Complete guide to reopening your business after the COVID-19 lockdowns

In this 8-minute read:

    • Tips and guidelines for reopening your business after COVID-10
    • Implementing and tracking sanitization of your facility
    • Evaluation of employees and use of PPE
    • Modification of your physical space and processes to allow social distancing and sanitizing
    • Accepting payments safely
    • Keeping customers informed

IMPORTANT NOTE: The information in this article is intended as a general recommendation, and is not a substitute for your local or state regulations, and due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic and governmental responses to it, the information contained below may not be accurate in some cases. Be sure to familiarize yourself with any specific requirements established by your state health department and local government, and consult a qualified business advisor and/or attorney if you have any questions.

It’s difficult to try to identify which states or even cities are “reopening” or are in a state of lockdown. We’ve moved in and out of various states of lockdown over the length of the pandemic, and it’s really all still in flux. Some states have tried a more unrestricted reopening model, and others are allowing certain types of businesses open with restrictions, while keeping others closed. Some have been “re-locked-down” several time as COVID cases spike.

The general trend among “open” states seems to be allowing most public-facing businesses to operate as long as they conform to new regulations regarding social distancing, the mandated use of PPE equipment by staff (and often customers), stricter sanitization and documentation protocols, employee temperature scanning, and other requirements we’ll discuss below.

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For example, Atlanta area restaurants were originally cleared to reopen their in-person dining as long as they follow a set of 39 guidelines laid out by the state government, which include requiring all employees to wear masks, maintaining a limit of 10 customers per 500 square feet of floor space, and restricting the number of diners per table to 6 or fewer. 

Similar reopening procedures have being implemented in most states, the primary focus being on maintaining social distancing standards and increasing the use of PPE equipment by staff, as well as any mandated increases or changes in sanitization.

In this article we’ll go over some key processes and other things for you to consider as you move toward reopening your business.

Face masks and gloves are a good idea for all staff, and PPE may be required in your area

While some states have opened certain businesses in an “unrestricted” fashion, the majority are recommending or requiring the wearing of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like face masks and gloves by all staff, and many state governors are urging the use of masks by customers as well.

attractive female customer wearing a mask for COVID-19

This is not typical in America and some people are finding every excuse to complain about it, so be prepared for a few grumpy comments as you enforce your local regulations.

This likely pandemic is far from over, and the more seriously businesses take their health departments’ recommendations, the more effective the measures will be—and the more open businesses can remain that way.

Employee temperature scanning

Until you are directed otherwise, it’s a good idea to scan your and your employees’ temperatures upon arrival to work each day. Several types of non-invasive and quick-read thermometers are available for reading forehead temperatures without any contact required.

Taking and tracking temperatures of all your staff demonstrates that you are being diligent in attempting to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This may be required in your area, depending on your state’s reopening requirements.

Any employees with higher than the normal average human temperature range should be sent home and prevented from returning to work until they have been evaluated and cleared by a doctor.

laser thermometer for COVID-19 fever testing

Refer to the CDC’s directives for cleaning your facility in the event you discover a member of your staff is sick.

Facility sanitization protocols for COVID-19

All businesses should be kept clean, but due to COVID-19 recommendations even businesses that don’t serve food or drinks, or that don’t involve physical contact between employees and customers (like spas, barbershops, or hair/nail salons) or physical contact between customers and equipment (like gyms, bowling alleys, arcades, etc.) need to be sure they are compliant with any new sanitization requirements. 

There may be surfaces in your facility that didn’t typically see frequent cleaning and sanitizing (countertops, chairs, doors, waiting areas, brochure stands, touchscreens or displays, etc.) before COVID-19. Now is the time to update your sanitization processes.

Make sure you create a way to track/log your sanitization procedures and keep accurate records. This may be required in your area, depending on your state’s guidelines.

