Guiding your business through unprecedented times

Guiding your business through unprecedented times

John Clarke, head of direct sales at Wesleyan Bank, outlines the key areas of focus for business continuity amidst the coronavirus storm

Guiding your business through unprecedented times

As the world succumbs to the coronavirus pandemic, the business landscape has changed quicker than we have ever seen before. No company is untouched as business plans and forecasts become almost meaningless as companies deal with the government’s lockdown and the restrictions this places on trading.

At the time of writing, it is suggested the lockdown could extend into the early summer, if not beyond. JP Morgan has revealed that the average SME’s cash buffer is just 27 days, so the impact of a prolonged lockdown makes the protection of working capital paramount.

In circumstances that are changing by the day, management teams are having to make decisions about the best way to protect their staff and their customers. Doing this means seeking out practical and financial support to ride the current storm and being ready to move forward once the difficulties pass.

Financial planning

To protect your firm’s working capital, be realistic about the circumstances and consider the worst-case scenarios. This requires a true understanding of the business’s financial position by:

  • Ensuring cashflow forecasts are up-to-date and reviewed daily
  • Reviewing all fixed costs, identifying non-essential overheads and other discretionary expenses
  • Chasing all overdue invoices
  • Reviewing which aspects of business interruption are covered in insurance policies. The Government has indicated that disruption caused by coronavirus could include policies for both pandemic and government ordered closures

You also need to know of any operational issues that may affect the business’s cashflow. This means:

  • Knowing the impacts of absences and working from home practices. Could adapting, or temporarily revising your business, allow you to continue to deliver your products or services?
  • Being aware of supplier-related business continuity challenges, you may have, or can foresee, so that interruptions can be planned for
  • Informing customers of your situation and any production or service delivery problems. Be sure you have communicated the steps being taken to minimise coronavirus’s impact
  • Reviewing supplier and customer contracts to ensure obligations are understood should unexpected situations arise, so any breach can be mitigated

Staff well-being

During this uncertain period, it is imperative to maintain regular, clear and honest communication with staff. For the foreseeable future employees who can work from home should be doing so. For those still required to attend your firm’s premises, make the working environment as safe as possible, adhering to the government’s social distancing requirements.

It’s quite likely that staff will undergo a certain amount of stress and anxiety relating to the change in routine and concern over the future so offer them support and reassurance wherever you can.

Encourage staff to establish a set routine for working at home and take regular breaks throughout the day, including a lunch break. Finishing working and turning off their devices at an appropriate time is also recommended to improve mental health and create a clear separation between the workplace and their home environments.

The closure of schools may cause anxiety amongst employees with younger children when it comes to planning their work. It’s vital to speak to those affected to agree flexible working, which may include changing working hours to allow for childcare.

Don’t forget when the crisis is over, you will rely on your staff to get your business running at full speed as soon as possible, so encourage them, where practical, to take a proportion of their holiday now, rather than save it to later in the year.

Be aware of increased cyberthreats

When you are implementing remote working, it’s vital to ensure that your IT network is sufficiently robust, and that staff understand how to access systems and applications. It also raises the aspect of the resilience of your cyber security. Establish that remote workers’ IT equipment is adequately protected and ensure staff maintain the same vigilance working from home as they do when in the office.

Government support

With 5.9 million SMEs in the UK employing around 60 percent of the private sector workforce, the government is taking action to help them through the crisis by launching several schemes. You may have already taken advantage of the government schemes available such as the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS), Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, business rate relief, VAT deferral and HMRC Time to Pay. Whilst these can help ease immediate worries, you still need to be mindful of the standing commitments, such as loan and asset finance payments.

For further information, click here.

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