The move to Plan B and the deepening of the UK’s Covid restrictions wasn’t a surprise to most of us. The government’s scientific and medical advisers have been calling for tighter restrictions for some time, and the arrival of the Omicron variant in the UK has given the Government little choice but to re-introduce certain safety measures. While Plan B may be an inconvenience for some SMEs, it’s definitely NOT the end of their plans, growth objectives or strategy for 2022.
There’s an air of optimism among the UK’s SMEs as we near the end of Q4 of 2021. Stats from a recent survey by our lending partner, MarketFinance, show that businesses are ‘cautiously optimistic’. 63% of SMEs expect their businesses to grow over the next three years. And 50% of SMEs are confident that customer demand, as well as turnover, will increase in 6 to 12 months.
In this air of positivity, it’s important for your firm to support and encourage your SME clients, and to explain why Plan B is just another blip on the road to success in 2022.
1. Working from home, where possible
One of the key changes introduced by Plan B is the Government’s request for employees to ‘work from home if they can’. On the surface, this might sound disruptive, especially when clients have only been back in the office full-time for a matter of months. But the important thing to remember here is that ‘working from home’ (WFH) is no longer the challenge that it might have been prior to the start of the pandemic in 2020.
WFH is manageable, for a number of reasons:
We’ve all got used to homeworking – prior to March 2020, WFH was still unusual and, generally speaking, not part of most companies’ resourcing strategy. As we near 2022, we’re two years down the line and have been through multiple lockdowns and periods of homeworking. Staff know the drill and won’t be phased by WFH.
The remote working infrastructure is in place – the pandemic has increased the pace of digital transformation, resulting in improved cloud-based systems and remote-working IT infrastructures for many SMEs. Homeworkers have online access to the company’s networks, databases and key systems, so most work can carry on as usual.
Homeworkers can actually be more productive – there are obviously certain industries and roles where homeworking is just not an option. But for admin staff, senior management and other office-based staff, WFH can actually provide a more productive working environment. Stats from the CIPD show that 43% of businesses experienced higher productivity rates during homeworking.
The businesses that will be most affected by the move to homeworking are likely to be the smaller independent businesses that rely on footfall and passing trade from office workers and commuters. Where your firm has clients in this bracket, it will be important to discuss their options and look at diversification into home delivery or new online markets.
2. Wearing masks in indoor spaces
Another important change was the introduction of mandatory use of facemasks in indoor spaces. Love them or hate them, we know that facemasks can drastically reduce transmission of the Covid virus. With the Omicron variant appearing to be more transmissible than other variants, facemasks will be an incredibly useful tool when it comes to keeping people safe.
Facemasks help to:
Reduce airborne transmission – when staff and customers are interacting in a confined indoor space, you greatly increase the chances of the virus being transmitted between people. An outdoor background rate of carbon dioxide (the gas we breathe out) is around 400 parts per million (p.p.m.). In a poorly ventilated room, this reading can go up to 2,000 p.p.m., making it easier for the virus to be passed on. Facemasks help protect us in these indoor spaces by trapping airborne particles.
Decrease staff illness and absence – when staff are wearing facemasks in the office and in other workspace areas, you reduce the chances of airborne transmission and help to keep people safe and well. A healthy workforce is obviously a happy and productive workforce, so it’s in your clients’ interests to encourage mask usage. If the company’s entire staff becomes ill and has to self-isolate, the SME has no workforce left to actually run its operations.
3. Increased use of testing
We’ve got used to the need for NHS Covid Passes when gaining entry to events, gigs and theatres etc. But Plan B has introduced mandatory use of these Covid Passes in specific settings, using a negative test or full vaccination via the NHS Covid Pass.
The impact of this mandatory use of Covid Passes and testing will include:
A greater focus on testing – customers and staff will have to take regular rapid lateral flow tests for venues, retail spaces, offices and factory spaces to remain safe. While this is a pain to do (no-one enjoys doing the swab), having increased testing in place does give people a far better idea of whether they’re positive, negative or asymptomatic.
Safer venues and greater stability – small music venues, clubs and theatres may not welcome the introduction of Covid Passes, as it passes the responsibility, checking and the resulting admin to their door and security staff. However, once introduced, mandatory passes should help to reduce Covid outbreaks in these locations. That’s clearly a positive outcome for venues that would suffer greatly from reduced revenues if they were forced to close down due to an outbreak.
Keeping clients on track for their 2022 strategy
Plan B wasn’t what most business leaders wanted to see in the run-up to Christmas and the new year. But if your firm can encourage SME clients to stick to the guidance, the longer-term benefits will outweigh the small inconvenience of these measures.
By keeping employees, customers and other stakeholders safe and healthy, businesses make it easier to achieve their planned goals for the coming year. If Covid continues to spread and full-scale lockdowns are required, this could spell disaster for many small business owners. By putting Plan B into action and helping to reduce the spread of infections, every client can do their bit to keep the UK on track for a more positive 2022.
Keeping up to date with the latest government guidance will be vital over the coming weeks. So, let’s aim to keep clients informed, safe and compliant with the rules, and to offer the best possible solutions to clients that have been negatively impacted by the restrictions.
Check out the latest Future Positive Podcast to hear Phil Hobden, our Head of Education, and Kirsty McGregor, our Accountant-in-residence, discussing the impact of Plan B for SMEs.