The CDC has specific guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting surfaces in your facility. Read and follow these guidelines to clean each piece of hard-surfaced equipment and your floors:

  • Wear disposable gloves when cleaning and disinfecting surfaces
  • Clean surfaces with soap and water, and then use a approved disinfectant on them
  • Clean surfaces with regular traffic more frequently (door handles and frames, counters, chairs, light switches, equipment, etc.)
  • Use EPA-registered disinfectants that are labeled as bactericidal, virucidal and fungicidal, and follow the instructions on the label. Many people don’t wait long enough after using commercial disinfectants. Read the label carefully and use these products as directed
  • If you run out of disinfectants, household bleach solutions can work as a substitute (just make sure the bleach is intended for disinfectant use, isn’t expired, and is diluted to the proper instructions on the label). To make a bleach solution, mix 5 tablespoons (1/3rd cup) bleach per gallon of water, or 4 teaspoons bleach per quart of water. Note: bleach can cause damage to some plastics and fading to cloth surfaces
  • Alcohol solutions with at least 70% alcohol may also be used

worker sanitizing hard surface for COVID-19

For soft surfaces, like employee uniforms, aprons, other clothing items, chairs and sofas, and other cloth surfaces, follow these guidelines:

  • Clean surfaces with soap and water or other appropriate cleaners for the intended surface
  • Wash any items that you can in laundry machines using the warmest water possible and drying completely before use
  • Use EPA-registered cleaners and follow instructions on label (These EPA-approved solutions meet criteria for COVID-19 measures)
  • If there is carpet in the building, continue to regularly vacuum the area. HEPA-filtered vacuums are preferred

For electronic surfaces like tablets, computers, point-of-sale systems, etc., here are some additional recommendations:

  • Consider adding a wipeable cover to each electronic device in the business
  • Follow manufacturer instructions for cleaning
  • If manufacturer recommendations aren’t available, clean surfaces using alcohol-based sprays or wipes that contain at least 70% alcohol
  • Dry surfaces completely

Also, take note of the CDC’s recommendation for business owners or supervisors in charge of managing custodial staff or employees engaged in sanitizing the facility:

If you oversee staff in a workplace, your plan should include considerations about the safety of custodial staff and other people who are carrying out the cleaning or disinfecting. These people are at increased risk of being exposed to the virus and to any toxic effects of the cleaning chemicals. These staff should wear appropriate PPE for cleaning and disinfecting.”

Modification of your business’s physical space to accommodate COVID-19 social distancing and sanitization requirements

The main point here is you should do all you can to facilitate proper social distancing between groups of customers, and between employees and customers if at all possible.

Restaurants and bars should space tables, booths, and/or bar stools in accordance with their state’s health department recommendations. Businesses that rely on close physical proximity and/or contact between staff and customers (such as spas, salons, barbershops, etc.) might consider plexiglass dividers between stations and if possible, between technician and client.

(For example, a manicurist or nail salon technician could be separated from customers by a transparent barrier with only the client’s hands available for contact.)

Mark off spacing on floors where customers may wait to pay or be served. 

line of customers spaced out for COVID-19

It’s a good idea to provide tissues, no-touch trash cans, and hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Restroom hand dryers should be disconnected and/or taped off in favor of touch-free paper towel dispensers. Touchless soap dispensers, faucets, and toilets are also strongly preferred.

You may also wish to provide disposable or reusable face masks for customers who may have forgotten theirs, particularly if your local regulations require the use of masks by customers in your store.

If you offer products stocked on shelves, self-serve brochures, or other items that may be touched/handled by customers before purchase, contact should be limited or eliminated if possible.

For example, restaurants should limit customer access to items like self-serve condiments, disposable dinnerware, and/or self-service drink stations to avoid cross-contamination from anyone carrying the coronavirus.

You may consider roping off any waiting areas, removing related furniture, and/or discouraging customers from sitting around, to help maintain better social distancing measures. In some locales, this may be a requirement.

Speak to your facility’s HVAC professional and try to maintain negative pressure in the restrooms, and a humidity range of between 40%-60% in your store. Eliminate or modify any instances where HVAC intake or returns, or standing fans, may be blowing air directly from one customer to another.

Keeping accurate customer records to help track any COVID-19 breakouts

Some industries in some states may require business owners to keep accurate records of each customer, including contact information, for more accurate tracking of any COVID-19 outbreaks. 

Whether such regulations will stand up to legal scrutiny in the future remains to be seen, but if your state requires such steps, it’s important to inform your customers of this protocol in a way that helps them understand the need. 

You can use your email marketing software, text notification system, and/or social media channels, along with in-store signage, to inform your customers that for the time being this is a requirement for you to remain open.

Maintain any curbside services and consider selling “by appointment only”

Many businesses have had to scramble to adopt a drive-up/curbside/delivery model in order to remain open where allowed during the pandemic, and we recommend you continue this practice even if your shop is allowed fully open. 

