Air Date

June 10, 2020

Featured Guests

H.E. Hakainde Hichilema
President, Zambia

Lucy Nshuti Mbabazi
Head of Africa Advocacy and Partnerships, Better Than Cash Alliance


Jeanette Mulvey
Vice President and Editor-in-Chief, CO—


When COVID-19 first hit in early spring, many businesses were forced to shut down. Small businesses especially have had to weigh the social and financial implications of reopening and pivoting their businesses in the current landscape.

As the second wave of the coronavirus brought new stay-at-home orders and restrictions, entrepreneurs once again had to consider their options. Jeanette Mulvey, content director at CO—, recently spoke with a panel of experts about how businesses can safely reopen during the pandemic. Here are four takeaways from that conversation.

Businesses Have to Re-Shape What Is Normal

Most business owners know they can’t operate as they did before the pandemic. To safely reopen, entrepreneurs must consider new restrictions, CDC guidelines and structures, but this doesn't have to hurt their business. While this is a new normal, entrepreneurs have the ability to shape that normalcy. They can use the restrictions to their advantage by implementing changes they’ve always wanted, thinking outside of the box, and offering new products and services.

Consumers are more focused on buying local and supporting small businesses than ever before, and businesses can use that to their advantage.

“When you look at the average American household, recent surveys are showing 75% are actively looking for ways to patronize small businesses,” said Michelle Sourie Robinson, president and CEO of Michigan Minority Supplier Development Council. “They realized the communities that we all love to live, work and play in are being impacted by the unknown.”

Business Owners and Employees Need to Know the Health Protocols

When you reopen your business and allow in-person shopping or in-office employees, there is a bit of a safety risk. As an owner, you need to know the federal, state and local guidelines for operating your business during the pandemic, then develop your own protocols. This may require physical restructuring such as plexiglass barriers or signage that enforces new rules and regulations. Make sure your employees and customers understand and follow these rules.

“If you know the rules, develop protocols, communicate those protocols, do what you say you're going to do and enforce those rules, then businesses should be in much better shape to reopen, to stay open and to avoid lawsuits,” said Alan Thayer, founder of Innovative Law Group.

Know What Your Responsibilities Are if Employees Won’t Come Back to Work

Some employees may feel uncomfortable returning to work at this time, putting business owners in a difficult position. If your employee is not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, not part of a vulnerable group and not living with someone who is high-risk, yet still refuses to come back to work, have an open discussion with them.

“Start by talking to the employees, listening to them, trying to address their concerns,” Thayer said. “But at some point, you may need to part ways.”

If the employee still refuses to work, notify the unemployment division that they turned down your job offer.

Have a Plan if An Employee or Customer Contracts the Virus

After COVID-19 hit, Maddie Watkins, founder of the gym 202Strong, didn't hesitate to redirect her business. She started offering virtual classes and created exercise programs for her members. Once gyms were able to reopen, Watkins and her team implemented the proper protocols, like reducing capacity, enforcing social distancing, requiring mask-wearing and consistently desensitizing their gyms.

Watkins also noted that if an employee were to contract COVID-19, she would prioritize transparency and safety.

“I would want everyone to be aware so they can get themselves tested,” Watkins said. “We can clean, we can do what we need to … [while] putting the safety and health of everyone first, before trying to just run your business and pretend it never happened.”

From the Series

CO— Blueprint