Here’s what we have learned from the crisis so far
Whether the headlines allude to uncertainty, the market crash, or even eternal doom, it seems that every facet of our lives, and our economy, have been disrupted by the outbreak of COVID-19. It is affecting people and businesses alike. While the UK economy will undoubtedly suffer – most probably for months to come – this doesn’t mean that SMEs can’t survive, even taking into account the country’s uncertain future regarding the virus.
As someone running a business, or if you’re in charge of a workforce, you’ve got to think about the worst-case scenario: losing the majority of your staff to self-isolation or illness, whilst still having to pay their wages, as well as losing business or even having to close down any in-person facet of your company if things continue to progress like this.
However, even in the worst-case scenario, your business can still thrive as long as you embrace out-of-the-box thinking and adopt sensible new methodologies.
What is the government doing to help UK businesses?
Before we explore some new ways of managing your company in this period, it’s necessary to shed light on the ways that the government is supporting UK businesses during this time. You should feel a little more at ease with some of the measures taken, in part thanks to the £300bn pledged by the Chancellor.
This is dedicated to providing loans and financial support to UK businesses affected by coronavirus, as well as providing a number of tax breaks. The most significant part of this pledge, especially for small business owners, is that they will be able to claim back up to two weeks of sick pay per employee. This could be the difference between a small business sinking or surviving. You can access more information on the financial support you can receive here.
Out of sight isn’t necessarily out of mind
We know that while the government actions can help, this can only go so far. We’re now seeing a major shift in remote working from home, as precautionary measures are becoming more extreme with each daily update. This is a necessary step in combatting the spread of the virus, but will likely be disruptive to most companies’ operations, especially those not used to such new setups.
UK businesses can learn a lesson or two from China, which has been way ahead of the coronavirus curve compared to the UK.
Out of necessity, Chinese companies are now working outside their comfort zone. Unlike a lot of the Western world, it’s rare for people in China to work remotely. Since COVID-19, however, their businesses are providing a surplus of examples on how to make the most of the current situation and minimise the damage of such a shift.
One of the worries that employers are faced with is if their employees will actually complete enough work while they’re at home. This is a sensitive matter that can be addressed in a number of ways, but what Chinese firms have done is utilise business communication apps (such as DingTalk) to report clocking in and out with photos, and to track work progress. Your business could implement similar measures that are socially acceptable and non-intrusive. Sending Good Morning/Goodbye photo messages to the team to ‘clock in’ and ‘out’ works if you find poor selfies amusing. A simple Google search (especially now) will return an endless list of apps your business can use. We found that keeping it simple and less intrusive makes this most effective and least disruptive as a new measure. From our experience, using Slack and Simple In/Out works wonders.
Incredibly, one Chinese CEO said that workers were “more efficient” when working from home. This could be due to a number of factors, one being that reduced commute means the workforce is less tired and more focused. Moreover, they’re using videoconferencing software more often to ensure that teamwork is still possible within the workforce; downloads of these apps and software have surged as a result.
Adapt and survive, or resist and fail
As someone in charge of a business or its staff, this probably isn’t news to you. You’re hearing about it left, right and centre. But the key here is in the “C” word, and we don’t mean COVID-19. We’re talking about Change! In order to survive this as a business, the way your staff operate, report, communicate and trust one another at work, may need to change.
UK businesses should use this period as an opportunity in the same way that the Chinese have, to optimize remote working for the now, but also in case your business faces such uncertain times again. Updating your Business Continuity Plan (or creating one if you haven’t got one yet) is obviously a sensible thing to do.
One way in which the new climate could actually enhance your business, is that it gives you a chance to access a larger pool of talent — since it doesn’t matter where a person is working from. This could improve your workforce both now and in the future. In China, job fairs, interviews and assessments are being held online. The general manager of Chengdu Guibao Technology admits that, even in the future, when COVID-19 is no longer a threat, they will adopt this “approach in the hunt for talent” because of the increased efficiency, higher reward and reduced cost associated.
One problem which is harder to solve as a business owner or manager in the current climate though, is if you don’t have enough business and you’re struggling to make enough turnover or profit. Alternatively, you might be considered an ‘essential’ business, or maybe you’re a tech company whose software proved useful during the COVID-19 outbreak and may, therefore, be struggling with the surge of business demand with too thin a workforce.
Finding talent in the market, especially with reduced face-to-face interviews, will be tricky. Using untested contractors and freelancers or hiring new employees may be too risky, and your business doesn’t need this right now. It might seem like all such problems are entirely different, but they can be grouped together, presenting a brilliant solution to their problems.
Another ‘C’ word to embrace: Collaboration.
The solution lies in non-competing firms using B2B collaboration to share, lend, and loan resources that can serve in different sectors (such as IT, software development, research, financial management, QAQC and many others). This applies whether a boom in business is experienced, or a workforce is stuck with too little to do as the company’s workload takes a major dip. Risk of loss of IP (or staff), if not done carefully, can turn this endeavour a painful one. Online B2B resource sharing platforms, especially those offering service at no upfront cost, such as TheHIVE, can offer huge benefits, and could be the difference between surviving and falling in these uncertain times. Such online solutions can also be your company’s gateway to new projects and to acquiring more interesting work that keep up team morale and boost workforce creativity.
While you should do everything you can to make sure your business is prepared for every eventuality, try not to panic. Chances are, you and your company will get through this pandemic, and even grow and become stronger as a team and a firm. It just needs sensibility and open-mindedness to new solutions.