Lots of people will be skittish to return to “normal” customer behavior, and the more ways you have available for people to purchase your goods and services, the better. 

One thing that many business owners haven’t considered is the increased time it takes to properly sanitize your facility and equipment between customers, and the impact social distancing can have on the speed at which people can be served.

Many businesses, including small, local places like ice cream shops, have moved to “appointment only” selling for at least the first few weeks after reopening. This helps prevent crowding and frustrating waits for service when businesses may be understaffed or ill-equipped to deal with multiple new regulations and requirements.

It also allows you to plan for additional time necessary for sanitization between customers.

business sign open by appointment only for COVID-19

You can use the good ol’ telephone reservation model, or ideally you have robust business software that allows online scheduling and appointments.

Safer payment processes during COVID-19

Naturally, local businesses aren’t just vital to the economy… they are intended to generate income for business owners and communities (and employees). This brings up the question of how to facilitate and accept payments in ways that are conducive to social distancing and surface contact restrictions.

This is an area that many small businesses haven’t thought about, but which is intensely relevant during COVID-19 concerns about proximity and/or contact transmission of pathogens.

Avoid cash transactions if possible

Cash is fast and convenient under normal circumstances, but is problematic under COVID-19 restrictions. Many businesses have temporarily banned the use of cash and we feel it is unlikely that they will receive negative scrutiny from most local governments as a result, considering the pandemic.

However, if you decide to or are required by law to continue accepting cash, the following tips can be helpful in reducing the risk of transmission of disease:

  • Ask customers to place bills and coins on the counter or into a dedicated tray, rather than handing money to cashiers directly
  • Train your employees to place any change back on the counter or tray, rather than handing it to customers
  • Clean and sanitize all contact surfaces after each cash transaction
  • Consider separating any cash-counting areas with dividers, and make sure staff use protective gloves, masks, and/or other PPE when counting or handling cash

Contactless, mobile, online, and EMV payments facilitate better social distancing during COVID-19

Contactless payments are gaining popularity due to COVID-19. These types of payments can be made via certain “smart” credit cards, debit cards, key fobs, “wearables” or other devices including smartphones, that are capable of using radio-frequency identification (RFID) or near field communication (NFC). 

customer paying with a contactless payment wearable

Common platforms include Apple Pay, Samsung Pay, Google Pay, and Fitbit Pay. The obvious benefits to contactless payments are that there is no required pin, signature, or other secondary validation of purchases in most cases, which prevents contact-transmission of viruses and bacteria. Talk to your payments processor or representative about how you can get set up for contactless payments.

Mobile/online payment platforms such as PayPal and Zelle are also available, depending on your payments processing agreement and point-of-sale system. Speak to your processor about accepting this type of payment if you’re not already set up to do so. Online payments can be made in advance (for “order ahead” services) and even via mobile phone while customers keep appropriate distances from staff.

“Dipping” or inserting an EMV or “chip card” into a payment terminal allows for very secure payments, but there is the obvious downside during COVID-19 of the necessary contact between card and terminal, as well as physical contact between the customer and the PIN pad and/or touchscreen or pen/stylus for a signature validation. 

Depending on your business model, plexiglass barriers, “sneeze guards,” or other dividers between customers and cashiers can help reduce the transmission of airborne or contact-transferred pathogens. Regularly sanitizing all contact surfaces and keypads in accordance with the CDC’s and your local health department’s directives is vital as well.

Go deeper: read our full article on safer ways to accept payments during COVID-19.

Keep your customers informed of your COVID-19 strategy and restrictions

Everyone is feeling the impact of this pandemic, and for many people, the concerns are not likely to fade quickly. Keep your customers informed of the precautions you are taking to help ensure their health and safety as you reopen your store. 

This can help put their minds at ease and help them feel less nervous about venturing out in public for the first time in several months. 

Post what you are doing on your website and social media channels. Send out a newsletter with your email marketing software to keep your customers up to date on changes as you reopen your store. 

Be sure to make fully visible the regulations you need to follow in your place of business so any walk-in customers know what to expect. Also, some of your customers might think businesses are opening too early, so keep that in mind in your communications and business practices.

Need more? Read our industry-specific guides for reopening after COVID-19

Retail businesses, restaurants, and hair/nail salons can get a good overview of potential issues and best practices from the following guides dealing with reopening following COVID-19:

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