The landscape of small business has changed, perhaps irrevocably, in the past year. Our country is slowly coming through the pandemic and hopes to open fully over the summer. However, many businesses will simply not exist when their customers come back.

Amidst lockdowns and orders to shelter in place, restaurants were obviously hard hit. While large chains were able to weather the changes, independent operations struggled to adapt. Many relied on outside seating during the summer and fall, and almost all restaurants began to offer curbside pickup and carry out. Bars were granted permission to serve alcohol to go, something not often done before. Yet even with these provisions, it is nearly impossible for a restaurant to make a profit when they are forced to limit their capacity.

Office environments generally fared better, as they were able to shift their workforce to a remote setting. Some even excelled, because they found that with their employees working from home they could cut overhead and increase productivity. This versatility is allowing them to attract talent from a wider field and will help them grow in the coming years.

Retail shops were also pressed to change. With the sudden absence of foot traffic, they found their revenues dropping sharply. Some were able to make up the difference by shifting to online sales. Those that were not equipped to sell online and ship out their product suffered.

Healthcare saw many changes as well. At first, the halting of elective procedures, and the delay of needed but not urgent visits, caused a sharp drop in revenue. To adjust, provisions were made to allow doctors to use teleconferencing platforms like Zoom with more ease, and Telehealth became a vital component of many practices. Scheduling was changed to ensure that fewer patients ended up in waiting rooms together. Meanwhile, a staffing shortage grew in hospitals across the country, leading to spiking rates for traveling nurses.

In healthcare especially, the toll of the pandemic was not just revenue. It truly was one paid in lives and livelihoods. As hospitals struggled to care for sick patients, frontline staff were overworked – overworked is honestly too poor a word for it. The stress of the past year will be played out for many more to come, making it all the more vital that we care for our peers and employees in deeper and more understanding ways.

Small businesses have the advantage of being agile.

In this crisis flexibility, communication, and compassion were key to adapting. To move forward, we must do what any gardener does – weed out what isn’t working and keep the practices that are growing strong.