Being forced to close or move operations from the office to workers’ homes has been difficult for all businesses since lockdown was introduced in March. However, as the government plans to ease restrictions, this could also spell a challenging time for companies, but hopefully they will already have put their business continuity plans into place.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has recently announced lockdown will be eased slowly over the coming weeks, with outdoor markets and car showrooms set to open shortly (June 1st), non-essential shops to welcome the public from June 15th, and schools letting pupils from certain year groups return from the beginning of June.
His intention is to begin to return to normality, in an attempt to get the economy going, as the Office for Budget Responsibility and Bank of England anticipates that the impact of the coronavirus pandemic could cause the GDP to fall by as much as 14 per cent in 2020. This is significantly higher than the largest single-year fall during the post-War period, which occurred in 2009 when it declined by 4.2 per cent.
As a result of the government having to offer financial support to employees and businesses, companies being forced to close, and a huge investment in healthcare, personal protective equipment and for the research and development of a vaccination or treatment for Covid-19, there is an urgency to get the public spending again.
While most people will be relieved to hear they can go shopping again and companies will be glad they can get their operations up and running so they begin to earn a full income, re-opening their services will not be as simple as resuming old procedures.
When it comes to retail outlets, the BBC reported they will require Perspex screens at tills to protect staff. Floor markings will also be put down to ensure customers are kept two metres apart from each other, much like they have become standard fittings in supermarkets already.
Customer numbers could be limited and queues will need to be controlled; fashion stores might have to close their changing rooms and shoe shop Kurt Geiger has said it will put footwear away for 24 hours after someone has tried them on. Similarly, Waterstones will remove books that have been touched for 72 hours.
Shop owners will be pleased they can re-open their doors, but they also need to have sufficient business continuity plans in place to cover this phased return to normality. This is because shoppers might not flock to the stores initially, meaning there could still be a loss of revenue for many outlets.
Speaking with the news provider, Andrew Goodacre, Chief Executive of the British Independent Retailers Association, commented: “Social distancing also takes away the fun and positive experience of shopping. All these factors mean that it will be difficult at first, and for many months after.”
When it comes to pubs, restaurants, hotels, cinemas, religious buildings and hairdressers, there could be even stricter restrictions in place, as it would be harder to manage social distancing in these premises.
It is expected these will not open until July 4th at the earliest, though this is subject to the infection rate remaining low and if businesses can prove social distance measures can be put in place.
National Chairman for the Federation of Small Businesses Mike Cherry said the government should “provide those firms some idea of when they’ll be able to get back to work”.
They also need to be given guidance on how they should plan their re-opening, so they can begin to establish new procedures and issue guidelines to their staff.
Even those businesses that have managed to allow employees to work from home over the last few months, may consider ways of integrated home working into the overall mix of working options, but some businesses may not be able to maintain this indefinitely. Workers will need to go into the office (whether full-time or part-time) , meet up with clients, travel to appointments or work on projects, which means organisations have to come up with strategies that adhere to social distancing policies to keep staff safe at all times.
The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) has released draft documents to the BBC and the Financial Times regarding measures that businesses may have to implement when they re-open. For offices, this includes staggered shift times, no sharing of equipment, increased hygiene procedures, protective screens and more parking spaces, reported ITV.
Companies might want to create ‘health passports’ too, which will inform which employees have already had Covid-19 and, therefore, are likely to have immunity to it, allowing them to work within closer proximity to others.