How Can Small Businesses Continue to Operate During COVID-19?
COVID-19 has the world turned upside down. Grocery stores remain open along with a few other essential businesses, but a lot of small businesses remain closed. Gathering restrictions, which vary from state-to-state, are the primary reason for the closure.
But just because employees can’t gather in an office or warehouse doesn’t mean that you have to shutter all operations.
A lot of small businesses can remain operational with little technological help.
What is No Longer an Option for Small Businesses?
Small businesses can operate somewhat normally, but you can no longer do the following:
· Meet clients in your office
· Hold large meetings
· Use conference rooms
Limitations on the number of people in a gathering will make some businesses, such as restaurants and retail stores, impossible to operate normally.
What Businesses are Essential?
Essential businesses can remain open, and the official listing can be found on the CISA website. Even small businesses can be deemed essential and can operate under almost normal operations. You may have to take extra precautions of course, and a portion of your business may have to telecommute.
A few of the many businesses allowed to remain in operation are:
· Healthcare: Hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, and urgent care facilities can all remain open. Supporting businesses can also operate, including radiology, MRI, diagnostic centers, labs, pharmacies, and similar businesses.
· Trucking: Trucking companies remain open and are a vital part of the supply chain. Deliveries may include food, medical supplies, chemicals, fuel, pharmaceuticals, equipment, and various other goods.
· Utilities: Utility companies on both the local and private scale will remain in operation. These companies include gas, electricity, water, and other companies. Mobile phone and Internet companies will remain operational. All support companies for the industry, such as workers for electrical lines and transmission, are essential.
· Food: Grocers, farmers, small farms and the entire distribution chain for this industry can stay in operation.
· Gas: Oil and gas industry workers are still able to go to work, including distribution centers and gas stations, which are an essential portion of the transportation industry.
· Restaurants and fast food: Food is still essential, and while indoor areas are closed in the majority of states, curbside pickup or drive-thru service remains operational.
· Financial workers: A large portion of the financial industry is working from home, but banks remain open. Payment processing and maintenance services remain open, and ATMs and similar services are open. IT industry workers in this field are telecommuting when possible.
Employees who are impacted include office workers, waitstaff and individuals that fall into the following categories:
· Human resources
Of course, local cities are still somewhat in operation including law enforcement, maintenance crews, public safety offices, first responders, wastewater and supporting employees. A lot of public offices remain closed or are operating at a much smaller capacity.
Courts have postponed trials, license renewals in many states are on hold, and almost all industries are impacted to a varying degree. Most law firms, corporate, defense and personal injury remain open for consulting with clients and file briefs, motions and lawsuits.
There are a lot of industries and businesses that are deemed essential. Make sure to check the CISA website for a better understanding of what businesses remain essential.
What Technology Can Help Operations Running Smoothly?
If your business can operate online or you need to have some of your operations online to meet new restrictions, technology can help.
Even essential businesses, like attorneys’ offices, are using video conferencing and other tools to meet with clients. This allows them to continue operations while protecting staff and clients. Many small businesses can do the same.
Large corporations may already have virtual private networks in place and cloud-based solutions that can help their businesses run during these times.
Microsoft Azure is just one of the many cloud-based solutions that enable these businesses to stay in operation.
Smaller companies can use collaboration platforms for some tasks, and meetings can be held virtually with:
Remote access to systems can be maintained with the help of LogMeIn and GoToMyPC. When using these tools, it will allow workers to remain at home, so social distancing requirements are met, and allow businesses to keep their operations running.
You’ll find a plethora of remote access solutions that enable you or your team to telecommute.
Most small businesses that were not prepared for an interruption of this magnitude are going to implement remote access solutions for key employees. Remote access is a great way to reduce utility costs while keeping your business operational even in the middle of a pandemic.
Paycheck Protection Plan
The government has passed emergency measures, which went into effect on April 3, 2020, that provides assistance to small businesses under the Paycheck Protection Plan. The plan requires you to apply for the program and offers:
· Loans for businesses with fewer than 500 employees and self-employed individuals as long as income is less than $100,000 annually.
· Loans that cover payroll expenses, including:
o Salary and wages
o Payroll tax
o Retirement benefits
o Healthcare benefits
o Cash tips or equivalent
o Sick, vacation and other leave
Loan maximums are $10 million, and the sum of the loans will equal 2.5 times the average monthly payroll costs.
Businesses can apply for a loan that is 100% guaranteed by the SBA. Loan payments are deferred for six months and do not require collateral or personal guarantees. The loan does not charge fees, and it may be fully forgiven if certain criteria are met. Loan maturity is two years at a 1% interest rate.
You can find more information about the loan on SBA.gov.
Businesses that can offer remote work options, limit travel and meetings and ensure customer safety may be able to remain open during COVID-19. If your business operations are impacted, be sure to convey your issues with your customers and clients.