The coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown happened quickly and with relatively little warning. Businesses were forced to make a rapid transition to home working where this was possible or pause operations altogether. Few firms were fully prepared for this shift and some have adapted better than others. Although the lockdown caused major disruption, it also meant new operating practices were established and new efficiencies gained.
The emergence from lockdown looks likely to be a more gradual process; it may even by a cyclical one if we face further peaks of infection. Here we look at some of the practical issues that firms will need to address if they are to map out a successful recovery from the pandemic.
The 'new normal'
Nobody can say for certain how workplaces will look and function when we return to them. One thing is for sure though: they will look different to the ones left behind in March. However, where working practices and newly adopted technologies have proved a success during lockdown, businesses will be keen to keep digital alternatives in place rather than return to conventional working practices.
Because of the benefits outlined above and the imperative to maintain social distancing, many organisations will be planning for a greater volume of employees requesting to work flexibly. The ability to implement social distancing in the workplace will be key to a successful return. However, it will mean reduced capacity in most workspaces, so staffing requirements and working patterns will have to be reviewed.
Crucial to managing a flexible return to work will be technological capabilities that support a combination of office and remote working, which will mean a continued reliance on video conferencing in many cases.
Updated hygiene practices will also be vital to a safe return, especially if a business is expecting to welcome visitors onto its premises. Firms will need to consider measures such as creating one-way walkthroughs, installing hand sanitising stations, opening more entrances and exits and changing seating layouts in break rooms. Where people cannot be two metres apart, employers must manage the risk of transmission.
An event such as the COVID-19 pandemic triggers the need to review risk assessments and record the findings of the review. Firms will need to follow all normal safety practices while also incorporating any new regulatory policies, procedures and control measures (for example, using the latest guidance published by the Health and Safety Executive). Additionally, employees will need to be informed of any new procedures and protocols that must be followed, for example the use of hot desking and deep cleaning.
Keep the cash flowing
As well as keeping a close eye on order books, stocks and supply chains, managing cashflow will be vital for firms aiming to exit the lockdown successfully. This means having a thorough understanding of your business's cash position both prior to exit and for the immediate future.
Understanding the cash position in the short and medium-term will help firms assess what steps they need to take in order to keep the business moving. Devising forecasts with different scenarios will help gain an understanding of what the organisation's options might be.
Many businesses are likely to need some additional help as they start back up again. Existing banks and lenders should be the first port of call, but remember there are other sources of finance available. These include the various government COVID-19 support schemes: we can provide help and advice if your business needs to raise finance.
Also, businesses must make sure that they utilise the tax reliefs available to them. There are various reliefs available for business owners which can assist with tax planning. We can offer advice and guidance to make sure your business is benefiting from the appropriate reliefs.
The road ahead may not be an easy one. It is unlikely to be straightforward and setbacks are probable. However, careful planning will help businesses be prepared to take advantage of a surge in economic activity and return of market confidence.
Our team can help businesses with a range of financial planning issues. For more information, please contact us.