Prepare Your Business for a Potential Second Wave.

Prepare your business for a second wave
Alan Clerkin

Alan Clerkin

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There is a “strong” and “very real” possibility that Dublin will be moved to level three in the Government’s plans for coping with the Covid-19 pandemic, Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said.

This would mean more severe restrictions for the capital, where there is concern about the increased spread of the disease in recent weeks.

Not since the 2008 recession have businesses experienced such pressure on all fronts. A three month complete shut down in Ireland affected all sectors of business. Some businesses are more affected than others, however plans now need to put in place by all business, to prepare for a likely second wave.

I have spoken with a number of clients recently and they have all stated that bank lending has got much stricter or in some cases has ceased up. People with good jobs and no bad lending records have been turned down for car loans and mortgages. The banks in Ireland are still in a perilous state, why else, for example would Bank of Ireland and AIB shares be down 65% since January 2020. Government deficits have ballooned in recent months, there are one million workers directly on state benefit or dependent on it.

Now is the time to prepare your business for a potential second wave. Some people say it won’t happen, but why would you risk your business not planning for such an event. The winter months are going to be extremely difficult.

Depending on your business, your balance sheet, preparing will be different for each company. For a small company with less than ten staff, you should ask yourself, do you require the retail or office space surrounding you? I recently wrote about an estate agent in Ranelagh Dublin 6, that closed their offices, commenced work from home for all staff and starting using co-working space, virtual office and flexible office space. The business is now saving over €100’000 per year from having no rent, rates, parking or utility charges.

If you are running a small business, you need to look at all expenditure, at least every 6 months. Do you need only part of the retail/office space you are using? Do you need it at all? Is there savings that can be made within the business i.e. advertising, staffing, stationary, postage, mobile phones, parking. You should also try to speak to your landlord about reducing rent and to your suppliers regarding your charges. You will be surprised how suppliers and in some cases landlords, are favorable to reducing costs.

Business owners need to ask, what if a portion, if not all staff, are unable to get to work and have to work from home for a number of weeks or months. Do employees have the technology and training to work remotely. If not, now if the time to commence a few hours training for such a scenario. Employers need to draw up a formal work from home policy. Responsibilities such as the hours to be worked, what expenses can be claimed for the home office, should the salary be the same, policies on video conferencing and communications. Obviously so far, I’m discussing more office based businesses. But the same can be implemented for some retailers, such as clothes shops, restaurants. Such businesses, should set up an online presence. So many businesses, actually don’t have a website and some that do, do not have all their products or services listed on them. Whether selling products of services, businesses must strive for a total e-commerce online presence. In our previous posts, we outlined grants that are available for business via your local enterprise office.

Many small retailers that had a limited online presence in the past are now realising the full potential of what they can offer in terms of maintaining sales. Other more well know shops and services that recently shut temporarily have moved to a full e-commerce model, ensuring sales continue. A survey in 2019, by Ecommerce News Europe, stated just 69% of small and medium enterprises in Ireland have a website. Only 32% of these online companies sell their products or services online. By not selling online, SME’s are losing their share of Ireland’s €13 billion e-commerce market.

A report in 2019, by the SME Digital Health Index, looked at the digital behavior of 1,000 Irish small and medium sized enterprises. At the same time, 63% of Irish consumers think a business looks outdated if it doesn’t have a website. And more than 53% of consumers want their local high street shop to offer an e-commerce website, where they can buy the shop’s goods and services and have delivered.

Another major change you can make to your business, is to reconsider the space you are renting. Do you really require all the space you are using? Can you and your staff work from home?

In a recent survey carried out by recruiter ‘Robert Walters’ found that 37% of businesses in Ireland are considering a downsize in office space. The recruitment company gauged the opinions of management and staff in over 2,200 companies worldwide for this survey. 

The survey found that pre Covid-19 some companies were considered role models due to their innovative offices. Companies, especially in the tech field, seemed to find themselves in an office battle, trying to differentiate themselves by offering luxuries such as baristas, onsite gyms and game rooms. What all these offices have in common, is that they are based on an open office plan. This layout allows for little space between workers. Some experts say that the open floor plan can be redesigned to ensure employees’ safety. Others say the pandemic is the final straw for the open office. Health risks aside, for those workers that feel more productive when working from home, a move away from open office plans could be beneficial. However, it must be remembered that a remote working model and a more closed office style doesn’t suit all personality types or business models. Downsizing office space could be another workplace trend in the aftermath of Covid-19. Currently, 37% of organisations are considering a reduction in the size of their premises.

Covid-19 launched the world’s largest remote working experiment. Traditional business processes and working practices evolved in a matter of days as employees were
forced to work remotely overnight. Business leaders’ biggest fear was a decrease in productivity, but 32% of professionals surveyed believed that their productivity
remained stable, and 45% saw their output increase. In light of these findings businesses may have to reevaluate their working models, indeed 73% of businesses
surveyed plan to allow more frequent working from home. Should organisations introduce more flexible working practices, then it is vital that guidelines and rules are
established, as 56% of employees feel that current policies lack clarity. IT infrastructure is another area that requires change, as 30% of employees feel that their IT systems are not adequate for remote working. Whilst greater working flexibility is here to stay, business leaders have been advised to proceed with caution, as many commentators emphasise the importance of face to face relationships and communication to workplace dynamics.

A virtual office may be a solution to you reducing some or all of your office space. With a virtual office you can have a professional business address in central Dublin, live call answering in your company name. The cost of the virtual office compared to a physical office is huge and could be the answer to your business surviving during this pandemic.

The chances of a second wave, a complete or partial shutdown should not be ignored by small and medium enterprises. Now is the time to act to implement procedures and training, to prepare you, your staff and suppliers for such a incident.