This weekend was a momentous one for entrepreneurs and business owners throughout the UK, as the government tentatively eased the lockdown restrictions imposed on pubs, retail outlets and popular high street venues nationwide.
Of course, some outlets and schools had already reopened over the course of the previous seven days, and the good news is that the coronavirus infection rates in the UK have remained stable during this period.
In fact, an estimated 25,000 people (or 0.04% of the total population) are thought to have had Covid-19 between June 14th and June 27th, suggesting that businesses can reopen with a relative degree of confidence in the current climate.
However, companies in a host of different industries still need to take proactive steps to safeguard themselves and their customers as they reopen their doors. Here are a few ideas to bear in mind as you look to empower your business to bounce back.
Which Types of Business and Establishments Have Been Allowed to Reopen?
This represents the second stage of easing lockdown measures in the UK, after the first, tentative steps were taken towards the end of May.
These initial measures enabled members of one household to meet up with those from another while outdoors, while citizens were also able to use the nation’s parks more widely for recreational purposes.
As we’ve already touched on, selected staff members were also able to return to schools across the length and breadth of the country, subject to risk assessments and in preparation for the new blended model of learning to be implemented from August 11th.
However, the second stage of easing the nation’s lockdown is poised to be considerably more impactful, with the vast majority of pubs, bars and restaurants having all reopened their doors over the course of the weekend.
Sure, some restrictions have been imposed in this regard, with landlords required to offer a dedicated table service, maintain social distancing measures and retain the personal details of customers to help with future contact tracing.
On a similar note, theatres and music halls are also reopening (on the proviso they don’t hold live performances), while a number of cinemas, museums and galleries nationwide have all pledged to reopen in the next few days.
Hair salons and barbers also started to accept customers once again on July 4th, with some establishments opening their doors from midnight on this date after more than 100 days of lockdown. These establishments are also subject to relevant safety guidelines, including the use of protective equipment such as gloves and visors.
Elsewhere, those of you with a sense of adventure will be delighted to note that establishments such as zoos, aquariums, farms, safari parks and wildlife centres are now allowed to reopen, along with funfairs, outdoor skating rinks and theme parks (such as Alton Towers) also following suit.
For those of you who are in need of a summer break but don’t want to travel overseas (or have had to cancel a trip abroad due to border closures or the UK’s quarantine measures), you should note that hotels, apartments, campsites and caravan parks are all now eligible to reopen.
Once again, however, social distancing measures will need to be imposed where relevant here, while any shared facilities must be cleaned properly and with far greater frequency.
General Advice for Businesses – How to Initially Safeguard Yourself
It’s interesting to note that whilst businesses and venues within this category can now reopen, some have yet to officially welcome customers back after their enforced hiatus.
There may be many reasons for this; including the pressing need for entrepreneurs and property owners to undertake a risk-assessment of their business and the structures that house employees and customers alike.
This is crucial if entities such as schools and pubs are to operate successfully while also adhering to the current social distancing rules (which recently saw the recommended distances between individuals slashed from two metres to one).
Of course, employers are already required by law to undertake risk assessments in order to effectively protect their staff members (and in some instances, customers) from harm, with this laid out clearly as part of the ‘Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations’ guidelines from 1999.
This is a step-by-step process that includes five key elements, and while the precise nature of your assessment may be impacted by the challenges that are specific to Covid-19, you should follow this as closely as possible when preparing to reopen to the public. Here are the key elements to consider:
- Identify Hazards
- Assess the Risks
- Control the Risks
- Record Your Findings
- Review the Controls
These aspects of risk assessment are fairly self-explanatory, although it’s crucial that you consider any Covid-19 specific risks and incorporate these from the outset.
As an example, let’s say that you own a pub and are looking to safeguard your customers and minimise the risk of coronavirus being spread from one person to another. In his respect, one of the biggest threats is posed by people congregating at the bar, especially during busier periods at lunchtime and in the evening.
To negate this clearly identifiable risk, pubs are already introducing the idea of proactive table service, while others are leveraging apps that make it easier than ever before to order food and drinks in licensed establishments (we’ll have a little more on this later in the pieces).
This offers a clear example of identifying, assessing and controlling a potential risk in the wake of Covid-19, and it’s also important that you record the details of your findings and the measures proposed to counter them.
There’s also an expectation that companies with 50 employees or more should publish the findings of their risk-assessment, with a view to making these accessible to both employees and potential customers alike.
Even smaller companies are being encouraged to publish their assessments, although this won’t be required by any specific legislation.
Adopting this approach certainly helps businesses to protect themselves in the event of any future issues or grievances in relation to coronavirus, while it also enables individuals to understand the precise steps that you’ve taken to safeguard them in the current climate.
From a general perspective, it’s also important that you develop and promote a hygiene procedure that helps to protect employees and customers at specific sites.
Perhaps the best example of this has been the provision and utilization of hand sanitiser in workplaces nationwide, with this product strategically located by bathrooms, kitchens and any communal areas where employees tend to gather.
If you employ individuals who work out on the road or are required to travel extensively, you’ll also have to develop a viable supply chain which allows hand sanitiser to be distributed efficiently and on a regular basis over time.
