Hiren Gandhi, a partner at Blaser Mills Law, advises how organisations can prepare for the ‘new normal’ and build a robust plan for resuming business post-lockdown
As the coronavirus pandemic continues, business leaders are focused on the huge challenges posed by these unprecedented times. From ensuring staff wellbeing and financial stability, to adapting to remote working setups and online trading, most have needed to make significant adjustments.
Whilst it makes sense to prioritise immediate business continuity, these times won’t last forever and, with the government now beginning to loosen the lockdown restrictions, it’s crucial that firms think ahead and prepare for the reality after lockdown.
Here are some of the main steps you should follow to ensure your business has a robust plan and is prepared for the ‘new normal’.
Make the most of available Government support
Since the start of lockdown, the Government has introduced various schemes to reduce the negative effects of the pandemic on business, and ensuring you fully utilise those you are eligible for could go a long way in protecting the long-term security of your company.
For example, through the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) all eligible businesses in England in receipt of either Small Business Rates Relief (SBRR) or Rural Rates Relief (RRR) in the business rates system will be eligible for a payment of £10,000.
Making sure you claim all that you are eligible for could save you money and help your business hit the ground running when things return to ‘business as usual’.
Support your employees returning to work
Whether your team members are returning after being furloughed or have spent a period working from home, going back to the usual business setting will be an adjustment for all, and you will need to support employees through this transition.
Make sure you know how to recognise the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues and effectively guide your employees to the right support, whether that be self-help or professional services.
You should also be prepared to practice a degree of flexibility when employees return to work, as social distancing measures will still need to be taken. Consider the best options for both your employees and the nature of your business, whether this be operating staggered shifts, making changes to break times to ensure staff can maintain social distancing, etc.
Know how to deal with staff who may not return
Having spent an extended time at home, it is possible that some members of staff may choose not to return. If this happens, employees must inform you and give notice in the usual way, and you must then decide whether you want them to fulfil their notice period.
The government is currently instructing those who can work from home to continue doing so whilst others return to their usual routines, as an extra measure to protect their health. You, therefore, must be prepared for them to continue homeworking or extend their furloughed leave. Otherwise, they may need to use sick leave.
The lockdown may have seen employees’ job roles change significantly, and you need to consider now whether you want to make any of these changes to peoples’ roles and responsibilities permanent. In addition to this, you will need to decide what staffing levels you will require upon reopening, and whether or not redundancies will be necessary.
Address any cash flow issues
Many businesses have been forced to close as a result of the pandemic, and you may be feeling the financial strain. If you are concerned you don’t have the cash flow reserves to make it through, there are a number of things you can do to give it a boost, other than seeking government support.
Whilst it can be difficult, don’t be afraid to chase up any late payments from debtors – access to this cash could immediately help lessen the financial burden. Also, if needed, speak to your creditors and let them know if you are unable to pay at the rate previously agreed. They are more likely to be understanding at times like these when many businesses are facing the same challenges. Finally, for a quick cash injection, you could consider encouraging customers to make early payments by offering discounts when they pay upfront, monthly plans or a discount next time if they pay on time.
Evaluate your commercial property needs
After weeks in lockdown, homeworking is the new ‘norm’ for many businesses. Therefore, now is the time to reassess your commercial property needs and whether your current property reflects your future business requirements. Working from home has proven to be surprisingly easy for many firms, and this may cause you to question whether you could make this a more permanent shift as a way of reducing overheads and benefitting staff morale and work/life balance. If this is the case, ensure you are familiar with the legal obligations outlined in your tenancy agreement to avoid the potential for disputes.
Seek external support
For most businesses, the current situation is unlike anything they have ever faced before and deciding the best steps to take can be overwhelming. It is important not to bury your head in the sand and to act now to ensure you have a clear strategy in place for recommencing business. If in doubt, speak to an external legal adviser who will be able to assess your situation and advise you on the best course of action.
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