Whether you've been able to continue trading at a reduced level, thanks to options like click and collect and take-away services, or the upcoming changes in restrictions are going to finally signal being able to open your doors to customers once again after a very long year, the term "business as usual" is going to be taking on a different meaning very soon. Everybody is bound to feel relief at being able to trade again, but it's important to remain alert to the threat that still exists from Covid-19 if you want to do so successfully. 

We are finally seeing a significant decrease in the risk attached to contracting the virus, thanks to the rapid production and administration of the vaccines, but the rate of infection is still concerning. It has been minimised by the recent lockdown, showing how important it still is to keep away from others, and how important restrictions are going to be in controlling any sudden increase as a result of businesses opening again.

We're here to help you figure out the best course of action when re-opening your business, to play your part in keeping infection down and avoiding yet another lockdown. 

Protective Measures

You will probably already be aware of the kind of restrictions that are required of physical business premises, whether you have already had to put them in place as a result of offering to take away products, or you have experienced them as a customer yourself. It is crucial to continue these with renewed vigour, or educate yourself on the best courses of action and begin to establish them. It's more important than ever to be vigilant now that a surge of customers is on its way.

A great place to start is by supplying your staff with protective masks. There are many different kinds available, but be sure to research the effectiveness of each before making a decision. Asking your employees which kind they would prefer to wear is a great way to ensure that they are comfortable. A popular choice is a clear visor that doesn't restrict breathing or make you feel too warm, with the added benefit of being easy to keep clean. 

You could also install clear screens in areas where customers come into close contact with your staff. These are very affordable as they're more often than not made from simple plastics, with some even opting to make them themselves! 56% of workers are worried about their safety on the job when it comes to returning to work. Don't let this be a deterrent when attempting to reinstate a trusted team of valued employees.

Another important step is to provide hand sanitiser at the entrances of your business, and implore your customers to use it as this ensures that any virus lingering on their hands from elsewhere is killed on the spot. A one-way system around your premises is another solution that many have turned to, as it is highly effective at minimising contact between customers. If you have areas where customers tend to congregate, such as seating or queueing areas, be sure to ask your customers to socially distance themselves if they're not already doing so.

Each business will have its own set of challenges when it comes to creating a safe working environment. Perhaps you run a warehouse, in which case a careful system will have to be put in place to ensure contact between staff is minimised as they go about their work. Sanitisation of any machinery would also be necessary. Maybe you own a hairdressing salon, in which case customers could be asked to place their belongings in containers near the door before being taken to their seats.

Signage is key to making sure your staff and customers understand and follow the procedures you put in place. The simpler the better to ensure straight forward communication. All of these measures can be intimidating for anyone who has not experienced them before, and they carry a risk of dissuading customers from re-entering the commercial world until they are no longer needed. A positive and encouraging demeanour from staff, and a helpful rather than accusatory tone to signage, can help to ease their reluctance and lessen the potential negative impact of your restrictions. 

Adjustments 

As always, this lockdown reversal is going to be carried out in gradual stages, in order to control a surge in the infection rate. For businesses, it can feel frustrating to keep applying the breaks in this way when you're raring to go, especially when your livelihood depends on it. However, there are plenty of steps you can take to start welcoming customers again, whilst also respecting the necessary delays. 

If you haven't yet considered offering a click and collect service, this can be a great way to start boosting your income again and it isn't as difficult as you'd think to put in place. The basic premise is that customers are not allowed on the premises but can, instead, order products over the telephone or online, and simply collect from a member of staff at the door. In order to handle high demand, you could make use of as many entrances and exits as possible, with a member of staff manning each one (socially distanced, of course). But remember to ensure that social distancing takes place while people are queuing outside, which can easily be achieved with the help of signage at regular, one metre intervals. 

From April 12th, outdoor hospitality venues will be able to open. If you own an indoor hospitality venue, this doesn't necessarily mean that you're out of the race to return. Think carefully about the options you have available to you. Could you create temporary or permanent outdoor space with the help of a few simple adjustments, such as an overhead canopy? Is there space going to waste that could be converted, such as flat roof space that could become a seating area by adhering to the necessary building regulations?

