Economy Rests on Small Business Owners as They Prepare to Reopen

How can small business owners safely re-open amid the COVID-19 pandemic? Buoy talked with small business owners about their concerns, solutions, and strategies for returning back to work.

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Contents

  1. Key protective measures include no-contact delivery, temperature checks, and capacity restrictions
  2. Not having a single source of guidance means confusion takes over
  3. Real-Life Stories
  4. When trying to manage COVID-19 encounters, no one is sure what’s the right approach
  5. Which protective equipment is best for a business—and what happens if it runs out?
  6. When business goes down, communication should go up
  7. Employees wanting to “tough out” sickness is a concern among owners
  8. Small business owners want to protect their “work families”
  9. Related Articles

The COVID-19 pandemic is already giving way to an economic downturn, making the future uncertain for so many business owners. Is reopening the economy right now the way forward or could it lead to a setback? As social distancing restrictions are lifted and the re-opening process begins, many small businesses are struggling to understand the protocols needed to keep their employees and team members safe.

In early May, Buoy hosted a focus group of small business owners to learn about their most pressing concerns and the measures they’re taking to ensure safety in their workplaces—and beyond.

Key protective measures include no-contact delivery, temperature checks, and capacity restrictions

Over the course of the shutdown, essential businesses have adapted and changed the way they conduct business through new measures like no-contact delivery, temperature checks for employees, curbside pickup, and contactless payment options. Business owners predict they'll be keeping these practices in place for the foreseeable future.

“At the moment, we’re only doing curbside pickup, so people don’t physically come into the store," said Alyssa Daly, operations manager at Action Auto Parts in Rhode Island. "I also talked with our manager about putting in plexiglass around the counter, because employees working there are concerned for their safety.”

Not having a single source of guidance means confusion takes over

As businesses start to ramp up reopening, owners are looking for guidance on how to design safe workspaces for staff and limited-contact experiences for customers. They know that if not done the right way, they could be putting their entire communities at risk.

Without one source to rely on for updates on protecting their employees during this pandemic, business owners are unsure of which information they can trust. They’re left incorporating guidance from distributors, their state governments, and even protocols from other states. Navigating so many sources is difficult and confusing.

Real-life Stories

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When trying to manage COVID-19 encounters, no one is sure what’s the right approach

There is still a great deal of uncertainty about the best way to safeguard employees and customers. If someone with COVID-19 comes into contact with the business, what are the potential health hazards—and how should they be addressed? As one focus group participant explained: “All it takes is for one person to come in, infect one of your staff, and then everything that individual touches could infect other customers.”

With no clear guidelines in place for dealing with these situations, small business owners are focused on reducing the risk of contact. Because the consequences of inaction on this front could be devastating if, for example, staff members need to be self-quarantined at the same time, which could force a business to close.

Which protective equipment is best for a business—and what happens if it runs out?

Our focus group participants were also unsure about which type of personal protective equipment (PPE) was best for their employees. Some have been promoting the use of homemade cloth masks, for example, but aren’t sure how well they work. Others don’t know which thermometers are most efficient and reliable. They are also concerned about using PPE that some believe should be reserved for first responders and other medical workers.

Businesses that have always relied on PPE now worry that supply chains have been disrupted and materials are harder to source. As Dr. Thao Nguyen Vu, an orthodontist at Beachwood Dental in Los Alamos, CA, explained: “Right now, it's really hard to get enough PPE for everybody, but we're going to have to find ways to. It's expensive and hard to come by even as a healthcare provider.”

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When business goes down, communication should go up

All our focus group participants agreed that regular communication with their employees is essential during this time. Ensuring that employees understand new guidelines and feel safe when returning to work—as well as keeping symptomatic employees home—is especially top of mind for all. Business has been slower than usual for many, too. One owner said that their business operations are down about 40 percent, and they’re struggling to offer hazard pay to employees.

Sound communication strategies have proven to be incredibly important. While methods vary—some owners rely on texting, others communicate through posters and memos—the overall sentiment was that communication of new expectations and practices must remain frequent, transparent, and hands-on.

“We’ll be reopening in two weeks," says Dr. Thao Nguyen Vu. "The week before we reopen, we're going to have a mock day where I’ll pretend to be the patient and my employees will practice seeing me, so they can get used to the new procedures in place.”

Employees wanting to “tough out” sickness is a concern among owners

Many participants mentioned that their employees typically push through colds and other small ailments. Partially because of constraints like hourly pay and limited vacation time, and partially because they pride themselves on showing up consistently and on time. While these are typically positive habits, during a pandemic they are a reason for concern.

As one owner explained: “I think some of our office staff, like the warehouse employees, really like their jobs. They don't want to call out, and they pride themselves on it. So if they’re sick, I don't think they'd always tell us. We'll definitely have to [screen] as they enter the building, which is yet another job for everybody, but it's going to be important we all do it."

Small business owners want to protect their “work families”

A small business often feels like a small family. So how do owners take care of their people? Small businesses are trying hard to strike a balance between providing the products and services their customers depend on while keeping both staff and customers safe.

“You need to save the small business," said Robert Daly, president of Action Auto Parts in Rhode Island. "Sometimes you can feel guilty about it, but you just got to keep in mind that it's really, really important that we all survive.”

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