When deciding to reopen a business, small business owners might feel confused or overwhelmed at first, wondering how to best adjust business operations to include COVID-19 regulations. To help wade through the confusion, we interviewed Jennifer Palmer, owner of Nourishing Journey organic café and wellness center in Columbia, MD.
Where to Find COVID-19 Business Regulations by State
The first thing all small business owners need to know is that it is important to look up the regulations for your state and your industry. This will form the basis of your personalized operating plan to accommodate COVID-19 regulations. There is no cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all approach unfortunately. All business owners will need to research these answers for themselves based on their locality and industry. The good news is, the information is out there and easily accessible for the most part!
About how she figured out rules, regulations, and guidelines for reopening her small business, Palmer says, “The first thing I did was look up the guidelines on the state and county websites for businesses opening back up.” When looking for these regulations for your own business, you can check the state-by-state reopening guidance on the U.S. Chamber of Commerce website. You can also find your specific state’s website on USA.gov and find out what your state’s COVID business reopening guidelines are that way.
Palmer continues, “Then I had to look for additional guidelines for the café and for our practitioners in the wellness center. We have so many different practitioners that we have many different guidelines we had to look at. Some practitioners had a lot of very specific needs based on their industry guidelines and others could just follow basic guidelines for the state and county. I had to gather up the recommendations and figure out what made most sense given we have a public space with the café and a wellness center seeing one-on one-clients, which complicated some of the decisions we needed to make.”
Adjust Business Operations to Include COVID-19 Regulations
The changes you make to your own operations will be affected by your individual state guidelines, plus any extra guidelines your specific industry might have. For example, mask mandates vary by state. And cleaning and sanitizing procedures will vary by industry. An office building with very little foot traffic and almost no exposure to the public will have very different sanitation procedures than an eatery or a nail salon.
Palmer’s business hosts practitioners and staff from many different industries—from medical and physical therapy professionals, to spiritual counselors and energy healers, to a thriving café and gift shop. Of handling and yielding to all of these different regulations within one business, Palmer says, “We have people coming in off of the street for the café with the same entrance as people coming in for the wellness center. We have to be mindful with capacity and social distancing and needed to develop a plan for how to manage that. We had to add signs to the entranceway explaining mask guidelines, keeping distance between each other, not coming in if you’re sick, waiting outside if you are visiting for a wellness appointment, and also our new limited hours.”
As for specific changes she had to make to her business’s operating procedures, Palmer says, “We needed to figure out appropriate signage, handling traffic, taking temperatures, asking patients and clients to wash hands, cleaning rooms thoroughly and appropriately, and tracking everything that we are doing. We’ve also had to worry about how to make sure our clients know our procedures and guidelines so that they are prepared for when they come in.
“For the wellness center staff and administrative staff, we had different things to worry about. Usually clients would just come in and fill out their paperwork and wait for the practitioner. Now the client stays in the car and texts the practitioner when they arrive, and the practitioner has to text the client back and let them know when they can come in. Upon walking in the door, all clients immediately have to get their temperature taken, wash their hands, sign a special COVID release form, make sure they have their mask on, and then go back to the session room.”
COVID Business Operating Procedures: Communication and Training
As for how to communicate your new operating plans with your staff, this will vary depending on your business, the people who work for you, and how they best receive communications. Palmer says of her staff, “For the café, some of my staff does not check email. With them I texted and they were more than happy to jump on board and start working again.”
When it came to informing and training the staff who help keep Palmer’s business running smoothly with the new regulations in place, Palmer says, “I just had to show them we needed to be done and some of the changes in procedures. For example, laundry had to be done differently and the clean laundry would be kept in a different place than the dirty laundry to make sure there was no possibility of cross-contamination. Also, we had to consider things like how often we would wipe down commonly touched surfaces.”
Challenges to Reopening Safely
When asked what some of the biggest challenges are that Palmer has faced, she says, “I think the hardest part about opening back up has been remembering every single new procedure that must be done to meet the regulatory guidelines. Also having to wear the mask all the time has been difficult. Many do not feel well having a mask on for long periods. Breathing in the carbon dioxide is not good for anyone at this level of exposure and it has given people issues with feeling like they’re not getting enough oxygen. So we’ve had to get creative with ways that staff can find breaks to take off their mask. The staff knows that they can go into a back room and take off the mask to breathe for a minute or two and then come back out.
“Overall some of the biggest challenges we’ve had have been around balancing everybody’s needs. Some clients are very scared of the virus and some aren’t at all scared of the virus. Some practitioners have very strict guidelines in order to practice and some don’t. Mixing all of the needs together and trying to keep everybody happy and comfortable has been one of our biggest concerns and is an ongoing concern. We want to make sure everybody knows we are keeping our space clean, safe and open for business while also still having the spa-like feel to the appointment.”
Remember Why You Are in Business
As you go through what might be a difficult time, it’s important to remember why you went into business in the first place. Many business owners have good hearts and want to change their clients’ and customers’ lives for the better. Remembering this might help keep you motivated through challenges so you can get past the tough times and thrive in business.