These past months have been incredibly tough for UK businesses. Trying to operate within a pandemic and deal with the many unknowns associated with it have resulted in many challenges. Business owners have had to make tough decisions on their workforces, adapt to enable them to still serve their customers and make plans for the future of their business.
Yet, in amongst this turmoil, I have seen agility, great determination, innovation and relentless perseverance amongst many of our customers. We will get through this, it will just take time and planning. The next phase that will indeed need careful planning is the recovery or, for many businesses, the ‘return to work’ phase. Looking ahead, there will be a new normal phase that will quickly become a “reimagined business as usual”.
What recovery will look like will differ for many of us depending on the size of business and sector. But there are some common considerations we should all take when deciding to return to the office or normal place of work.
Start with the basics
- The first question you need to ask is what demand will exist for your business and what staffing will you need to support this? Think honestly about if there will a big surge in demand for your services or a reduced need; all of which places completely different needs on your staffing levels. For example, hairdressers may face a massive demand in returning customers looking to either repair “lockdown haircuts”, while travel agents may have less demand until clients understand what they can afford and where they can safely travel to.
- What changes will you need to your premises (one-way system, floor markers, additional cleaning, hygiene stations etc)? This all depends on the answer to the above question. Lower demand may mean that a one in one out system could work, but higher demand may mean that more stringent systems such as a one way with reduced capacity levels are needed. The Health and Safety Executive has some practical advice and Gov.co.uk has great insight on how to make your business COVID-19 secure.
- Your people – what considerations need to take place to ensure they have a smooth transition back into the working environment – CIPD has created a great returning to the workplace guide that will help you think about all things, including employee wellbeing.
- What changes will you need to your policies and procedures, including how to minimise risks to your staff and customers. This is a big consideration and you may need to consult others in order to sense check your plans. Unison has some clear advice and ideas as to how you could ensure health and safety is paramount in your workplace.
Understand the short-term impact on your business’ operations
- A prudent move would be to update and adjust cash flow forecasts and business plans – the impact of this pandemic will continue to impact your businesses for many months beyond when you ‘reopen’. So, you will need to financially account for this in your financial projections. Also ask yourself, ‘do you have the cash to start paying employees full pay for working without the support of the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme’ if you have taken that grant?
- Bank loans, COVID-19 loans or other finance may be needed – consider if your business needs financial support to help see you through this transitional reopening period. See here for more information on what loans are available to you and how to apply to help you get trading again.
- When taxes are due, and what you need to pay tax on, also needs to be considered. Most grants including the business rates grants and Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme grants are taxable income. Like many other businesses you may have taken advantage of the option to delay when VAT and income tax payments to HMRC are due. You need to ensure that you understand how much tax you will need to pay, when the tax is due and that you are able to pay these taxes. If you will have a problem paying taxes when they are due you may want to talk to HMRC about their time to pay
- Accountants or bookkeepers may be able to help you manage your money better – considered by many as an ‘emergency service’ for businesses, this group are experts in helping you manage your money, project future needs of your business and also provide strategic advice.
- Can technology help? Consider whether you need to introduce new technology to support your trading again. Sage’s SME Tracker has shown that 28% of businesses interviewed have begun conducting business online in direct response to the pandemic, with 41% using video conferencing or consultation to resume operations, 36% using online retail and 26% using apps.
Understand the longer-term impact on your business
- Is the business able to function in a socially distanced world not just now but in say three, six or even nine months’ time? Our own research has shown that 32% of SMBs believe their business will still be making less than 50% of normal sales compared to pre-COVID-19 levels by July. So think about what your business may look like in the longer term. Perhaps consider what longer-term investments or changes to your operations are needed.
- Review continuity plans and be ready for the next change – COVID-19 is unlikely to be the last major business disruption (remember Brexit?). Future pandemics, supply chain disruptions etc will happen and businesses need to be agile enough to survive.
- The wellbeing of your people – the stresses this pandemic has placed on people’s wellbeing cannot be underestimated and may well last beyond the easing of the lockdown. So, make sure your people are well supported. Consider introducing ‘weekly check-ins’ to ensure you are aware of any pressures they face and can support appropriately.
Above all if you are unsure about anything seek advice; a problem shared is a problem halved. Reach out to your networks and seek guidance.