If you've had a tough year, you're definitely not alone. The COVID-19 pandemic hit small businesses the hardest, with many shutting their doors for months at a time or, sadly, closing entirely. For those small business owners who are getting ready to reopen—or are just starting—out it's important to be prepared. Of course, your local public health site is the best resource for staying current on the changing health and safety requirements for reopening. But you'll also want to make sure you have the tools in place to keep people connected and safe on your digital network, so that business runs smoothly. We've put together a checklist of the strategies you'll need to get back on your feet and reopen responsibly after COVID.
1. Clearly communicate new protocols
Before you reopen, make sure that staff and customers understand any new guidelines and procedures you have in place. For instance, you might require people to wear masks in the workplace, maintain social distancing, and adhere to certain hand-washing or sanitation policies. Find ways to clearly communicate these protocols ahead of time, such as by setting up virtual employee training sessions or posting sufficient signage throughout your store or office.
2. Coordinate any new remote work policies
Employee habits and preferences have also changed as a result of COVID-19. Even as your office or store reopens, employees might still work from home, even on a part-time basis. In December 2020, Pew Research Center reported that 71% of employed U.S. adults were working from home and, if given the option, 54% would continue working from home after the pandemic ends. For small business owners, it's important to communicate with employees about remote work options and plan out any new schedules and guidelines in advance.
3. Update your systems and services
Getting the right masks, sanitizers, and social-distancing signage is the hard part. Updating your systems and devices should be easy. Because you likely don't have time or budget to waste on any unnecessary costs, take steps to consolidate your hardware and save yourself any future IT-related headaches. You need to be using platforms that are easy to set up and manage, and that fit elegantly into your workspace (instead of messing it up with a tangle of cords). Also, check in with your support services. Does your WiFi system offer 24/7 assistance, for instance? Make sure it does and note how to reach a representative if you need help.
4. Prepare to meet changing consumer habits
Consumer shopping habits have changed drastically in the last year as people have been forced to make purchases in isolation and adapt to new financial situations. Even as restrictions loosen, many of these new habits are expected to last. As McKinsey & Company found, 65% of consumers plan to continue their new shopping behaviors going forward. Most notably, e-commerce has experienced a major boost from the pandemic. According to eMarketer, US e-commerce sales grew by 32% from 2019 to 2020, and they're expected to make up over 19% of all US retail spending by 2024. Beyond just getting packages delivered to their homes, consumers are also interested in buying products online and retrieving them through in-store or curbside pickup. Small businesses should be prepared to incorporate these new preferences into their reopening strategies, ensuring they have the capabilities to support e-commerce sales and combine digital and in-store experiences.
5. Set up fast, reliable WiFi that keeps you connected
Once business is back up and running, your focus will be keeping customers happy and driving sales—and that means having reliable WiFi that never drops out on you. So, before you head back to the office, make sure you have a comprehensive WiFi service that covers every corner of your business, even if part of that business is still run remotely. This way, employees and customers can stay connected whether they're at home, in a workspace, or visiting a retail store. Beyond just surviving the pandemic, you also want your business to thrive in the face of unexpected challenges. That's why your platform should be cloud-based, so it self-updates and scales along with you.
6. Use business management tools for on-the-go control
Even when you open for business, you might not be in your office or on the floor of your retail shop at all times. You could be traveling, taking meetings, running errands, or working from home. To help you stay connected and in control, you'll need management tools you can access from the palm of your hand. Take Plume WorkPass—a supercharged suite of connectivity and management tools for small businesses. It doesn't just support you with fast and scalable WiFi; it also gives you the tools to supervise and customize your network from anywhere. So you can check in on employee productivity and customer usage levels at any time. Going even further, WorkPass constantly learns from your usage behaviors and delivers real-time business insights to help you make the most of your business relationships. Because we know that when you're preparing to reopen and are juggling a million different tasks, automation is more important than ever.
7. Protect your network with cybersecurity tools
Protecting your health and safety is crucial, but so is protecting your digital network. Otherwise, you risk losing valuable data, time, and money from virtual attacks that could've been prevented. So don't forget to include cybersecurity on your checklist. Specifically, your network should be guarded by a system that constantly monitors for threats and automatically quarantines suspicious devices. From there, you can address any red flags and manage device access with the swipe of a finger. With these capabilities at your fingertips, you can enjoy peace of mind while you get up and running again. Interested in small business trends for 2021? Read on.