The UK government has taken its first steps to ease the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions, following a series of announcements from the prime minister.
It has put a timeline in place (specifically for England – Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are working to different lockdown easing timescales), which covers when businesses can open, when children can return to school and more – the steps are dependent on the situation of the outbreak.
So, what does this mean for your business? Read this article to find out more about the different phases of lockdown easing in England, when your business can potentially start trading, government financial support to help you stay on top of your cash flow, and how to support your employees.
The three lockdown easing steps
In relation to the easing of the coronavirus lockdown are three steps to be aware of:
Step 1: From 13 May 2020
Employees can go to the workplace if they can’t work from home, ideally avoiding public transport (by walking, cycling, or travelling by car) when travelling to get there.
This includes people working in construction, manufacturing, distribution, logistics and food production.
There’s new government guidance for employers to make workplaces secure (more details are below, see ‘Who the government guides are for’). Restrictions on exercising outside have been lifted.
Step 2: From 1 June 2020
A phased reopening of ‘non-essential’ shops and the reopening of schools, starting with children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6.
Step 3: From 4 July 2020
The reopening of personal care businesses – including beauty salons, barbers and hairdressers – hospitality companies, and leisure facilities may start happening at this point.
Pubs and restaurants are likely to be among the last businesses to open their doors.
What the lockdown easing means for your business
With the details of the lockdown easing becoming clearer, your business can start taking steps to begin trading again – if it hasn’t been for the past few weeks – or start putting plans in place to go back to the workplace.
To support this, the government has published eight guides covering different types of work.
You might find that your business operates across more than one type of workplace. If that’s the case, you’ll need to refer to more than one of the guides as you start actioning planning around your return to the workplace.
In addition to these guides, there are five key points set out by the government that your business will need to follow (these can be found in further detail in the guides):
1. Work from home if you can
You’ll need to continue taking reasonable steps to help your employees work from home. However, if you have staff who can’t work from home and you have a workplace that hasn’t been told to close, they are allowed to go to the workplace.
You’ll need to speak to applicable staff members about when the workplace will be open (you may find you have back office employees who can work from home and front line staff who need to carry out their roles in the workplace, for example).
2. Carry out a COVID-19 risk assessment
This guidance operates within current health and safety employment and equalities legislation and you’ll need to carry out COVID-19 risk assessments in consultation with your employees or trade unions in order to establish what guidelines to put in place.
If possible, you should publish the results of your risk assessments on your company website – the government expects all businesses with more than 50 employees to do this.
3. Maintain social distancing wherever possible
You’ll need to redesign your company workspaces to maintain social distancing and the requirement for people to be at least 2m apart.
Ways to do this should include staggering start and finish times for your employees, creating one-way walkthroughs, opening more entrances and exits, and changing seating layouts in break rooms.
4. Where people can’t be 2m apart, manage transmission risk
If this is the case, you’ll need to look into putting barriers in shared spaces, creating workplace shift patterns or fixed teams that minimise the number of people in contact with one another, and ensure employees are facing away from each other.
5. Reinforcing cleaning processes
You’ll need to make sure that your workplace is cleaned frequently – and this involves paying close attention to high-contact objects such as computer keyboards and door handles.
Your business will also have to provide handwashing facilities or hand sanitisers at entry and exit points.
A downloadable poster is included in the guides, which can be displayed in your workplace to show your employees, customers and visitors that your business has adhered to these five points.
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Who the government guides are for
Below, we’ve highlighted who the guides are aimed at – and we recommend you read each one that’s relevant to your business so you have all points covered.
Construction and other outdoor work
This guidance includes businesses that work in construction, energy and utilities, farming and agriculture, forestry, railway services, street and highway services, and waste management.
Factories, plants and warehouses
This guidance includes businesses that work in industrial environments, such as chemical and manufacturing plants, distribution centres, food and other large processing plants, port operations and warehouses.
Other people’s homes
This guidance is for anyone who works in, visits or delivers to home environments. Examples of people and businesses include cleaners, cooks, delivery drivers, fitters, meter readers, plumbers, repair services and surveyors.
It doesn’t include nannies who spend all of their time in one home environment.
