A business blueprint for getting out of lockdown

by Les Roberts on August 19th 2020

Business owners are feeling the strain of lockdown as much as anyone, and the uncertainty around a relaxation of lockdown restrictions coupled with problems accessing financial support will only be adding to the pressure. 

We asked a range of Bionic businesses how their finances were shaping up during lockdown:

  • 80% of SMEs have cut back on their spending during the coronavirus crisis.
  • With 68% of SMEs reporting to have produced and reviewed a cash flow forecast.
  • 63% have been able identify cost reduction changes available to their business.
  • 71% have applied for government funding.
  • However, 53% have cancelled or delayed direct debits to their business utility suppliers.
  • 52% of SMEs have also delayed payments to their business suppliers. 
  • Over half of SMEs (57%) expect to delay their rental payments to their business premises.

The fact that government coronavirus support schemes are coming to an end will heap even more pressure on business owners. If you've not yet applied for any government backed financial support, you can find out how apply, along with the relevant application deadlines, by checking out our blog Get ready for government coronavirus support ending.

If you’re feeling the strain, it might help to look ahead and concentrate on getting back to business.

To help ready your business for reopening, we’ve created a Bionic blueprint for getting out of lockdown, which covers everything from reintegrating staff to coping with changes to the way you work.

What's the latest government guidance on getting out of lockdown? 

The government is advising that businesses reopen in stages, based largely upon the sector they're operating in. 

Some businesses have been able to operate throughout lockdown, and food retail shops, chemists and takeaway food businesses are being advised that they should all be able to operate safely as of Monday, June 1, along with outdoor markets and car showrooms.

From Monday, June 15, all ‘non-essential’ retailers, including high-street shops, department stores and shopping centres will be able to open their doors to customers.

A condition of all these stores commencing trading is they put in place all measures necessary to support social distancing.

The final phase will start no earlier than Friday, July 4, and will see the reopening of at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been forced to close. Such businesses include hairdressers and other personal services businesses, some hospitality venues, and public spaces including places of worship.

You can find out more information at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close/further-businesses-and-premises-to-close-guidance

How to reintegrate staff after lockdown

If you’ve furloughed staff or set them up to work from home, social distancing rules and ongoing childcare issues could make reintegration into the workplace a real challenge.

Start with key staff members

Before reopening, you need to work out which staff members you need to get you back up and running, in terms of both numbers and skill sets. If this means bringing staff back from furlough in stages, you need to consider the impact this will have on each of your employees:

  • Those who’ve been working through lockdown may feel marginalised if responsibilities are taken away from them.
  • Staff who are coming back from furlough might feel their place in the business is no longer secure.
  • Employees who aren’t brought back to work straight away may feel demoralised and that their position isn’t valued.

You’ll need to consider that the coronavirus pandemic will have affected everyone in different ways.

You’ll need to be fair, decisive and completely transparent when telling employees about the decisions you’ve made, offering an honest appraisal of the situation along with reassurances where required.

And make sure you give staff returning from furlough enough notice to prepare to get back to work, being mindful of childcare and travel arrangements.

Work out social distancing requirements

The logistics of coming out of lockdown could prove to be very tricky, and you’ll have to make the following provisions just to stick social distancing and hygiene rules:

  • Use floor tape or paint to mark areas to help staff maintain 2 metres.
  • Stagger arrival and departure times to reduce crowding in and out.
  • Provide hand sanitation at entry and exit points and in lifts.
  • Discourage nonessential trips within buildings and sites, and hold meetings remotely.
  • Introduce one-way flow routes through buildings, including one entry point in and out.
  • Cut the maximum occupancy for lifts and encourage the use of stairs.
  • Review layouts to allow staff to work further apart from each other and reconfigure seating and tables to maintain spacing and reduce face-to-face interactions.
  • Stagger break times to reduce pressure on the break rooms, using outside areas for breaks.
  • Provide packaged meals or encourage staff to bring their own food to avoid opening staff canteens.
  • Use screens to create a physical barrier between people where appropriate, and protective screens for staff in receptions or similar areas.
  • Assess fire safety regulations. 

If possible, you should also consider the following:

  • Spacing out existing parking bays and adding more bays and bike racks.
  • Have more entry points to the workplace to reduce congestion.
  • Use alternatives to touch-based security devices such as keypads.
  • Storage for staff clothes and bags.
  • Staff to change into work uniforms on site using appropriate facilities/changing areas. 

