Last updated: 5 June 2020
For most businesses, both small and large, there’s a sense of uncertainty in the UK right now.
With changes to lockdown guidelines, increasing rules on social distancing and steps to getting the UK economy back up and running, you might have concerns about the implications this is having and will have on your business.
What changes will you have to make to your workplace? Do you and your employees have the resources to work from home? Can you take the financial loss?
In order to minimise the impact to your business we have collated some useful advice and recommendations for you and your small business during this time:
As a small business owner, you and your employees are the heart of your business. So, it’s important to put their health first and ensure they feel comfortable and informed about what to do at work.
1. Communication is key
Advice is changing minute by minute, and whilst this can be hard to keep on top of, it’s important to ensure you are regularly communicating with your employees about what measures you’re taking to minimise the risk of exposure in their place of work. If you are making changes to your business processes, keep employees informed so they know the right steps to take.
If you are starting to think about how your business can reopen according to the latest steps to ease lockdown, you can find some helpful resources about working safely, whether you have premises, enter people’s homes for work or work in a warehouse, on the Government website here. You can also find guidance on COVID-19 risk assessments on the HSE website here and information on cleaning (non-healthcare) work premises here.
If your business has been impacted by COVID-19 and you can longer operate or support your employees, you can apply for a grant from the Government to cover 80% of your staff’s monthly wages (up to £2,500 a month). This is called furloughing and means putting staff on temporary leave. Some changes are coming into force over the next couple of months to support the gradual ease of the lockdown restrictions and encourage people to return to work.
For example, from 1st July 2020 businesses will be able to begin to bring back furloughed employees part time. The current level of Government grant offered through this scheme will also start to be slowly tapered from August. You can find out more about the changes here.
2. Share hygiene advice
Whether you have an office, warehouse or shop, it’s good practice to display health advice posters as gentle reminders on hygiene. You can find resources on the Government website here.
If you don’t have a physical workplace, you and your employees work remotely or you’re all based at home right now, then share this information via other means such as email – and remember, it’s just as important for employees to consider their hygiene practices at home.
By emailing general good hygiene practice and travel guidance to employees, you can provide tips on effective hand washing, using hand sanitiser and advice on physical contact with customers. We recommend you don’t just send one email – maintain a regular communication to keep this at the forefront of minds.
3. Spot the signs
As a small business owner, Acas recommends that managers should become educated on how to identify symptoms of coronavirus and are aware of the actions to take. This might be reporting on sickness, sick pay and carrying out the correct procedures if someone falls ill with the virus while working.
Acas is an independent public body that receives government funding to provide advice on workplace rights, rules and best practice, they have plenty of advice on managing coronavirus as an employer here.
What about the concerns I have about keeping my business operating?
There’s never been a better time to re-evaluate your business continuity plan. Should you or any of your employees fall ill, you’ll need your plan to launch successfully with or without you.
Business continuity is about having plans in place and setting up your business with the idea that you maintain your critical services in the event of something bad happening.
There are two schools of thought; building resilience in what you do by taking steps to prevent an incident from occurring and disaster recovery planning, where you put plans and processes in place to speed your recovery from an incident. Think of it as trying to prevent things going wrong and then having a plan if something does happen.
It’s important to protect the interests of your stakeholders and your business. Insufficient planning could lead to significant losses, which could be irrecoverable. The impact from an incident could lead to reputational damage and financial loss.
If you don’t have a plan or want to review your current one, take a look at the advice from our business continuity experts.
Going hand-in hand with a business continuity plan – is your small business equipped for remote working? Given that the UK Government is still requesting homeworking where possible to minimise the risks, it is important for you to consider how this could work for your small business, if it’s not something you already do.
Here’s some advice for remote working if this is not currently part of how your business operates normally:
1. Collaborating effectively
One of the ways that employees can stay in touch whilst remote working is the use of collaboration tools. Collaboration apps can help you streamline the way your team work together – managing projects, sharing files, and connecting people through group chats and video calls. Here are five free collaboration tools that you can implement.
