Emerging from lockdown - The way forward for family businesses
24th June 2020
Are we ready?
Whilst the lockdown period presented acute cash burn pressures for many businesses as activity levels fell off, the next phase presents perhaps even greater challenges. Mobilising to kick-start revenue growth in a trading environment that will look very different for some time could place enormous pressure on working capital. Decisions on when, how and, even, if operations are to be restarted cannot be taken lightly. Economic history tells us that more businesses fail emerging from a downturn than going into it or during it. As such, front of mind for CEOs will be the ability to accurately forecast their organisation’s cash needs and associated funding requirements.
What will the return to work look like?
As business leaders build more resilient organisations and look forward to recovery, attention is first turning to how to bring people back into the business and restart operations safely.
The impact of COVID-19 spans across all areas of a business – from people and supply chain to finance, internal controls and technology. As such, the process to ensure proper safeguarding and restructure a business for the new trading environment is incredibly complex and raises further questions that must be addressed.
1. Health and wellbeing: What additional health and well-being measures can we provide virtually and on-site to support our staff?
From easy wins like sanitisers, thermometers and personal protective equipment, through to slightly less obvious options like requiring staff and visitors to sign a declaration form upon entering the building, there is a whole host of considerations for physical and mental / emotional wellbeing. A good first step is to establish a database of all staff health statuses, quarantine declarations and location data – while complying with GDPR of course. And then, looking further ahead, it is imperative to maintain communications with those who continue to work largely or completely remotely, so that their emotional wellbeing and feeling of connection is maintained.
"A good first step is to establish a database of all staff health statuses, quarantine declarations and location data – while complying with GDPR of course."
2. Priority Groups: Who is the priority for returning to work on-site?
It seems that social distancing, in some measure, will remain in place for the rest of 2020, so businesses need to think carefully about how to phase the return of employees to the physical office. The priority groups will be those who are unable to carry out their role away from the workplace, such as those where the nature of their work is highly sensitive and needs a controlled environment, such as restructuring, or those whose role is based around a physical location or geography. The second group might be those who have developed immunity to the virus, or where it can be shown that team efficiency has been negatively affected by remote working. And last but not least, it may be parents and carers, if some school years remain at home, or knowledge workers where enabling technology is in place.
On the other side of the coin, those who are required to shield – aged 70+, have had certain illness, currently testing positive for the virus, or having recently returned from a high-risk destination – ought to remain working remotely.
"The first step is determining how many employees and teams can be accommodated in the workplace while remaining respectful of the social distancing rules."
3. Scheduling: How do we group teams to be in the same physical space?
We’re so used to hotdesking and group brainstorms that it can be difficult to imagine what a socially-distanced workplace might look like. One potential answer is scheduling groups and teams to be in the physical office on a staggered basis. The first step is determining how many employees and teams can be accommodated in the workplace while remaining respectful of the social distancing rules. Depending on the outcomes of that, businesses have a number of tactics at their disposal. They might look at staggering arrival, departure and lunch times, or ask team heads to split teams into smaller units. For larger workforces, or smaller office spaces, it might be necessary to assign different core attendance days to different teams.
Whatever strategy businesses adopt, its crucial to build in a degree of flex in case of another lockdown. It’ll also be vital to establish proper handover protocols so that teams who are used to occupying the same space are able to work effectively and efficiently from different locations at opposing times.
4. Effective working: How do we design teams that combine virtual and on-site presence?
A culture of ‘presenteeism’ has long been something businesses have tried to eradicate. But now it is even more important. Moving to performance review based on outcomes and output rather than input is a fundamental, but vital, shift to the way many firms will have worked previously. Changing the way we measure effectiveness at work may require a rethink of the analytics and metrics used.
It’s also a case of getting into good habits. Making sure all meetings have the opportunity of remote working, either via Zoom, Webex or another teleconferencing service, will need to become second nature, for example. Businesses may also look at restricting meetings to core hours, such as 10am-4pm, to allow for shifted commutes and different working patterns.
5. Employee engagement: How do we continue to engage with our teams at all levels?
Arguably the most important part of the puzzle in a post-COVID 19 workplace will be employee engagement and communication. By receiving regular updates on projects, clients and work, remote workers will still feel part of a bigger team. Pulse surveys are a helpful method of establishing two-way communications and ensuring that leadership teams are aware of the sentiment of the wider workforce.
A bigger challenge might be the communicating and reinforcing of organisational values at a time when so much is disrupted and unknown. Encouraging honesty and openness within teams and making it clear that employees are being heard and their feedback acted on, will foster a sense of belonging and continuity.
"A bigger challenge might be the communicating and reinforcing of organisational values at a time when so much is disrupted and unknown."
6. Technology: How do we manage technology and networks to support increased demand, and ensure that remote workers are not disadvantaged?
One key consideration is making sure of a common experience for all workers – whether remote or otherwise – across the physical and virtual office, for example having simple and streamlined access to the same software and tools. Technology can also play a vital role in maintaining employee engagement – whether by offering a support helpline for staff or providing the latest equipment to help staff do their job to the best of their ability in trying times.
7. Facilities and workplace: Do we need to redesign our office space?
For many, the lockdown will have necessitated a fundamental rethink of the need for physical office space. But while leases and rental agreements continue, there are some immediate things to think about.
First of all, by identifying the places where people typically congregate – in the queue for the lifts, the toilets – and where there is heavier foot fall – reception lobbies, stairwells and corridors – will make it easier to find ways for social distancing to be maintained. Reducing the number of employees in the office at any one time will naturally help with this, it’s also worth considering closing larger meeting rooms or spaces to dissuade gatherings.
With canteens also likely to remain closed for some time, some thought will need to be given to providing safe food preparation areas – which in turn will need the correct hygiene processes to be implemented.
A business that decides remote working – on any level – is a viable option for them in the longer-term will need to think how travel, meetings and face-to-face training can be replaced by collaboration tools.
"For many, the lockdown will have necessitated a fundamental rethink of the need for physical office space. But while leases and rental agreements continue, there are some immediate things to think about."
8. Policy: How do we redesign and align HR and employment policies to the new working practices?
All key organisational policies should be reviewed and communicated on a regular basis. These may be informed by public health policy and that of the government and may include policies for physical conduct in workplaces, distancing policies or security policies if more staff are working remotely. This also extends to policies around the employee value proposition: reward, annual leave, working hours, and so on.
"All key organisational policies should be reviewed and communicated on a regular basis."
The answers to these questions will be different for each business. The key task here is likely to be a data exercise – through employee surveys and diligent consultation, to find out what a workforce needs to keep it safe and carry out duties.
We’ve found that family businesses may also want to go further than carving out a path for employees to return. Many we speak to have reflected on this time of unprecedented change to really acknowledge the commitment of much of their workforce and, as a result, are beginning to re-assess their value proposition as an employer and the support they provide to their employees. Quite often, that is about considering reward mechanisms – beyond salary – but also a review of the entire range of benefits they offer, be it flexible working practices or other benefits. All with the aim of maintaining a firm’s culture and sense of togetherness.
Which brings us to what family businesses are really all about. They have forged strong and inclusive relationships with their employees and are often a focal point for local communities and embedded within them. That approach has helped develop a resilience and a platform from which to evolve over decades and even centuries, whatever hurdles they face. While more difficult decisions are likely still to come, we do know that family businesses are well equipped to answer them.
To contact Milles Davies, Managing Director, KPMG Family Enterprise Practice or Alexis Pinchin, Director, People & Reward, KPMG Private Enterprise, please email: FamilyBusiness@KPMG.co.uk