Shutdown any conflict as soon as possible

Lockdown is placing a lot of pressure on us all, which means tensions might be running high among your employees, particularly among those who were furloughed and those who remained in work.

You’ll also need to consider that the coronavirus pandemic will have affected everyone in different ways. 

Those who have been directly affected by Covid-19, for instance, might have very different views on the situation than those who haven’t been touched by the disease, and the period of lockdown will have affected the mental state of all employees to varying degrees. 

All of which could make reintegration to the workplace a hotbed for conflict, so be prepared to act as a mediator to help resolve any personal or professional differences as soon as possible. 

If disciplinary measures and performance targets have been put on hold during lockdown, it’s worth reminding staff of what is expected of them on their return, to make it clear that you expect the same high standards as beforehand.

If employees are returning to the workplace, you have a duty of care to provide a safe working environment and the safe use of equipment.

Offer support with mental health problems

Before the coronavirus pandemic took hold, Mind, the mental health charity, reported that 1 in 6 workers were dealing with a mental health problem such as anxiety, depression or stress. This figure could now be even higher given the strains the pandemic is placing on all of us.

If you need any guidance on how you can help individual employees who might be struggling, Mind has produced this guide - How to support staff who are experiencing a mental health problem. This comprehensive offers advice on how to create a culture that encourages staff to be open about mental health and useful tips on how to have a conversation with someone about their mental health.

If you still have people working from home, here are some tips to help support employee's wellbeing while they’re away from the office. 

The Mind Infoline is open from 9am to 6pm, Monday to Friday (except for bank holidays) to offer an information and signposting service on the following:

  • mental health problems
  • where to get help near you
  • treatment options
  • advocacy services.

To get in touch, call 0300 123 3393, email info@mind.org.uk or text 86463.

What if employees don’t feel safe returning to work?

The government has issued guidance for employers to help them get businesses back up and running and workplaces operating safely, which includes:

  • Work from home, if you can.
  • Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment, in consultation with workers or trade unions.
  • Maintain 2 metres social distancing, wherever possible.
  • Where people cannot be 2 metres apart, manage transmission risk.
  • Reinforcing cleaning processes.

But even if you put all necessary measures in place, UK coronavirus infection rates are still high and so employees may not feel safe coming into work. Remember, the government advice is still that any employees that are still able to work from home, should remain working from home.

If employees are returning to the workplace, you have a duty of care that includes providing a safe working environment and the safe use of equipment. 

Every employment contract has general ‘implied’ terms for employees and employers, and even if this isn’t included in writing, a contract still exists in legal terms.

This means employees have a legal right to leave work if they feel unsafe, so you should try to head off any issues before they arise by engaging with all employees and giving them the chance to air any concerns. 

Share the findings of your risk assessment with your workforce and publish them on your website - the government expects all employers with over 50 workers to do so - and consult staff at every stage to let them know the steps you are taking to manage the risk of coronavirus in your workplace. Doing this will help you:

  • Explain the changes you are planning to work safely.
  • Make sure changes will work and hear their ideas.
  • Continue to operate your business safely during the outbreak.

If employees still have any concerns, make it clear that they need to raise any issues with you to give you a chance to resolve them before consulting their union or the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

You can find out more on working safely during the coronavirus outbreak at the HSE website.

Has lockdown changed the way you do business?

Many business owners have had to change the way they do business to keep trading throughout the lockdown, so if your eatery has thrived as a takeaway or your newly opened online business is booming, can you afford to keep those services going? Or, perhaps more to the point, can you afford not to?

Are you going to carry on offering a delivery service?

If your business has successfully offered a delivery service to customers during lockdown, it could provide some much-needed additional revenue as restrictions are relaxed, especially if you’ve taken out any lockdown loans to help with cash flow.

Make sure you do your sums before making any commitments - you might need to extend your opening hours and get extra stock, staff and insurance to keep the service running – and bear in mind that what worked for you during lockdown might not have the same success post-lockdown.

Can you keep that online business running?

If you’ve taken your business online during lockdown, the lack of overheads involved in ecommerce could mean this is a profitable revenue stream. Again, you’ll need to do your sums to make sure it’s viable, and consider that you might need extra stock, which could put up the cost of any stock insurance you have as part of your business cover and require greater storage space.

If you’re taking sensitive financial information from online customers, data security will also have to be factored into your plan, so remember to run regular antivirus and system updates and upgrade your protection where necessary. You may also want to consider adding cyber insurance to your business insurance policy.

