Now that the government has announced the roadmap for coming out of the latest pandemic lockdown, business are preparing to reopen fully. Is your business ready for a safe and full reopening?
It’s been over a year now since the first UK lockdown began officially on 23 March 2020. Unable to trade as normal, many businesses have been severely impacted.
The services sector has been more severely affected than others e.g. pubs, hotels, restaurants, transport, travel agencies and tour operators, and accommodation, while other industries have performed more strongly, e.g. repair of computers, personal and household goods, postal and courier services, and human health activities
Not all sectors will have been in lockdown of course. Supermarkets, pharmacies etc. have been open throughout. Many retailers with closed premises have been able to offer ‘click and collect’ services while many others unable to open up their premises have moved online and kept afloat that way.
Various parts of the UK will be relaxing their restrictions at different times so it’s important to be clear about the details. In England, subject to the government’s four tests being met (on vaccinations, infections, and variants):
- 29 March is when outdoor sports facilities opened with some increased mixing of households
- 12 April will be the earliest that non-essential retail can open – for example, clothing & homeware stores, personal care services and indoors sports facilities. Hospitality venues will also be allowed to serve people outdoors.
Further steps to ease restrictions will then take place no earlier than 17 May (when, for example, indoor hospitality and entertainment may be allowed) and 21 June, when remaining premised may be able to reopen.
Denied getting out and about for months, clients and customers are keen to get back to visiting their favourite shops, services and hospitality or cultural outlets. It’s important that business are ready to meet demand and to rebuild consumer confidence.
It’s important to have a robust reopening plan which should include:
- Staffing – plan how your staff will return to work from furlough. If you are not reopening fully you may want a phased return. Does it make sense to keep some staff working remotely? Is your management and tech infrastructure ready for hybrid working? Discuss home working arrangements with staff to ensure they have the right equipment, for example remote access to work systems.
- Health & Safety precautions – Businesses that are permitted to open are still required to take steps to ensure they are COVID-19 Secure. Allow for social distancing, have extra hand sanitising stations and an increased cleaning regime. Display information about the measures taken to reassure customers and other visitors that your premises are safe.
- Contingency planning – hopefully, we will not need to go into lockdown again. However, it is wise not to be caught out again and to be prepared. Ensure that you are ready if the worst happens and you need to operate remotely again.
- IT – the right IT services support will ensure that you are well positioned to benefit from the post-lockdown recovery period.
Small businesses with little technical knowledge and a lack of time can find it difficult to know how to improve their digital capability. New ways of working have meant a change in the type of IT needed. For example, remote working software has shot up in popularity over the last year. Are you set up for video calls? Are you harnessing the power of cloud technology? If you’re a hybrid-working SME, it’s a useful way for all employees to collaborate wherever they are based, at the workplace or at home.
Do you know which software tools could improve your businesses’ productivity? You should aim to invest in software that helps to:
- build customer relationships and increase sales
- make the most of selling online
- manage your accounts and finances digitally
- enable staff to work from home safely.
As ever, it’s still vital that firms consider their cybersecurity. On top of the usual online fraud, coronavirus-related scams are rampant. Any employees working remotely could find themselves prey to hackers too. Security solutions such as Virtual Private Network (VPN) access are useful but you need to ensure you have the best cybersecurity to protect sensitive business and customer data.
SMEs should also seek out all the help on offer from various sources – for example:
- Restart Grant scheme – £5billion of grant funding to be made available to businesses in England from April. It aims to help firms in retail, hospitality, accommodation, leisure and personal care get back on their feet as the lockdown ends and they are allowed to re-open. Apply through your local council who will be administering the scheme. This is just one of the new support measures announced by the Chancellor in the Spring budget.
- Free Coronavirus workplace testing – Small businesses/sole traders, who can’t work from home, can still register their interest in the government’s free workplace testing programme, in England before 31 March.
- Help to Grow : Management – This government programme aims to support senior managers of small and medium sized businesses to boost their business’s performance, resilience, and long-term growth, with training delivered by leading business schools across the UK. The 12-week programme is 90% funded by the Government and has been designed to allow participants to complete it alongside full-time work.
It’s great news that businesses will be able to return soon all being well. However the reality is that much has changed and we cannot simply operate as before.
360ict specialises in helping small business and organisations get their IT on track. From complete IT infrastructure cover, with instant user support and remote installations, or tailored on-demand help, contact 360ict for excellent IT services support to ensure that you are ready for business.