Steps small businesses must take for reopening after lockdown

Jürg Widmer Probst

Steps small businesses must take for reopening after lockdown

Jürg Widmer Probst small business mer Probst small businesses reopening

After seven weeks of partial lockdown that forced many small businesses to temporarily close down, the Government has announced the first steps for reopening. Coronavirus is still with us, of course, but there is now a plan for phased reopening for small businesses.  This was first announced by the Prime Minister in a TV address on Sunday 10 May 2020.

Official guidelines for reopening small businesses across different sectors

The Government document, Our Plan to Rebuild, was released two days later and can be found here. It includes measures for retail businesses and some hospitality services. Shops can reopen from 1 June 2020, and specific hospitality services from 4 July 2020. Further guidelines will be published after consultation with small business groups and other stakeholders, according to the Government.

It’s clear that the Government intends for small businesses such as pubs, hotels, cinemas, beauty salons and hairdressers, to open by July. However, all of these plans are subject to the caveat that should COVID-19 cases rise then reopening will be reversed. Countries such as Germany and South Korea have already seen a rise in coronavirus cases and deaths since certain lockdown restrictions were lifted.

Construction and manufacturing workers, along with other frontline services such as cleaners, were told to go back to work on 13 May 2020. As they cannot practically work from home, the Government orders are to head back to work and avoid public transport. According to the document, this includes logistics, distribution, manufacturing constriction and food production, as well as scientific researchers.

Only reopen if it is safe for employees and customers

Small businesses that can continue to work from home should do so, says the Government. There is still a clear need for as many people as possible to stay off public transport and stay away from busy areas. And for those who do have to go into work, social distancing measures must be introduced.

Director general of the Institute of Directors, Jonathan Geldart, says: “We know that the battle with this virus is far from over… it’s vital that the [Government] guidance is clear so that companies can plan how to return [to work] safely. Directors have the legal responsibility for their employees and need to have confidence that it’s safe.


The Government says it will advise businesses on how to implement social distancing measures, and how to prepare safely for customers. In April 2020, the British Retail Consortium (BRC) released their social distancing guidelines for shops.

Now that small businesses in the retail and hospitality sector know when they are expected to reopening, it’s clear that more official guidelines are needed between now and then. And as social distancing and limiting customers will continue to hit sales due to the reduced footfall, we can expect the Government to also announce some kind of support for retailers and traders.

How to become COVID-19 secure

The guidelines cover what small business owners should do to protect themselves and their customers from coronavirus. They say that small businesses must demonstrate they are “COVID-19 secure”, which will allow them to display a badge showing customers that they are following the guidance.

Here are some of the basic instructions for small businesses to become COVID-19 secure:

  • Do everything possible for your employees to work from home

Small business owners must take every possible step to allow employees to work from home. Any employees that must stay away from their home for a number of days should have this officially logged. All accommodation they use must meet the same social distancing guidelines as other small businesses.

  • Carry out a complete COVID-19 risk assessment

Every business that employees more than 50 people must carry out a COVID-19 specific risk assessment. The results should be published on their website. This assessment will also include whether your small business needs specialist PPE but it is anticipated most will not.

  • Adhere to social distancing measures

Redesign your workspace to ensure a 2m social distancing gap between every employee. Implement staggered starting times to keep numbers down and create clearly marked one-way walkthroughs. Open every possible entrance and exit and make sure all seating is properly distanced.

  • Manage risk of transmission

If all employees can’t be kept 2 metres apart, small business owners and employers must create different shift patterns. They could also introduce barriers across any open spaces. The number of employees that must have contact with other must be minimised.

  • Step up cleaning and sanitisation

Workplaces must be thoroughly sanitised on a regular basis. Employers should ensure handwashing facilities and hand sanitisers are freely accessible. Keep doors open to minimise the need to touch door handles. For guidance of cleaning directly after a suspected or known case of COVID-19, see here.

General advice for small business owners planning to reopen

If employees must be face-to-face with other people for long periods of time, then small business owners are obligated to consider whether this is safe. No employee is obliged to continue working if the workplace isn’t safe.

All shops and retail businesses must fully assess how many customers can safely fit into their premises and properly socially distance. The number of customers allowed in at any one time should be closely monitored, and any customer services that break social distancing regulations should be suspended.

For hospitality, retail and any other public facing business, customers should be encouraged to pay using contactless technology or via an app or website. Cash increases the chances of transmission between customers and employees. Work breaks should be staggered so that employees have space and time to rest without breaking social distancing.

The Government has included extra guidance for offices:

  • Avoid in-person meetings if possible.
  • If face-to-face meetings must happen, only minimal attendees should be allowed. Everyone should maintain social distancing throughout.
  • Don’t share pens or office equipment.
  • Have meetings only in well-ventilated spaces or outside.
  • Stagger work breaks and provide outside space.
  • Install screens where possible, particularly in reception or open plan offices.
  • Encourage employees to bring their own food.
  • Restrict deliveries to business only.
  • Keep a strict record of all visitors and change diaries to minimise contact.
  • Communicate regularly and clearly about the measures you are taking to combat COVID-19.



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