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Are you ready to go back to work?

Published on 11th May 2020

With a roadmap for lockdown starting to be drawn up, it’s time to look at the costs of opening up for business.

The effect of lockdown on British businesses has been dramatic. Some believe they risk going bust due to the coronavirus pandemic – others have written off the entire year's trading and shut up shop until conditions improve. More than half a million businesses feel that they could be pushed under by the lockdown - 250,000 said they would not be able to survive if trading conditions remain as they are for another month.

It could take the UK economy three years to fully recover from the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Chief medical officer, Chris Whitty, admitted that some form of lockdown could be imposed until at least the end of this year. There are no quick fixes.

But there could be light at the end of the tunnel. The FTSE 100, which marked its worst quarter since 1987 in March, started to show positive signs of recovery in recent weeks.

What are the positive signs?

With lockdown still in force, and the government constantly reminding us about the importance of social distancing, it is all too easy to miss the fact that more people are going back to work.

Many companies are realising that they cannot afford to stay shut down. The loss of income and the fear that customers or clients will find alternative sources of supply means that they have been finding ways to work safely.

You can see the evidence that the economy is waking up with more people on the streets and more cars and vans on the road. Shops are starting to re-open, and many more are clamouring to do the same as soon as they are allowed to. Recruiters are being approached by clients for new projects and businesses are starting to see more enquiries coming in.

It could be time to start thinking about re-opening, but if your business is going to start welcoming back customers and clients or protect your workforce, you need to make changes to your workplace and the way your people work in it.

You may need to invest to be ready to go back to work

The key message reiterated in each of the government’s consultation documents, which cover reopening offices, factories, shops and hotels, is that “everyone should work from home unless they cannot work from home." So you may need to continue to support remote working if you can. If you cannot - and your staff need to be physically present to work with fixed tools and equipment or each other - changes will be inevitable.

Social distancing - both for your staff and when they interact with customers or clients - will be necessary and key to the changes you must make. In most cases, the two-metre rule must be applied and each worker should have the necessary distance between them and their co-workers.

Exactly what those changes will entail will depend on the kind of business that you run.

Changes in the office

Right now, offices around the UK are sitting empty while key staff work from home. But when lockdown lifts and employers are told they can start bringing employees back, they will return to a very different working environment.

Hot desking will have to be curtailed and the open-plan office format may need to be replaced with divisions - a step back 25 years to the ‘cube farm’ office layout. This will require dividers and more floor space. Office partitioning manufacturers have reported a huge increase in demand. There have always been concerns about cross-infection in open-plan offices, evidenced by increased sick leave reports when an office switches to open plan. When the risk is infection with Coronavirus, it is simply too great to consider. 

You may require additional space to accommodate your team or to invest in new desks and partitioning to provide a safe office environment - but you may also require additional IT if workers are to continue with remote working. In both cases, an Asset Finance approach could help spread the cost of the assets you require. 

Changes to remote working

The Coronavirus crisis has forced many firms that were initially reluctant to allow home working to adopt the practice quickly. It has also forced them to ask if the office is necessary for a modern business to function. It may have made sense at one time but office technology has moved on. Many SMEs are seeing that it makes little sense for their staff to travel into city centres and take up costly space to work alone, two metres away from each other, at desks or in cubicles, every day.

The majority of workers claim to be happy to work from home at least two days per week in future. The ability to reduce exposure to public transport is crucial for them but, of course, there are benefits for employers too as less costly office space will be needed.

What will be required is dependable technology that enables “work anywhere” collaboration. Investing in hardware with Asset Finance, and financing the construction of a network with remote access, high levels of security and easy access to a shared pool of data may be essential.

Changes in the leisure industry

Businesses that rely on consumer spend are being hit the hardest by the current rules.

Even in the most optimistic scenario of the full lockdown ending sometime in June, people are not going to rush to spend money in pubs, bars, restaurants or on leisure activities.

However, people do need to get out of the home, and that will present a need for food and drink - which will undoubtedly provide some opportunity for leisure-based businesses.

