5 tips to prepare your small business to reopen

Getting back to work safely and sustainably


As of May 20, all fifty states have started the process of reducing COVID-19 restrictions to help businesses reopen. As these restrictions ease, small businesses will need to plan and prepare to adjust to a new normal.

While the pandemic shut-down measures have affected many small businesses in similar ways, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for reopening. Consider these tips when gathering information, evaluating your business model, and enforcing a plan to safely reopen business operations.

Use our return to work checklist to prepare your business reopening plan

1. Stay up to date on business reopening guidelines

Guidelines for opening vary from state to state — and even within local communities depending how the area was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Be sure to stay current with reopening recommendations from all levels and to get information from reliable sources.


The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provide timely information on the pandemic. The CDC also offers advice tailored specifically to workplaces to promote safety and support the health of their employees and customers. Other federal resources are available through the White House’s Guidelines for Opening Up American Again, which outlines the three-phased approach for states to follow.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration(OSHA) has also prepared guidance for businesses to follow when reopening to prepare workspaces for safety and to reduce transmission and exposure to COVID-19.


The US Chamber of Commerce developed a State-by-State Business Reopening Guidance resource center, which provides state-specific guidelines, timelines, and other critical information. The site is regularly updated as more states release their reopening plans and includes an interactive map that explains regional regulations.

Refer to your state and city agency website by using the federal directory to look up the correct site. Local Chambers of Commerce can also provide location-specific information and resources. Community Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) and other local or professional organizations may also be resources for planning to reopen.

Industry-specific guidelines

Guidelines vary based on industry. The CDC provides a list of guidance documents prepared for different business types and the American Industrial Hygiene Association has developed the Back to Work Safely resource site to provides industry-by-industry recommendations.

2. Assess and adjust your business model

Businesses will require both agility and creativity to successfully adapt to a new normal. After reviewing reopening guidelines, consider the following questions to evaluate if your current business practices will still be effective and consider how specific changes might better support your business in these times. 

What are your business needs? Review your financial resources, budget, expenses, and inventory. Look for places to adjust for savings and places where you can make operations more efficient. Consider how financial aid and other relief measures from the SBA or under the CARES Act might impact cashflow and budgeting.

Is your current space or location adequate? Evaluate if your current space permits you to do business with social distancing in mind. If you have transitioned to remote work or increased online business, your space needs may have shifted.

Has your business model changed? Your business services and products may have already adapted during the COVID-19 pandemic. If you’ve increased remote services, determine if those will continue to adapt to customers’ changing needs.

3. Think through your staffing requirements

After a dramatic increase in layoffs in the early phase of the COVID-19 pandemic with an increase of more than 1,000 percent in March1  layoffs have now started to level off. Small businesses that have received loans through the Paycheck Protection Program may have even been able to rehire employees that were previously laid off. Consider the following when planning for staffing as you reopen:

Do you need a fulltime team? You may be able to bring more employees back on a part-time basis and gradually increase your staffing. Consider what your needs are now and how they might change in the future.

Can your employees work remotely? Having employees work from home can dramatically reduce exposure and could be a safety measure should future regulations require additional shutdowns. If possible, staggering employee schedules could reduce the number of onsite employees to allow for better social distancing.

Update your employees on any policy changes. Make sure your employees are fully aware of any new policies or procedures, safety measures, and federal changes to employee leave law under the CARES Act.

4. Prioritize safety

Keeping your workplace, your employees, and your customers safe will be a priority.

  • Plan for routine cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched surfaces and high traffic areas.
  • Reduce in-person meetings and follow social distancing guidelines.
  • Make sure the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) is available for all employees.
  • Have dedicated areas for disinfecting materials, washing hands, and handling equipment.
  • Encourage sick employees to stay home and to follow CDC recommendations for self-quarantining if their symptoms are related to COVID-19. 
  • Be sure to have clear channels for communication around policies and procedures that impact your employees and provide avenues for feedback and questions as they arise.

5. Don’t assume a plan will be followed: make a strategy for adoption

Shifting how we work requires flexibility at all levels and will take time and practice to become a habit. Use the transition of reopening as an opportunity to enact change and create a clear path to success to promote adoption.

Assign a workplace coordinator who can be responsible for overseeing changes and consider a kickoff meeting or phone call to introduce the changes. Be sure to leverage leadership buy-in and encourage an environment where reminders to practice safe behavior are welcome and encouraged.

By preparing to reopen safely and sustainably, business owners can promote the health and wellbeing of their employees, customers, and their businesses. Find more information to help your business at our coronavirus resource center.

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