If your business is in any way reliant on connected tech or handles any sensitive customer data, including names, addresses, or banking information - even customer phone numbers held on your smartphone - you may need the extra protection offered by cyber insurance to cover against this data being compromised or your systems or hardware hacked.

If you think your business is too small to suffer a cyber attack or data breach, a report by the Federation of Small Businesses found two-thirds of their members have been victims of cyber-crime. A report from Hiscox has even found that one small business successfully hacked every 19 seconds in the UK alone, so never assume the size of your business will be enough to deter hackers.

To find out more about cyber insurance and get a policy that meets the unique needs of your business, give Bionic’s business insurance team a call on 0800 144 8632.

Will employees still be able to work from home?

If employees have been working from home, there’s a possibility they’ll want this flexibility to become a standard part of their working week. This could see an influx of remote working requests, which you may struggle to turn down if it’s a system that’s been functioning well during lockdown.

Having employees work from home might help with social distancing compliance in your workplace.

Remember, the UK’s Flexible Working Regulations stipulate that all employees have a right to request flexible working, so long as they’ve been with their employer for at least six months - flexible working is no longer the domain of registered carers or parents with children under the age of 17, and you’ll need to have a strong business case for turning down any requests.

A bit of give and take from both sides will be needed to resolve this issue, and bear in mind that having employees work from home might help with social distancing compliance in your workplace.

Will you have to restructure the business?

It’s not something any employer wants to consider but it’s an issue many won’t be able to avoid – the impact of lockdown and the future economic situation could lead to job losses.

As the government floats the idea that it may start rowing back its Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, it’s clear that this is a temporary solution to mass redundancies rather than a permanent one.

Without the government support, you might find that your business will struggle to keep the same number of staff it employed before lockdown, meaning some roles may need to take priority over others.

If you do need to reshape your work force or restructure the business in any way, you’ll need to act decisively while also considering the impact on staff morale – if employees have taken pay cuts to protect jobs or have been given other assurances, announcing a round of redundancies will have an even bigger impact than under ‘normal’ circumstances.

Returning employees will naturally be expecting to restart in their previous positions, so any changes to roles or requirements will need to be discussed and agreed upon, especially if this means employment contracts need to be amended.

You should also be mindful of any legal claims against dismissal or contract changes. Handle all employment issues with sensitivity and as per the correct procedures. You could consider voluntary redundancies, retraining and secondment opportunities before announcing any job losses. 

How to make sure your business premises is ready to reopen

Before you re-open your doors to staff and customers, you need to make sure its safe to do so, particularly if it's been left empty during lockdown.

It's a good idea to carry out the following checks before you reopen:

  • Check for signs of pests, such as rats, mice or cockroaches. Things to look out for include a musky smell, droppings or shredded materials (eg. cardboard). If you think your premises might have pests, contact a pest control technician for appropriate treatment and advice. Cover for pest control could be included as part of your business insurance cover.
  • Thoroughly flush through water systems before opening to staff and members of the public to reduce the risks of Legionnaires’ disease from stagnant water. If you're concerned this could be an issue, contact your local authority for guidance.
  • Put regular cleaning protocols in place, particularly around touch points, such as handles, baskets, debit card PIN pads, which should be cleaned regularly and have nearby cleaning stations or hand sanitiser points. These should also be put in place at the front of your business premises, especially in shops that use trolleys and baskets. 

What if a member of staff or customer displays coronavirus symptoms?

If a member of staff becomes unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance. 

For more guidance visit NHS 111 online or call 111 if there is no internet access. In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured, or their life is at risk. Do not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

If a member of staff has helped another staff member or customers who was taken unwell with a new, continuous cough or a high temperature, they should wash their hands thoroughly for 20 seconds after any contact, but you don't need to send them home unless they develop these symptoms themselves.

How to cut your business overheads

Every business owner will have felt the pinch during lockdown, even those who have been able to keep their business running or have pivoted to provide an alternative service – this means now is as good a time as any to look at ways to cut your overheads, preferably without impacting the quality of your products or services.

Switching your business essentials is a quick and easy way to do this, here's the average annual saving businesses save when switching with Bionic:

That adds up to a total average saving of £1,797 a year. For more information, go to https://bionic.co.uk/about-bionic/how-our-service-works/

Our tech-enabled experts will compare deals from our trusted suppliers to find the best quotes for your business. To find out how much you could save, just enter your postcode at Bionic and we’ll take care of the rest.