Brr! The winter chill is already making itself known all over the place, which means that it’s time to start getting all of your properties ready for the wintertime. Did you think this only means your home? Think again! If you are a small business owner with a brick-and-mortar office facility, then you need to take care of your business office too.
A good rule of thumb to follow is to take the same precautions with your business location as you would at your home. If you’re drawing a blank on where to start, here are a few pointers to help point you in the right direction.
Service Your AC/Heating Unit
Electric heaters in a business environment are best suited to portable, under-the-desk units that keep your staff’s legs warm, so we don’t recommend them as your primary heating source. Plus, they can pose a fire danger when left unattended or if the airflow is blocked, so we advise you to keep away from them. Rely on your HVAC unit to be working plenty of overtime this winter, but first, you need to find a professional to ensure that it is in good working order.
Please note that you should heavily vet the person who will be servicing your furnace. Although contractors can learn by trade and do a fantastic job with no formal training, a licensed professional is important no matter what. Furnace installation is not something that just anybody can do properly, which is why it’s vital to ensure that the person you choose has a valid HVAC license in your state. Not sure where to start looking for someone?
- Websites like Angie’s List and Google Reviews are better resources than you might imagine. Although people tend to write reviews mainly when they’ve got something negative to say, take the super low reviews with a grain of salt if most of them are otherwise positive. A tip is to read three-star reviews; generally, these are the most honest ones and give you both sides of the story.
- Does your community have an online help-wanted board? Look at your town’s website and check to see what kinds of community forums are available. Through other members of your neighborhood, you can learn some great resources and get some new names that might not have known before. As a business owner, you already know how valuable word-of-mouth marketing can be, so you can also use this as a marketing technique for yourself too.
- Look to social media. Check out local Facebook groups to see if there are any contractors advertising services nearby, or check on Instagram to see what kinds of jobs have been completed by specific companies. Social media can be a great tool for helping businesses connect — it’s not all cat memes and political statements. (Although let’s be real — who doesn’t love a good cat meme now and then?)
Brush Up On Your Insurance Policy
Business insurance goes hand-in-hand with owning a company, but don’t assume that another year has gone by with no changes. Given the spirit of 2020, you might want to make it a priority to double-check your policy to avoid issues like common workplace injuries and the need for an accident lawyer.
- This is a great time to check on any auto policies that you might have for any business-use vehicles. Make sure that all vehicles on file are current, have valid tags and license plates, and that you are actively using all of them. If you notice that one or several have gone completely unused over the last year, consider removing these offenders from your business policy.
- What kind of weather or natural disaster insurance have you got? 2019’s winter storms reached $2.1 billion in insured damages around the country. Yikes, that’s quite a dollar amount that you probably would like to avoid falling into. Look at any liabilities for potential winter storm damage (flooding, ice, snowdrifts, etc) and consider adding extras to your business insurance plan.
Double-Down On Employee Safety
The truth of the average working adult during the winter: You go to work in the dark, work an eight-hour day, and come home in the dark. There are so very few daylight hours in the wintertime, which can make employees uncomfortable in the early morning and evening hours. Make sure that you address any concerns that staff might have; yes, it’s your business, but how can you run it successfully with unhappy employees? Ask them specifically what would make them feel safer to come up with specific ideas. Some of our favorites include
- Swap out lightbulbs. Any of the old-fashioned soft white bulbs still lurking around need to go. They’re dim, depressing, and the light they cast is so much more yellow than natural light. Replace your lightbulbs with LEDs; not only are they dazzlingly bright, but they last about 50 times longer than standard bulbs. Plus, they’re super efficient, partnering with the best energy companies to make a difference in your monthly electric bill. Make your outdoor fixtures (including parking lots!) the first place you replace them, for both employee and customer safety.
- Install some kind of beeping or bell system on the entrance. This isn’t just some cutesy little thing that stores do; it’s a safety feature that alerts employees if someone else is inside the facility or not. Even a simple jingle bell tied to a ribbon works perfectly well.
- Consider some hired muscle. If your business happens to reside in a part of town that doesn’t have the best reputation, then a security guard might be a good option. You don’t necessarily need to hire a whole team, but even one or two people who swap shifts work well. Just the idea that someone else is there with you and whose job it is to protect you is reassuring to many people — customers included.
Clean Up the Landscaping
New season, new beginnings. It’s surprising how much of a difference landscaping makes to a business’s storefront, regardless of which season it happens to be. If you’re not very good with a mower, hire a landscaping team to take care of it all for you. Some quick, easy landscaping tips might be:
- Rake up stray leaves from the grass, and sweep them off of the sidewalks and entryways too. A leaf blower is a great solution if your business is situated under a cluster of maple trees.