2. Equipment and access
If remote working is possible for your business, review the equipment employees will need to be able to carry out their jobs from home. This might be laptops and chargers, headsets or mobile phones.
If you have concerns about the cost of equipment, consider the cost implications if your small business was unable to operate for weeks or even months.
You will also want to test that employees can access networks, portals and any digital tools from home too. It’s important to ensure that contact numbers, emergency contacts and addresses are all up to date.
Find further advice on working from home here.
Gov.uk suggests that small businesses should check the policy they hold with their insurance provider. Whilst it’s quite likely that the majority of businesses will not be covered for coronavirus (COVID-19), as business interruption policies usually refer to damage to property – some may have opted for cover to include diseases.
If you don’t have this cover, you could also look for ‘supply chain or denial of access’ cover which might provide assistance in this circumstance.
For more information on insurance take a look at this Q&A from the Association of British Insurers.
Financial support from the Government
But what about the immediate financial loss caused by the virus? To support small businesses through this period of disruption, the Government has already announced and issued temporary measures to aid relief including:
- Statutory sick pay relief package for SMEs
- Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme
- Business Rate Relief for small businesses and pubs
- Small business grant funding
- Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme to support long-term viable businesses who may need to respond to cash-flow pressures by seeking additional finance
- Deferral of VAT payments
- Coronavirus Bounce Back loan
Find out more information on the support you can receive here. The Government have also launched a support tool, allowing you to find out what support is available to your business through a series of questions. Access it here.
Backing from banks
Business in the Community advises that The Bank of England has developed a comprehensive package for UK businesses to help with the significant economic interruption that COVID-19 is likely to have. One of these measures includes dropping interest rates from 0.75% to 0.25%.
Additional funding is also available for banks to increase lending – in particular for small businesses.
Likewise, HSBC, Lloyds and Natwest have confirmed plans for emergency loans and overdrafts to minimise the financial pressure on the small business community.
Business in the Community is the oldest and largest business-led membership organisation dedicated to responsible business – with the intention to create a skilled, inclusive workforce today and for the future.
Get more information from the factsheet here.
Self-employment Income Support Scheme
For those of you who are self-employed, the Government announced a scheme to help minimise the impact of coronavirus.
The scheme allows self-employed individuals or members of a partnership to claim a taxable grant. It’s worth 80% of average trading profits and will cover three months with a maximum of £7,500 in total.
There are some requirements for the scheme. You can find out more about the criteria and check if you’re eligible on the Government website here. If you are eligible, you must claim for a first grant by the 13 July.
The scheme has also been extended and sole traders will be able to make another claim for a second and final grant in August 2020. This will cover 70% of average monthly trading profits covering a further 3 months with a maximum of £6,570 in total. The online service for this extended grant is not yet available.
There are other schemes provided by the Government to help self-employed individuals, including a delay of self-assessment income tax payments and VAT payments, loan schemes and increases in Universal Credit. You can find out more about these here.
Funding for frontline charities
The Government has pledged a £750 million fund which will be used to support charities to help them continue their vital work during the outbreak.
The funding will be offered to frontline charities in the UK, with £200 million directly supporting hospices and another £200 million dedicated to a Coronavirus Community Support Fund.
The Government also pledged to match donations to the National Emergencies Trust following the ‘BBC’s Big Night In’ fundraiser, committing to donating at least £20 million.
You can read more about this financial support for charities on the Government website here.
You can find out more about the financial support for charities here, including further details on the fundraising donation and charity funds. The NCVO also has some helpful COVID-19 resources for charities on their website.
The ultimate goal is to keep your organisation operating as normally as possible and make sure you’re doing what you can to protect both you and your employees in the workplace.
Consider the advice above and don’t be afraid to make bold decisions if you think you’re putting yourself or anyone else at risk.