Omicron is raising the possibility of another lockdown, so how are businesses preparing?
With the sudden rise in coronavirus cases and the concerns around the emerging omicron variant, the likelihood of another lockdown, or at least some form of restriction, seems a lot more plausible.
Businesses have had plenty of experience of operating under restrictions at this point, but each successive lockdown compounds the pressure on cash flow and capacity. Factor in that any lockdown will have to be completed without government assistance, and it’s clear that many businesses will require some very careful contingency planning.
Our panel of members discuss out it might affect them, and how they’re planning to respond if the omicron variant turns out to be a serious threat.
We try to respond without damaging efficiency
Clare Elliott FMAAT, CFO, ILUX
As an IT company, you could say we were one of the most prepared for the lockdown that March 2020 brought us, although, of course, we didn’t quite realise it at the time. Although we were all office-based (apart from our Field Service Engineers who were both office and remote), we were already set up to cope with switching to home working instantly. We left the office on a Friday afternoon on the understanding that we would do a trial week, just in case a lockdown came, and we didn’t return as Boris announced the inevitable that very weekend. But fortunately, we had no issues at all. Everyone had the ability to access all systems, and everyone was sent home with whatever equipment they needed; not just laptops, but monitors, monitor stands, keyboards, docking stations, cables, chairs, etc. The plan was that everyone should be able to achieve the work set-up in their own home environment, to maximise their comfort and maintain efficiencies.
The next two lockdowns were a reminder to us all that we should not become complacent, and not assume that it was a one-off never to be repeated again. While we all hope that we will never experience another pandemic and more lockdowns, we feel totally prepared and will continue to be so. I think we’ve learnt from not just our experience, but that of our clients too, whom a few did have to make some very quick changes. Each time we plan for change, we are mindful of ensuring we are not restricting our own working efficiencies. We all have to plan for as many contingency situations as we can possibly imagine.
If the worst did happen, and we found ourselves in another lockdown, it wouldn’t change anything that we are doing now. Most of our employees haven’t returned to the office at all, and those that have are mostly there on a temporary basis. We only have a few permanent office employees.
I think it’s fair to say that we have always considered the needs of the business and the protection of our employees first and foremost, hence not returning to the office full time. A new variant is of course a concern, as we want to ensure our employees are safe at work, particularly our Field Service Engineers who visit multiple sites each week. It’s important to ensure we have a strict protocol of testing and hygiene, in order to restrict our involvement in the spreading of the virus. The biggest concern is if multiple employees became ill, which might impede our ability to service our clients as the workload would be too high. But other than that, we feel confident that we are rigorously planning to cope with anything that might rear its ugly head (but hopefully that won’t happen!).
We’ve actually done well under lockdown
Andy Murray MAAT AATQB, finance lead, Manna Pro UK
Our organisation is already operating in an agile way and there has been no disruption from Covid-19 in relation to operations and sales. Since March 2021 when the UK lockdown and restrictions were first introduced as a direct result of Covid-19, we saw a significant increase in sales.
As a global business, the infrastructure was already in place in terms of our operating capacity and IT and therefore the new variant is unlikely to have any business impact on us.
We’ve learned a lot from previous lockdowns
Farha Jamadar FMAAT, finance manager, Todd Doors
I think after the turbulent year and a half we have been through it’s safe to say, this isn’t a huge surprise. We are able to pre-plan better, put measures in place and ensure that the business carries on in the best possible way with the learning from the past one and a half years
Contingency plans are dependent on restrictions, but for office staff and teams, members have worked from home facilities available and within the retail stores and warehouse functionality the continuance of requirement of masks and social distancing and working on ensuring this is adhered to and focusing our sales online.
At this time of the year, you are budget-planning and preparing for the new year ahead with the anticipation we are over the main disruptions of Covid-19. However, this does not seem to be the case, and contingencies need to be layered in. Combining this with lessons learned from this year will enable us to do better but not get back to normality, which is what a lot of businesses are hoping for.
I guess it’s keeping it consistent and not drastic, so enforcing social distancing where possible across the business and the ability to be flexible, should more restrictions be introduced.
Mark Rowland is a journalist and former editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.