How will businesses reopen?

As we’re publishing this blog post, shelter-in-place orders are still in force in areas where most LRS Consulting Services offices are located.

Several states have modified their orders to allow some businesses to reopen and some states, including Colorado, Florida, and Texas, have already lifted their orders.

But lifting shelter-in-place orders might not be enough to get people out and spending money. As a recent Washington Post article notes:

“Hanging over plans to restart the nation’s economic engine are unprecedented health concerns, as individuals balance each shopping trip, airplane flight and restaurant meal against the risk of catching a sometimes-fatal illness,” the article notes. It then quotes William Dunkelberg, chief economist at the National Federation of Independent Business: “Consumers may have permission to go do something. But whether they go do it depends upon how badly they want to do it and how safe they feel.”

Assuming the economic engine does get started, how will businesses reopen?

The Wall Street Journal recently looked at companies that were reopening or, in some cases, had remained open as essential businesses. Because government guidelines were broad in directing them, “many companies are jury-rigging internal safety procedures to fight the coronavirus outbreak. Some common practices include regular health screenings at entrances and requiring workers to wear face masks and other protective gear on the job, industry executives and consultants say. Many companies are changing floor plans, rerouting workers through separate entrances and exits, and staggering shifts to limit interaction.”

The paper also noted that some employers have suspended rules regarding unexcused absence to encourage workers feeling sick to remain at home.

If this discussion has you feeling less than confident, our friends at TechServe Alliance have published a document that may help. It’s titled Designing a Post-coronavirus Office.

The document offers several suggestions for physical and behavioral changes in the workplace.

Physical changes include

  • Increasing each employee’s personal space, and ensuring desks are 6 feet or more apart
  • Creating walls and barriers between cubicles
  • Creating a walk-traffic flow that discourages congestion
  • Updating air-filtration systems
  • Installing no-touch soap dispensers and sinks in bathrooms
  • Making hand sanitizer and cleaning products readily available

The document also offers a shorter list of behavioral changes:

  • Create expectations for handwashing.
  • Ban or discourage shaking of hands.
  • Increase cleaning schedules.
  • Adjust meeting practices.

To adjust meeting practices, TechServe Alliance suggests encouraging limited numbers of participants in meetings and advising them to spread out and avoid sharing multi-touch devices.

Another idea, which has also appeared in articles on and, is to expand the use of telecommuting. The Forbes article noted that a third of Americans were working remotely at least half time during the first week of April, a sharp increase from the four percent before shelter-in-place orders were imposed.

As the TechServe Alliance document points out, “Notably, by expanding remote opportunities post-coronavirus, employers can reduce the amount of human interaction that takes place at a physical location. Also, by allowing remote work, employees who are sick are less likely to physically attend the office.”

Expanding the use of telecommuting will require many organizations to write new rules for the practice, especially if they currently allow telecommuting on a case-by-case basis.

No matter how you look at it, reopening businesses will not exactly be a return to normal. As so many have already said, we may just be looking at a “new” normal. Here’s hoping we’re all allowed to get there soon.