Labs and research facilities
This guidance covers indoor research environments including clean rooms, computer labs, engineering centres, material development labs, prototyping centres, simulators, specialist testing rooms, wet labs and wind tunnels.
Offices and contact centres
This guidance covers indoor working environments such as contact centres, offices and operations rooms.
Restaurants offering takeaway or delivery
This guidance covers food preparation and food service businesses where food is sold via takeaway and/or delivery.
These include bars, cafes, caterers, food-to-go companies, food delivery firms, mobile catering, and pubs and restaurants that are running as takeaways.
Shops and branches
This guidance covers shops that are open now, such as supermarkets, food stores and chemists.
It also covers shops not open now – selling non-food items such as clothes and shoes – which will be useful for planning when the time comes that they can reopen.
Banks, building societies and other money businesses are included here too.
This guidance covers businesses with employees working in and from a vehicle and includes couriers, field forces, lorry drivers, on-site transit, mobile workers and work vehicles.
Coronavirus: Government funding support tool
Use this simple tool to help you understand which government schemes your business is likely to be eligible for and guidance on accessing them.
Three tips to help your business adjust as lockdown restrictions are eased
As your business starts taking steps to return to the workplace, here are three tips to help your company and your employees as you make the adjustments.
1. Utilise government support measures
If you haven’t done so already, explore the range of government financial support that’s available to your business.
A series of loans, grants and deferrals are being offered – you’ll need to check which schemes your business is eligible for – that can help your business manage cash flow during this uncertain time.
The Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme, which has been extended to October 2020, will help you keep your employees and avoid redundancies.
Meanwhile, as your staff start returning to the workplace, having access to Statutory Sick Pay means you can send them home if they have coronavirus symptoms and they’ll get sick pay from the first day of illness.
If you’re considering one of the loan schemes on offer, such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme or the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme, it’s worth speaking to your accountant or a financial adviser first.
Remember, unlike the grants, you’ll need to pay the loans back – and there are interest payments to consider too.
For some of the schemes, there are interest-free periods, which will help your business in the short term. But in the medium to long term, you’ll want to put a plan in place to make sure you can cover the payments.
2. Explore ways to boost your revenue
A lot of businesses are likely to have seen a drop in revenue since the lockdown measures were brought in, and your business could be in a similar situation.
Even with businesses having a slightly clearer view of when their workplaces will be opening again so they can trade as near to normal as possible, it’s still worth looking at alternative ways to generate revenue.
If you haven’t done so already, offering new products and services could help your company’s finances.
Some gym owners and personal trainers have turned to online training sessions to make up the shortfall in revenue following the requirement for their workplaces to close. Restaurants have turned to delivery and takeaway offerings.
In both cases, these pivots could be kept in place when their establishments are open again, providing additional revenue streams.
And you may find a new opportunity opens up – companies that sell face coverings, for example, are likely to see an uptick in demand following government guidance for people to start wearing them if they go to certain shops or travel on public transport.
Fashion businesses that don’t already sell them could look at the possibility of selling their own face coverings.
3. Put a plan in place for your employees
The new guidance around working arrangements may mean you have some employees working from home while others are based in the workplace. Putting a plan in place for both parties will help everyone to work safely and productively.
Consider implementing staggered start and finish times for those in the workplace so you can adhere to social distancing guidelines.
And maintain flexible working protocols for your employees who are working from home, especially for those who have children or family members to care for.
Continue to use video conferencing for meetings – both for remote workers and those in the workplace. And keep communicating with your employees on a regular basis, so they are clear on company policies, what’s happening with the business, and other developments that are relevant to them.
For those employees that are required to work within the workplace but don’t want to travel to work or enter the building due to uncertainty around coronavirus, take the time to listen to their concerns.
If it’s not possible to put them in a role where they can work from home, using some of their holiday entitlement or unpaid leave could be an option worth considering.
The emerging details around the government’s plans to ease lockdown are likely to be welcome for your business but there will be new challenges for you to face.
By following the government guidance and referring to your business continuity plans, you’ll give your company the best chance to keep moving in the right direction.
Coronavirus and your business
We’ve gathered information and resources to help navigate this situation, including tools and webinars, to help you understand what financial support is available.