There are also lessons to be learned from businesses that have been required to remain open throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, including those that offer key breakdown and maintenance services.
Such firms have had to invest in frequent cleaning and disinfecting of their sites, with a particular emphasis on the objects that people touch frequently while at work.
Ideally, manual cleaning methods should be your first port of call when looking to disinfect surfaces, but the process of ‘fogging’ will be preferable when combating airborne pathogens or disinfecting large areas that require the rapid re-entry of treated areas.
This method uses ultra-low volume (ULV) disinfection techniques and specialist equipment to generate a ‘cloud’ of extremely small liquid droplets. Make no mistake; you can apply high-strength cleaning agents and biocides using this method, significantly reducing the number of pathogens present in the air and on surfaces.
Most importantly, this method allows for the treatment of large areas within a relatively short space of time, breaking the chain of infection and ensuring that sites remain safe even when in use.
We’ve already touched on the reduction of social distancing measures from two metres to one, although you should note that this is a minimum recommendation and one that you can choose to extend in your own place of business.
Regardless of whether you want to keep people one or two metres apart, it’s important to adopt a clear and concise strategy that both employees and customers can easily understand.
You’ll also need to create constant reminders, ideally by erecting strategically located signs that reinforce your business’s precise social distancing guidance.
You may also have noted that retail outlets have adopted clearly advertised one-way systems in-store, and this is a key consideration of your business is customer-facing and experiences high levels of footfall on a daily basis.
This, combined with the aforementioned use of hand sanitiser in such locations can be incredibly effective and minimise the spread of pathogens across the board.
In office-based workplaces, there’s also a need to minimise instances of space sharing and so-called “hot desking”.
However, this is also part of a wider workplace transition, and one that has encouraged firms to empower remote working as a way of minimising the number of people on-site at any given time.
Of course, it has yet to be seen whether the remote working measures rolled out during the coronavirus outbreak are to be retained, and while one study has shown that 77% of workers feel as though employers have done a good job with handling the forced workplace transition, half of all respondents expect a return to limited flexible working hours once normal service has been resumed.
OK, we hear you ask, but how exactly are businesses empowering remote working in the current climate?
Well, the biggest focus has been placed on ensuring that employees have the right equipment, and the necessary access to key workplace systems (in addition to communication tools such as Microsoft Teams).
Proactive firms have also strived to place communication at the epicentre of their coronavirus response, primarily by ensuring that employees are provided with daily updates relating to both the nationwide spread of Covid-19 and the individual measures being taken at a company level.
These updates must be communicated through channels that capture and engage the workforce, particularly those that aren’t usually office-based and may spend their time out on the road and away from an electronic device.
Tips for Specific Business Types – The Things to Keep in Mind
At this stage, you should have a general understanding of whether or not your business is allowed to reopen, in addition to the general steps that you can take to safeguard those who are central to your venture.
In the final part of our post, we’re going to delve a little deeper into more detailed advice for businesses in specific industries, so that you can minimise the risk posed to employees and customers on a daily basis. So, let’s get started!
Pubs and Restaurants
As we touched on earlier, pubs and restaurants are currently looking to identify new and technology-led ways of maintaining social distancing measures without overly compromising on turnover and the overall customer experience.
In addition to the aforementioned idea of table service, establishments are also experimenting with the use of apps that have been specifically designed to make it quicker and easier to order food and drink in real-time.
The app Wi5 offers a relevant case in point, with this easy to use ordering tool having already been adopted by brands such as Pizza Pilgrims, Ole & Steen, Drake & Morgan and Puttshack (to name but a few).
The benefits here are obvious; as such apps can help to prevent crowding at tills and bars while simultaneously increasing table turnover and boosting the cumulative value of tips.
Of course, this step alone may not be enough to fulfil social distancing requirements, especially if you’re an independent operator with a relatively small venue.
With this in mind, you may also need to limit the number of people allowed into the premises at any given time, by requiring customers to book a space or table in advance and using advanced social distancing markets to help separate individuals once they’re inside the establishment.
Interestingly, some restaurants are also continuing to encourage their customers to take out food rather than dive in, through an increased marketing spend and the use of discounts in relation to takeaway purchases.
If your establishment does offer takeout services to customers, you must also ensure that delivery drivers are aware of the latest social distancing guidelines and committed to adhering to these at all times.
They should also be willing to wear masks and gloves when delivering food to customer’s homes, while taking the time to clean their vehicles regularly and in-between jobs where possible.
In addition to minimising the contact between individual customers and staff members, you should adopt a similar approach across every stage of the consumer journey.
For example, restaurant owners should only make sauces and condiments available in sealed individual sachets upon request, while also distributing single-use paper menus instead of laminated alternatives.
You may also want to consider distributing napkins and cutlery with a customer’s food (as opposed to making these accessible with a communal area of the venue), while it goes without saying that you should only accept contactless payments for the foreseeable future (depending on your average drink or menu item cost, of course!)