- Trim back any unruly hedges or tree branches. These are not just unsightly, but they can also prevent a hazard if they fall or crack during a wind storm.
- Give the grass one final trim before the weather starts getting really bad. Since it falls asleep for the most part during the winter, grass doesn’t grow much. One last little haircut will keep it healthy until spring wakes it up again.
Come on, did you really think you’d make it through a list like this without sanitation tips? You already know the precautions and six-foot rule, but winter is flu season already. Take the extra time to deep clean and sanitize everything. Seriously, everything:
- Doorknobs and lightswitches sustain so much touching during the day. Walk through your business with an all-purpose spray and a cleaning cloth, wiping down all the doorknobs, light switches, and switch plate covers. Once that’s done, walk through again with a bleach solution and spray a fine mist over everything you just cleaned. We recommend you do this at least every couple of days, if not every day.
- Follow the same pattern with other knobs, buttons, and doors: Microwaves, refrigerators, and stoves in the staff room; any cabinet or cupboard door handles; and mailboxes.
- Give each staff member some cleaning solution and a rag, and have them wipe down their workspace. This includes all electronics: Mouse, keyboard, phone, tablet, or any other device they use during the day. Ensure also that desktops and other surfaces are sanitized with bleach solution or Lysol when they’ve been cleaned.
If you haven’t already, you might consider hiring a professional cleaning crew to take care of your business during the after hours. They can come as little or as often as you like, but knowing that you have someone else swapping the decks for you can take a load off of you. Also, if your business is a large space, it might not be plausible for you to clean it all yourself as it is. Professionals are the ones you pay to do all the literal dirty work, cleaning your office so that it’s shiny — and sanitary — for everyone the next morning.
Patch Cracks and Holes
That draft might feel nice during the dog days of summer, but it’s less charming in the dead of winter. If you’re noticing the hot air escaping from your office faster than usual, you likely have a crack or hole that you need to repair. Walk through your business with a caulking gun and heavy-duty weatherproof caulk, checking all windows and doors, and seal anything that you need to seal. It’s a small project that takes very little time and money, but the amount of money in heating and cooling bills that you will end up saving pays for it time and time again.
Get Your Plumbing Checked
Unless you are a licensed plumber, for the love of any deity you worship, do not attempt to repair any major plumbing problems on your own. Prevention is one key to keeping your pipes working properly, so call commercial plumbing services to take a look at your office building before the full chill of winter.
Professionals can catch any warning signs of a pipe about to burst, anything that might be leaking, or the first signs of rot or mold. They can also advise you on how best to insulate your pipes for the winter to prevent freezing, or you can pay them to take care of it for you. Don’t discount how important it is for someone with a plumbing license to look at your business; you’ll thank your own foresight later.
Again, don’t forget how important it is to ensure that anyone you hire is licensed and state-sanctioned to be performing a trade. Although Craigslist can be a great resource, use it with caution if you’re trying to find a contractor — especially one like a plumber. A good contractor is worth taking the time to find.
Develop an Emergency Plan
You know that one staffer who goes to pieces when they see snow in the forecast? Yeah, you do. We all know that person. Well, to pacify that person and others like them, ensure that you have a firm emergency plan set in place — and more importantly, that everyone is well aware of this plan
Contact information is crucial to making this kind of plan work. Have a very clear chain of command set in place so that if there are questions, there is a contact person, a backup, and a backup for the backup. Something about frosty weather brings out the worst in people, so if they know who they need to contact first, then the likelihood of a clustered mess is lessened.
Your emergency plan might be as simple as a mass text or email letting everyone know what’s what, or as elaborate as a phone tree and carpool system in case of bad weather. Whatever system you choose, make it part of employee onboarding. That Person will always worry and want to text you the moment a flake falls from the sky, but they will hopefully at least know better what to do with a plan in place.
Wintertime might mean red-nosed reindeer and colorful lights to some, but to business owners especially it means more preparation. The safety and comfort of your staff and customers is the lifeblood of your business, and taking care of them should be a priority. Beyond having a set plan in case of a blizzard, make sure that the building is in good shape. Repair whatever cracks and holes you need to, make sure a professional looks at your HVAC system, and get your plumbing checked before the first deep freeze. Prepping your business for the winter is every bit as much an ordeal as prepping your home, so put just as much love into the process as you would with your house.