Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Across Canada, provinces are relaxing restrictions on businesses, after three months of social distancing measures. As businesses start to re-open, there’s a lot to think about.

If your co-op or other business is in the process of opening back up, here’s some important things to think about. 

  1. Follow health guidelines

This one is obvious, but worth restating. Though restrictions are loosening and businesses have re-opened, each province and industry has its own guidelines to follow. If this means having staff wear masks, operating at less capacity, enforcing social distancing, ensure you’re doing everything that’s been recommended for your business. And go to the source — while not always the clearest information, your provincial government does have industry specific guidelines on their website.

Besides knowing how your business is impacted, you need to ensure others also know. Communication is key here. Make sure your staff and members are all fully aware of the safety procedures. Post signs, send emails, include recommendations in your newsletter, and change the physical appearance of your business to encourage social distancing. If you can, offer training for your employees and members about staying safe.

  1. Host regular meetings to provide updates and get feedback

Check in with both the co-op’s members and its employees. Members want to know how the co-op is doing, and staff want to know where they stand and how they can stay safe. But your co-op should also get feedback from these groups. So ask them for input. 

Surveys or questionnaires to members are a great way to do this. Or reach out through email or social media. Ask what they want and expect from the co-op. Ask how they want to interact with you, and what support they might need. Reach out to employees as well  to see if they’re feeling comfortable with their work situation, and if there are ways you can accommodate them. 

And if you can’t meet in person, online meetings, like Zoom, are a fine second option. Just keep in mind that online meetings, like in person ones, have an etiquette and it’s worth organizing them accordingly.

  1. Adapt to changes

Many businesses have had to come up with new ways of operating during this time. Even as in person operations start up again, if you’ve found ways to offer your business at a distance, don’t neglect the changes you’ve made!

If you can sell your products or deliver services online, keep doing that. If you don’t have to meet in person, don’t. If employees can work from home, don’t rush to get them back in the office. 

People are going to be cautious for the foreseeable future. Some members may prefer this for now, and some may never go back and continue doing everything they can online. Use the information you’ve gathered from members to help you adapt. 

This is most obvious for retail co-ops who can take orders online, through email, social media, or virtual markets. But other kinds of co-ops should also look for opportunities to adapt in this new reality.

  1. Emphasize your business as ‘local’

Co-ops are often locally based, small to medium businesses. And a trend that has emerged as a result of the crisis is people recognizing the importance of small, local businesses. At the moment, people are thinking more about where to spend their money, and want it to have a bigger impact where they live. Use this momentum and push it forward.

Emphasize local connections when you advertise your co-op. And show why supporting your co-op has a big local impact.

  1. Set realistic expectations

Prepare yourself for the reopening process to be gradual. Governments have planned reopening stages, but customers will also come back in their own time — whether because of lingering health concerns, lack of income, or a combination of things. Also keep in mind that, while things may have opened up to an extent, this could change again. We’re back to business, but not business as usual.

This is a good time to update your co-op’s strategic plan and reassess its goals. BDC also has great information on conducting a risk assessment that can help you outline a path forward. 

  1. Ask for support

There is support out there — but often you need to ask for it. Financial institutions have grants and loans available to help businesses get through this time. Ask your bank or credit union, or get in touch with BDC or your local Community Futures if you could use a financial boost to help get through this time. 

For example, provincial co-op associations in partnership with Co-operators offered small grants this month specifically for small co-ops negatively impacted by the health crisis. Keep in touch with these organizations and, when appropriate, ask for help.

As always, if you have any questions about what’s best for your co-op, we’re here to help. Get in touch any time!