You could also make an argument to adopt a ‘one-in, one-out’ system when regulating toilet use, to ensure that the optimal social distance can be maintained at all times. You’ll also need to map out a queue that restricts the contact between patrons, while ensuring that this is clearly marked out and policed where necessary.
We spoke earlier in the piece about fogging, but it’s fair to surmise that this would be unsuitable for pubs and restaurants due to their typical opening schedules and high levels of footfall.
In these establishments, it’s important to focus on regular rather than deep cleaning on a daily basis, while also paying attention to the seemingly small details such as frequently collecting empty glasses from tables (as part of your table service) and wiping down bar tops and door handles hourly.
Shops, Retail Outlets and Fashion Brands
Retailers will also have to follow a number of these restrictions, especially in terms of minimising the number of customers on the shop floor at any given time and carefully managing the flow of consumers through congested areas.
Just as entrepreneurs with small restaurants may encourage their customers to buy take out food rather than eating in, independent retailers may also want to promote online shopping (unless customers require specific assistance).
Of course, some larger retailers may also want to set an example in this respect, particularly as coronavirus is expected to add £5.3 billion to UK ecommerce by the time 2020 is out.
Aside from these measures and the promotion of contactless payments in-store, there are additional steps that shops can take to safeguard customers depending on the precise service that they provide.
In grocery stores and supermarkets, for example, cashier staff are encouraged to wear visors when processing orders.
At the same time, many stores have actively invested in the erection of transparent physical barriers between customers and cashiers, while also ensuring that key items such as baskets and trolleys are disinfected and wiped down after every single use.
The same broad principles to close-contact retail businesses such as hairdressers, as any individual in this type of outlet should wear a visor (and or a mask) as well as gloves when tending to customers.
Such companies should also operate an appointment-only system as a way of minimising the inbound traffic flow at any given time, while also utilising social distancing floor markets and contactless payments to minimise contact and interactions.
Both supermarkets and close contact retailers should also position hand sanitisers at strategic locations throughout their store or outlet; specifically at the entry and exit of the venue and in locations where baskets and trolleys are stored.
We’d also recommend that you actively encourage your customers to use hand sanitiser when they enter and leave your establishment, with the former particularly important from your own perspective.
At present, most fashion retailers have yet to fully open their fitting rooms. However, these are gradually becoming accessible once again, but they remain a potential hotspot for the spread of the virus as consumers flock to their favourite retailers.
These areas should ideally be cleaned after every use, which is one of the main reasons why some outlets have yet to reopen these areas to the public.
Beyond this, you should also strive to delay returning items that have been tried on by consumers for a period of up to 72 hours, in order to reduce the risk of contamination on a day-to-day basis.
We’d also recommend minimising the customer handling of merchandise throughout the in-store customer journey, by investing in new display methods and reducing the amount of stock on the shop floor at any given time.
Office Places and Hotels
With hotels also opening, it’s interesting to note that these establishments can take a number of similar steps to help protect their employees and clients in the wake of Covid-19.
For example, receptionists can use the same screen as cashiers to safeguard their interactions with customers, while you can also encourage guests to use room service as opposed to visiting the hotel restaurant in-person.
Beyond this, it’s recommended that you encourage guests to carry their own luggage when checking in, or at least requiring porters to leave bags outside of individual rooms when this isn’t possible.
Guests should also take the stairs as opposed to using the lift wherever possible, while you may want to consider making it mandatory for both clients and employees to wear masks when traversing the floors or communal corridors.
From the perspective of office-based businesses, the government continues to recommend that firms allow employees to work from home where possible. Not only this, but high-profile brands such as Twitter and Fujitsu have recently announced permanent work from home measures for their employees.
For firms that have returned to normal or are required to maintain a strategic core of on-site staff, however, it’s important to review the layout of your office space as part of your dedicated risk-assessment.
On a fundamental level, this will make it far easier to set and manage safe occupancy levels that make social distancing a viable objective.
This will also identify high traffic areas and potential on-site bottlenecks where employees are likely to congregate, while allowing for the creation of one way systems and concise floor markings that help staff to navigate the space safely.
In some instances, it also makes sense that businesses should retain some of the remote working and communication strategies that they used during lockdown.
Given the ongoing need to avoid large gatherings, this definitely includes maintaining remote communication and organisational apps such as Microsoft Teams.
After all, this platform can be used to host everything from meetings to large-scale live events, while allowing for electronic note taking and negating the need to handle corporeal items such as pens and pencils.
This is the type of small and specific details that can really safeguard employees, particularly when combined with generic and universal measures such as providing hand sanitiser and a layout that allows for safe social distancing.
The Last Word
With the reopening of businesses and retailers nationwide, it would be all-too easy for people to get carried away and underestimate the ongoing threat posed by Covid-19.
However, the extension of lockdown measures in Leicester highlights the risk that coronavirus still poses in the UK, while reinforcing the need for business-owners and entrepreneurs to proactively safeguard their employees and customers when they reopen their doors.
Hopefully, following some of our general and industry-specific tips will stand your firm in good stead as it opens for business once again, while ensuring that the people at the heart of your brand are kept safe and well at all times!