The government’s roadmap out of the lockdown is currently going to plan and we are seeing our city centres blossom with activity again as restaurants and shops reopen. It has been just over 12 months since the country first went into lockdown and it has certainly been a challenging time for most people.
Adapting to new ways of working has been on the agenda since day one and regardless of whether your business reduced its activity or you have seen a boom in trade throughout the pandemic, one thing remains the same; having a plan in place for when it becomes business as usual is paramount for everyone.
How do we return to the office? Have customer requirements and expectations changed? What are the financial needs of the business? What does success look like now? These are just some of the questions that need to be answered to accelerate out of the pandemic.
How do we return to the office?
After months and months of working from home, going back to the office may be daunting for some, whereas others will be desperate for a return to the norm of the office environment. In any event, a phased return is likely to be the order of the day and balancing the needs of these two cohorts will be key when office life resumes. A staff survey can be a critical tool in informing the way ahead, and a two-way dialogue with the team, on a one-to-one basis, as well as open and transparent communication of the proposed return roadmap will be crucial for a successful transition.
Maybe you have found that it is not necessary for everyone to work from a central location – or perhaps you have given up your HQ completely. Setting out the expectations for where your team works and how often they are required to check in to their desk space will bring everyone on the same page and avoid miscommunication. Reassurance will be vital, so that all team members feel their choices around work patterns will not have a detrimental impact on their place within the organisation. The one thing that is clear about the post-pandemic normal is that it will not be the same, and employers will need to adapt as much as employees.
Social distancing is set to stay in place for some time, and it will be important to have established a robust health & safety plan as the numbers in the office start to increase. Some form of staff rota is an inevitability. Does your team have access to COVID testing? What is the company policy on testing frequency? Will numbers in the office require investment in protective screens?
Making sure that it is easy for everyone to maintain personal hygiene will reduce the risk of an outbreak. Who orders PPE (if required), soap and hand towels, and how often, are a couple of the questions you need to check you have covered. Next step is to review your current cleaning schedule and adapt it to fit post-pandemic needs. Most importantly, make sure you follow the official government guidance.
Have customer requirements and expectations changed?
Over the last 12 months, all businesses will have seen a significant shift in customer behaviour. Buying patterns in many industries have changed fundamentally and this will have impacted on staff and organisational structures, as well as processes and systems to the support this. The most obvious arena where requirement changes have effected businesses is in customer support. In some industries there will be a permanent structural change, in others a hybrid between old and new is likely. Flexibility and scalability in staffing and organisational structures to meet demand will therefore be key as we transition back to normal – especially as the latest economic forecasts suggest the UK is going to come back with a bang.
What are the financial needs of the business?
Throughout the COVID pandemic there have been many forms of financial support available to businesses. Both directly through government backed loan schemes and local grant opportunities, as well as indirectly through the Furlough Scheme. As these unwind over the next few months, it is critical for businesses to consider the likely cashflow repercussions and therefore funding requirements going forward.
Interest and loan repayments will in many cases need to be made. Payroll costs will likely increase and in some worst-case scenarios, redundancies need to be paid for. Planning all this out into a 12-month cashflow with an appropriate level of contingency, as well as allowing extra for growth requirements will avoid any nasty surprises. Furthermore, with a long-term plan, you are well prepared, should you need to raise further funds. There are still sources of money available to help the recovery and growth plans of businesses, such as the Recovery Loan Scheme and the Midlands Engine Investment Fund.
What does success look like now?
Mapping out 2021 is potentially one of the most difficult tasks for many business owners; trying to predict when demand will return to normal, if at all, has been extremely challenging. One thing we know for certain is that having a structured plan is the best way forward, albeit it will need to include contingencies for different scenarios. That way there will be a defined route forward regardless of the pace of return.
Any plan needs to be driven by goals. However, goals are meaningless unless they are measurable, realistic and achievable. Most business owners will have had clear ambitions and aims before lockdown hit, however, there will be a need to recognise that these could have changed. The first question to answer is, whether the goals remain realistic in the light of any permanent changes to the sector in which you operate, and are they still appropriate from a personal priority and circumstance perspective?
Once high-level objectives have been defined, these need to be cascaded and communicated to the wider team by way of more detailed operational plans and targets. This way the whole team will understand the new direction and have a set of clear and measurable targets that they can work towards and be measured against. Monitoring your business performance and tracking achievements against these plans and targets will not only help you clearly understand where your business is and where it is going, it will also allow you to celebrate wins and keep team morale at a high, which could be imperative in returning momentum over the next six months.
Nothing here is new or rocket science but many businesses could benefit from remind themselves of the basic foundations which may have fallen by the wayside over the last 12 months whilst survival or meeting extreme levels of demand have been the primary focus.
Spring signals new beginnings and we note a feeling of positivity in the air as we head towards a full reopening of the country. Most people are excited by the prospect of life with less restrictions and this will present a real opportunity for businesses that have planned ahead and are well prepared.
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