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Back to work: how to manage reopening your business

The easing of coronavirus restrictions means small businesses are coming out of COVID-enforced hibernation. But new procedures around national safety workplace principles are adding complexity to an already difficult situation. Here’s how to manage the transition – for you and your staff.

The coronavirus pandemic has hit small businesses hard. For many, turnover or cash flow has fallen drastically, while for others it’s meant making big changes to both workforce arrangements as well as how products and services are delivered. Some have ceased trading altogether.

Now, with restrictions starting to ease, there’s a sense that things are slowly beginning to get back to normal. But Leanne Faulkner, small-business wellbeing advocate and founder of Fortitude at Work, says there are still significant challenges ahead.

“As COVID-19 has evolved, so have the concerns of small-business owners, so that the triggers are now quite different compared to those experienced at the start of the pandemic,” says Faulkner.

“With many small businesses having to implement rules and procedures that they’ve never had to think about before, now [the question is], ‘How do I reopen the doors in a way that means I’m staying compliant?’ For owners, that can add an extra layer of complexity and stress.”

But Faulkner says there’s a way forward. “Small-business owners who take time now to plan, research and lay good groundwork will be far better off than those who don’t.”

What you can do

Embrace the “new normal”

“We may be slowly getting back to normal as restrictions ease but it will be a new normal for many small businesses – one that’s likely to exist for some time,” says Faulkner. “Simply acknowledging that this isn’t going to be like business as usual, and recognising that it’s okay if that is a source of stress, is a good place to start.”

Understand your new obligations

Physical distancing and hygiene measures are a key part of the national COVID-19 safe workplace principles but how they – and other measures – play out in your business will depend on several factors. These include the industry you’re in, how many employees you have and the physical aspects and size of your workplace.

“There’s no way of saying what managing this transition and implementing COVID-19-safe strategies will be like for every small-business owner,” says Faulkner. “Equipping yourself with industry-specific information is vital. This will help you feel confident both in reopening your doors and being able to help employees transition back to work, addressing any concerns they have in the process.”

Once you’re across the coronavirus-related work health and safety information for your industry, Faulkner recommends embarking on a planning phase.

"Spend some time imagining and thinking about what it might be like for your business in the weeks and months ahead, and plan for different situations and scenarios. It’s a technique that can help you gain a sense of power and a feeling of calm about something which, to a large extent, is beyond your control.”

Faulkner says it can also help you prepare for difficult situations. “You might have to have tough conversations or be ready to assert yourself around compliance with the new safety measures. Planning and practising for this can be really valuable.”

Look after your mental health.

Creating and maintaining a mentally healthy workplace for your employees is crucial, perhaps now more than ever, but prioritising your own mental health and wellbeing during this transition phase is just as important.

“If a small-business owner isn’t feeling resilient and mentally well as their business reopens or adapts, it’s going to be a real struggle for them to manage the same for their employees.

“Plus, optimising your own mental health as well as addressing any concerns, worries and fears that you have will result in far greater empathy for your employees and a better ability to manage reopening the doors.”

This article looks at ways business owners, leaders and managers can manage their mental health during coronavirus.

Our Coronavirus Mental Wellbeing Support Service provides regularly updated information, advice and strategies to help you manage your wellbeing and mental health, as well as 24/7 access to trained counsellors. You can call them on 1800 512 348.

You can also connect with other community members on our dedicated community forum: Coping during the coronavirus pandemic.

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