With Boris Johnson announcing that UK shops will now be allowed to open from the 15th of June, businesses across the country are gearing up to come out of lockdown. Outdoor markets and car showrooms may open from June 1st provided they observe social distancing, and hospitality services may open later in July. “Non-essential” retail like clothing stores are currently still in limbo.
It’s a challenging time for most UK businesses. Having only recently adapted with furlough measures, working from home or complete suspension of workloads, business is now tasked with finding a graceful exit from lockdown. No matter what the nature of your business, however, advice is likely to follow some key principles going forward.
Knowledge is power
Having staff work from home might have forced you to think on your feet with hosting, data management, and security and software issues. But there are ways to navigate the reverse change, too, and help your business exit lockdown with either small tweaks or an entirely new business model. Now is not simply a time to survive, but a time to reconsider your objectives, your USP and the overall dexterity of your business strategy.
According to Helastel, “a dexterous business has the ways and means to detect events as they happen. This could be anything from sensors along a production line to social media sentiment analysis to gauge customer opinion – some means of collecting real-time data. It then has ways of analysing this data and putting actionable insights in front of the right people at the right time.” In economic uncertainty, your post-lockdown plan will be as unique as your company is. But it all starts with having a clear snapshot of how your business is performing, right now.
Understand that things will be different
Very few industries will return immediately to pre-lockdown business as usual – and this may be a good thing. Being forced to adopt certain measures, companies have been given a crash course in managing employees from home. Now that lockdown is lifted, many are asking if any lessons learned during quarantine can be carried over once lockdown lifts.
Whatever your unique business challenges, it’s likely that transitioning out of lockdown will take time, and will need to be done in tentative phases, stopping to appraise progress along the way. Things may never be the same again, but with change comes opportunity, if we’re looking for it.
Stagger staff returns
The current advice is to only bring back the most crucial staff first, adjust, and then welcome in the next wave of employees. IT workers, for example, may need to lead the way and lay the new groundwork for others to gradually return. It may also work to implement a rotation shift pattern to create temporal distance between workers.
Think safety first
There’s a lot to process, and the transition is unlikely to be smooth. However, any business owner’s priority should be on balancing commercial pressures with employee health and safety. To do this, iron out a new set of office, store or workshop rules. For example, you could limit meetings and in-person contact, and keep using online tools like Zoom to communicate.
Some businesses are introducing devices to check the body temperature of colleagues or clients entering the premises, not to mention setting up socially distant workspaces and hand wash stations. Shops have put up signs reminding customers of social distancing rules, put tape markers on the floor, and established shopping protocols that minimises contact.
Spare a thought for digital and data hygiene
A number of staff are likely going to remain working from home, in which case all the issues surrounding data security are still a concern. Be crystal clear on policy updates and take the time to properly communicate any new data protection protocols, software or infrastructure changes.
Employees working from home may have downloaded all sorts of things on company laptops, which will need to be cleared of malware before being put back on the company’s network, for example. An IT health check may be necessary to check up on VPNs, two factor authentication, licenses and updates.
It’s all about flexibility
Every employee is different, and will likely have experienced the risks of the pandemic differently. Good leadership means recognising these different needs and adapting accordingly. Agile business practices see diversity as a strength rather than an obstacle.
Keep communicating with more vulnerable or temporary staff – your tact and flexibility will earn their loyalty, whereas rigid solutions may breed resentment among employees who are exhausted, stressed or feeling uncertain. Keeping team motivation and cohesion may be the biggest challenge of all. You may need to consider carefully how you’ll level the playing field between furloughed and non-furloughed staff, for example.
Nobody can say for certain what the post-lockdown economy will look like for every business, but the challenges can only be navigated with care, agility and the willingness to try something different.