If you're weighing up the pros and cons of investing in adjustments like this, it's worth thinking about the fact a return to another lockdown in the future is not completely off the cards. Thanks to the unpredictable nature of viruses like Covid-19, for example the possibility of new strains emerging and the easing of travel restrictions, and what this could mean for the R rate, nothing can be promised. So, adjustments like these might stand you in good stead for potential future challenges too.

Changing Attitudes 

As well as preparing your premises, it is also very important to prepare your employees for the upcoming surge of customers. They will have grown accustomed to either reduced customer numbers, a more remote form of communication with them, or even not being able to carry out their roles at all, and will now have to handle a significant and stressful increase in customer volume. There will also be a number of other complications that come with this, especially considering the challenges these customers will be facing themselves.

Staff will need to be well informed regarding the structures that have been put in place to protect both themselves and customers. They will be expected to take responsibility for their own safety by following the new guidelines that have been put in place for them, but also to ensure that customers are doing the same thing. This might result in confrontation, so training in how to handle this would be hugely beneficial to provide for them. 

It is important to carefully consider how you would like your staff to handle such situations. There has been a range of reactions to Covid-19 restrictions so far, some stronger than others. Most people are happy to follow guidelines but there are others who find them too restrictive and refuse to follow them. Try to avoid being combative in this scenario, it's a difficult time for everyone and it's more productive to be respectful and patient when explaining the procedures you have in place. If needed, politely ask them to leave the premises if they won't comply. Remember to always ask if they are exempt from the rules first, as they may have a genuine reason why they cannot agree to what you're asking.

As well as being understanding towards your customers, your staff will also have a range of new concerns. We've touched upon how they might feel as a result of the sudden increase in the volume of customers, and its important to be lenient when it comes to giving them time to adjust to it. Furthermore, many have used their reduced working hours to reflect on their career paths. Perhaps this means they no longer plan on having a future with your business. What could you do to encourage their loyalty? How could you make them feel more comfortable approaching you with their thoughts? These are important questions to ask in this ever-changing environment.   

Furthermore, 61% of desk-based workers would prefer to work from home more often. How do your employees feel about returning to work? Would you be able to offer them the option of continuing with their current arrangements, if it has been beneficial for both parties? It's important to consider the fact that reversing everything put in place during the pandemic, may not be the best approach for your business.

Help Available 

It might not be as straightforward as simply altering existing premises and procedures when it comes to being ready to return to business; you may also have to consider hiring additional help in order to handle the challenges. Luckily, plenty of changes have taken place in every area of the business world, and the reality of hiring help is much changed; making it far easier than you might first imagine. 

Thanks to the need for more flexible working arrangements as a result of the pandemic, businesses have been forced to reconsider their structure. The consequences of such are not only positive for them; allowing them to expand and adjust in ways they hadn't previously been able to, but also for those in need of their services. For example, outsourcing to remote, third party companies has now become commonplace for many businesses.

The main advantage of handing over responsibility for one or more of your operations to an outside company is that you can do so on a temporary basis. This allows you to have the help you need when you need it, and save money when you don't. In comparison to hiring new, full-time employees the financial strain is far less significant, and there is less responsibility when it comes to things like Human Resources procedures and scheduling. You'd have access to a whole team of ready-trained professionals.

Outsourcing can help many different businesses in many different ways. For example, to handle the inevitable increase in call volumes and live chat requests if you choose to opt for a click and collect service, you could outsource to a call handling or live chat handling company on a temporary basis. 54% of all companies use third-party support teams to connect with customers, so you wouldn't be alone in making the most of this valuable option. Alternatively, if you need help coordinating all of the new aspects involved in running your business, you could outsource administration-based tasks to a virtual personal assistant. 

Hopefully, we've given you some helpful tips that will better prepare you for the challenges that come with bringing your business out of lockdown in the coming months, whether you do so gradually, or you go all out in June. Be brave when it it comes to investing in change; it pays off. Make sure your staff are prepared and they and your customers protected. The return to normality is finally on the horizon, even if it looks a little different than you thought, but taking a careful approach will be the difference between doing so successfully or contributing to more restrictions in the future.

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