The UK government has taken further steps to ease the coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown restrictions.
It’s continuing with its lockdown easing timeline (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: 13 May 2020 onwards
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.
Government guidance is available to employers so they can ensure they make workplaces secure (more details are below, see ‘Who the government guides are for’). Restrictions on exercising outside have been lifted, while people are allowed to travel as far as they wish within England.
Step 2: 1 June 2020 onwards
From 1 June
Primary schools can open for children in reception, Year 1 and Year 6. However, this is not a mandatory requirement from the government, following feedback from a number of schools around England.
This is giving schools the time they need to make the necessary preparations to ensure they are able to comply with government safety guidance.
Meanwhile, secondary schools can allow children from Year 10 and Year 12 to return for face-to-face support.
The government is aiming for all children to return to school in September 2020.
From 15 June
All shops can open. Retailers have to adhere to social distancing requirements and additional measures to keep people safe (such as providing hand sanitiser for customers and regularly cleaning shopping baskets and trolleys).
Step 3: 4 July 2020 onwards
From 4 July
Pubs, restaurants, bars and cafes can open from this date and allow customers inside the premises. The two-metre social distancing rule will be replaced by a ‘one-metre-plus’ approach.
Other businesses and venues that can open include caravan sites, hotels, holiday apartments, hairdressers and barbers, cinemas, museums, galleries, theme parks, funfairs, libraries, community centres, zoos and aquariums.
From 11 July
Theatres, operas, dance and music shows can perform outdoors to socially distanced audiences. Venue capacity will be reduced and operators are encouraged to use electronic ticketing.
Water parks and outdoor pools can open. Local recreational sports teams can start to return, beginning with cricket.
From 13 July
Spa, tattoo parlours, beauticians, and other close-contact services can reopen – however, this is subject to some restrictions on “high-risk services”.
From 25 July
Indoor gyms, indoor swimming pools and leisure centres can reopen. Certain measures need to be in place – they include reduced class sizes, timed bookings, equipment being spaced out and enhanced cleaning.
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 14 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 two metres 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 two metres 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.
Close contact services
This guidance is for businesses that provide services where there’s close contact with people, such as barbers, beauticians, dress fitters, fashion designers, hairdressers, massage therapists, sports therapists and tailors.
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.
This guidance covers those who volunteer or work at heritage locations.
Hotels and other guest accommodation
This guidance is for people who work in or run guest accommodation and hotels.
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.
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.
Offices and contact centres
This guidance covers indoor working environments such as contact centres, offices and operations rooms.
This guidance covers arts organisations, participants, venue operators and anyone who works in the performing arts.
Providers of grassroots sport and gym/leisure facilities
This guidance covers those who work in grassroots sport, gyms, and in leisure facilities such as leisure centres.
Restaurants, pubs, bars and takeaway services
This guidance covers people who are running or work in pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants and takeaways.
Shops and branches
This guidance covers shops that were open during lockdown, such as supermarkets, food stores and chemists.
It also covers shops that were allowed to open from 15 June 2020 – selling non-food items such as clothes and shoes.
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.
This guidance covers businesses with people working at business events, consumer shows, hotel and guest accommodation, and indoor and outdoor attractions.
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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 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 are offering online training sessions to make up the shortfall in revenue following the requirement for their workplaces to close. Meanwhile, numerous restaurants and pubs are providing 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, may have seen an uptick in demand following government guidance for people to wear them in shops (in England, from 24 July 2020, and Scotland) if they 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.
Editor’s note: This article was first published in May 2020 and has been updated for relevance.
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.