As the nation continues to deal with the effects of the coronavirus outbreak, many businesses are once again opening their doors to customers and employees alike. And though COVID-19 has likely impacted employers across all industries, some have been more affected than others.
Business closures and temporary layoffs were notable for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) that survive off close-encounters with clients and customers. That’s particularly true for restaurants and bars, as well as businesses that operate in the travel and transportation, entertainment, personal services (e.g., barbers and salons, day cares, dentists, etc.) and retail sectors. Some portions of the manufacturing industry have also struggled to maintain operations during the pandemic.
Of course, that doesn’t mean reopening or future operational concerns are limited to those industries. These tips and considerations can help your business as you rehire and rebuild.
Hiring back employees
Some states have higher numbers of essential businesses than others, but the pandemic did not stem the tide of mass furloughs and layoffs. By mid-May, more than 36 million workers had filed for unemployment. But as states reopen and restrictions are lifted, millions of Americans are or will eventually be returning to work. For business owners, that represents one of the first hurdles on the path to normal operations.
Rehiring under the Payroll Protection Program
One common concern for employers is how to rehire under the Payroll Protection Program (PPP), a facet of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act geared toward small business owners. Originally, recipients were expected to use all funds — 75% of which were to be designated to payroll — within eight weeks of receiving the loan. And to receive loan forgiveness, employers were expected to rehire employees by June 30, 2020. But that can be difficult amid state and local restrictions or decreased consumer demand.
Fortunately, the Payroll Protection Program Flexibility Act of 2020, which was passed in early June, loosened some restrictions. Now, PPP recipients must use the funds within 24 weeks, and only 60% must be used for payroll expenses. The timeline for rehiring has also been extended to December 31, 2020.
Small businesses will also need to decide between receiving a tax credit for maintaining payroll during the pandemic versus accepting a PPP loan, so it’s worth checking in with your tax advisor before making a decision.
Rehiring fairly and safely
Whether you received a PPP loan or not, another concern is who to bring back. If your business is opening up at full capacity, the answer can be easy — everyone. But if your staffing requirements remain limited due to slowed business or health restrictions, rehiring can get complicated.
According to law firm Fox Rothchild LLP, one concern is ensuring that rehiring efforts are nondiscriminatory. When deciding who returns — and who doesn’t — make sure that decisions are legitimate. One way to do this is by bringing employees back based on seniority, operational needs and past performance records. It’s also wise to document your decision-making process should you encounter issues down the road.
Some employers must also take into consideration union workers, particularly as they implement new shifts, change wages, alter job descriptions, implement safety procedures, etc. If your business does include a unionized workforce, it’s important to work closely with your legal counsel and union reps to maintain lawful operations, including as they pertain to employee safety.
Following new social distancing guidelines
One of the biggest changes that will take place within a business are adaptations made for social distancing requirements. This can include requiring PPE and regular health checks, revisiting facility plans (e.g., desk placement), updating cleaning protocols or making changes to the ventilation system within your building.
Social distancing guidelines can vary from industry to industry. As such, it’s beneficial to refer directly to the CDC, which currently offers industry-based COVID-19 social distancing guidelines and suggestions to assist SMBs as operations resume.
Attracting new business
For some business owners, relying on existing customers won’t be enough to stay afloat. That makes attracting new business a pivotal part of any reopening strategies. How you attract new business depends on many factors, including your industry, but here are some general tips that can help:
- Communicate with your existing and potential client base to maintain credibility and trust. Communication can mean many things, including ramping up your social media plans, supporting and engaging with your local community and offering some transparency into how you’re accounting for consumer and employee safety.
- Think outside the box and identify new ways you can accommodate client or customer needs, which may have changed over the last three months. For instance, the New York Adventure Club, a tourism company in New York City, began offering virtual online tours and webinars in the absence of in-person demand. Similarly, the Scalleat Hospitality group, based in northeastern Pennsylvania, opted to add an online provisions store while their restaurants were closed for in-house dining. New ideas can fuel new business.
- Reexamine and bolster your online efforts. A new survey released by Search Engine Land indicated that consumers are spending as much as 30% more time online. The same survey also indicated that over 20% of consumers are open to trying new brands while 13% are actively seeking out new brands. Combined, those stats represent a moment of opportunity for businesses seeking to expand their customer base.
- Revisit inventory and supply purchasing patterns. Consumer purchasing patterns have changed, and new safety precautions, like the use of hand sanitizer and masks, will lead to changes in the amount, type and frequency with which you purchase supplies. And, since many businesses are operating under the challenge of decreased revenue, controlling inventory will be an important part of a successful reopening. However, fulfillment experts caution business owners against making blanketed changes to their purchasing patterns. Instead, it will be more beneficial to closely monitor sales activity weekly to determine how your forecasting compares with the actual sales. And, since the pandemic has exacerbated problems within the supply chain, it’s also important to regularly communicate with vendors so that you can stay on top of shortages or address substitutions as they come about.
Keep the future in mind
There has been a lot of uncertainty since March, but one thing is certain: We don’t really know what the future holds. However, if a second wave does hit, will your business be prepared?
While you open up your doors and expand operations, it’s important to consider how you’ll adapt and react if there is a second wave of infections. That may include creating new product and service offerings, cross-training employees, implementing strong remote-work policies and finding good leadership to guide your business through tough times.
There’s no doubt that COVID-19 has negatively impacted businesses across all sectors, but taking the right steps can help your business navigate these uncertain times and be better prepared for the future.