping the activity time involved as short as possible
✦ Use screens or barriers to separate people from each other
✦ Assess the workflow and revise to avoid as much contact or near contact as possible
✦ Use back-to-back or side-to-side working whenever possible
✦ Stagger arrival and departure times
✦ Revise the workflow to reduce the number of people each person has contact with or by using ‘fixed teams or partnering’
Your team will play a crucial part in re-opening your business so it’s important they know you’re taking their safety seriously and understand your plans. Not everyone in your team will have the same beliefs about the risks involved so it’s important that you clearly communicate all your plans, the policies you develop regarding PPE, social distancing, hygiene and employee health plus any government or industry specific regulations in place.