Takeaway shops have always provided food, and some have also offered alcohol. Some cafes have already begun to reopen while implementing social distancing measures. McDonald's has announced it will reopen 15 of its restaurants in the UK offering delivery services only from May 13, and it seems likely that many others will follow.

Some pubs are looking at the possibility of opening while restricting customers to the open air. Beer gardens and even car parks can offer sufficient room for social distancing while enjoying a drink. 

You may need to provide open-air seating and, being Britain, shelter against rain to take advantage of the grey areas about bar opening and takeaways. As with most types of business equipment, Asset Finance might provide the most cost-effective solutions. 

Needing to make changes to your workplace so you can reopen safely? Find out your funding options today

Changes to retail business

Non-essential shops were shut during the early days of the crisis, but up and down the country, there have been shops that are not exactly non-essential re-opening. Mr Johnson has not relaxed the rules on other retail yet – although chains like B&Q have already reopened some stores, and garden centres will be opening soon.

Those stores that have resumed trading have taken measures both outside and inside stores. Queuing is being enforced just as it is at supermarkets to keep numbers down, and screens at tills provide some protection for workers.

The British Retail Consortium is recommending that if non-essential shops reopen, changing rooms should stay closed. Some potentially hazardous in-store services – such as advice, personal shopping or nail bars might also need to stay closed.  

New signage and some rearrangement of displays may be required to provide faster circulation through your store. Screen and new POS may be required. Asset Finance may be able to offer a way to acquire hardware, but you may also need cash flow support funding while customers numbers remain low.

Changes to industry

It would appear that there is little that can be done in industrial situations to reduce health hazards.

However, in most production operations, workers can be placed at stations with sufficient distance between themselves and others, and screen provided.

The main challenge may be with shared facilities, such as the entry area and clock-in, and with toilets and canteens. These may require refitting and deep cleaning on a regular basis.

With orders starting to pick up, the need to run a production operation efficiently is also increasing, and investing in the necessary equipment may be necessary before enough operatives can be brought in to ramp up the work.

A short-term cash flow support loan may be required to deal with the extra costs. You might also need to think about an Invoice Finance arrangement to ensure that your business does not fall victim to slow payment from customers that you supply.

Changes to the rules

How quickly the government will change the rules will depend on predictions supplied by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), on how much the rate of infection or ‘reproduction’ (R) value may increase. 

The R value must remain consistently below one to avoid a second peak. 

It is thought the current measures will be lifted one at a time, to allow the effects of each to be closely monitored until the experts are satisfied more changes can be made. This means that there can be no firm timetable for easing the restrictions - but it seems to make good sense to prepare for them being loosened now, rather than later.

Getting the help you need with the costs

As the nation gradually comes out of lockdown, having access to finance to prepare for trading under the new conditions could make all the difference to your business - because it will allow you to get a head start on the road back to profitability.

But reorganising your office, shop or factory, and changing your working patterns, will inevitably mean costs. The government’s help with cashflow will not extend to the kind of expenses you may need to cover

This is where Rangewell can help provide the solutions you need.

The key to effective business funding can be to recognise that individual costs may be best dealt with by the most appropriate type of funding.

So, if your office needs to be re-equipped with cubicles and dividers, some form of Asset Finance - where the cost of the loan is secured on the equipment or assets that you are acquiring - may be the most appropriate.

A similar approach may be used to acquire IT - although it might be useful to contact a specialist lender with experience in the IT sector, and to consider a lease, rather than buying in kit which can soon become obsolete.

You might also find that - if you are determined to bring all members of staff into the office - that you will actually need to acquire additional space to accommodate them all under the new conditions. A short-term or cash flow loan may be required, especially if your business is still suffering from the downturn.

You may benefit from expert help when finding the most appropriate funding for your office plans. We can help you find the lenders who are able to offer the most cost-effective funding deals - and offer them quickly.

You need to get your business working efficiently again, and funding will have a key part to play in achieving that goal. To ensure you have the funding you need, simply call us at Rangewell

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