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Supporting SMEs’ drive for resilience in a global pandemic

Written by Simon Turner on Monday, 09 November 2020. Posted in Insight, Analysis

Impact of COVID-19 on business resilience Every organisation puts in place a business strategy and a plan to deliver on that strategy. They weave in contingencies that enable the plan to be flexible and to react to changing market conditions.

Supporting SMEs’ drive for resilience in a global pandemic

Impact of COVID-19 on business resilience

Every organisation puts in place a business strategy and a plan to deliver on that strategy. They weave in contingencies that enable the plan to be flexible and to react to changing market conditions. Very few would have entered 2020 with a contingency to deal with the outfall from a global pandemic though – especially businesses that drive for work. 

With COVID-19 continuing to play a large part in our lives, Driving for Better Business launched a new report about business resilience to investigate the challenges that companies face and how they are preparing for the future.

The report entitled “Better Business Resilience” was commissioned by Driving For Better Business, a government-backed Highways England programme, and conducted by Censuswide, surveying 150 owners of SME businesses and 150 board-level decision-makers in larger firms who manage staff who drive for work.

The findings demonstrate the extent to which UK businesses were prepared for the COVID-19 lockdown, their responsiveness to lockdown, top concerns for business leaders, information currently reported at board level, changes to staff travel and mobility requirements, and their overall preparedness for the future.

Chief concerns on the corporate agenda

The top concerns for business owners and company executives were rebuilding their business after COVID-19 (42%), operational costs (38%), and staff welfare and wellbeing (37%).

However, we were surprised to find that two-thirds of the businesses that we surveyed had no plans in place for a second wave of COVID-19, with the majority taking a wait-and-see approach. 

On the whole, the report found that SMEs were more concerned about the pandemic than large enterprises. However, despite these concerns, a quarter of SMEs didn’t have any measures or policies at all to deal with the first national lockdown. At the same time, only a third (33%) of SMEs have a plan in place for localised lockdowns and 31% have a plan for a second COVID-19 wave. The findings also demonstrate that larger firms are slightly better prepared for localised lockdowns and a second wave than SMEs. 

Evaluating procedure: SMEs leading the charge

Regardless of company size or industry, it is promising to see that business leaders have been evaluating procedures to help protect their employees who work for them.

Among SME business owners, almost half (49%) have been reporting worker mental health concerns at board level compared to 40% of large enterprises. SMEs have also excelled in adopting flexible working policies even before the pandemic, with nearly 43% of SME businesses implementing flexible working policies. Meanwhile, only a third of larger firms have put these measures in place.

SMEs were also swifter in reactivating furloughed workers. A third (32%) of SMEs brought employees back to work, compared to a quarter (25%) of large enterprises. 

Work still to be done to fully drive business resilience

Although business leaders have been on the front foot with health and wellbeing, there is a missed opportunity to enhance business performance for employers who manage those who drive for work by not reporting issues that affect the business at board level.

Less than a quarter (23%) of SMEs admitted to reporting driver behaviour at board level and less than a third of business leaders discussed issues such as company vehicle damage, insurance and fuel spend. Controlling operating costs on company vehicles could make a vital contribution to the financial strength of your business and help protect it as the economy struggles to recover.

Servicing and maintenance, tyres, fuel, damage repairs, vehicle insurance are often seen as the cost of doing business, but they are directly related to how a business manages the people who drive those vehicles. Poor management means that excessive costs aren’t identified and the driver behaviour that leads to the higher costs isn’t dealt with. Better management can reduce those costs significantly and therefore, add to the financial strength of the business to help it cope better with future uncertainty.

At the same time, operating company vehicles is one of the biggest operational costs in any business. If your business is involved in home delivery, you may well have expanded to cope with the additional demand. If not, you may have started a delivery service to mitigate the fact that customers aren't coming to you. Around a third of the businesses we spoke to were expecting to increase the number of vans they operate.

Meanwhile, there were a number of changes cited relating to the future of work that businesses will need to integrate into their resilience plans. COVID-19 is changing the future of staff travel and mobility requirements, with almost half (48%) of SMEs anticipating an increase in the adoption of working from home practices. Visiting, exhibiting, and speaking in person at conferences have been put on hold; more than 40% of SMEs agree that they will likely see a decrease in event participation.

Indeed, half (50%) of SME business leaders and two-thirds (68%) of large enterprise leaders expect to conduct less face-to-face meetings in future and will replace them with video calls. 

It is therefore essential that business owners actively engage on these issues in order to help them prepare and plan for the future.

Preparing for the future 

We found that while SMEs are fairly confident about the future, few are fully prepared for it. Now, more than ever, business resilience should be at the top of their agenda. 

Boards need to be engaged in all business issues if they are to seize the opportunity to make future savings. By improving the management of employees who drive for work, and the vehicles they drive, businesses can optimise operational efficiency and productivity - increasing business resilience and enhancing company performance.

About the Author

Simon Turner

Simon Turner

Simon Turner is the Campaign Manager for Driving for Better Business – a government-backed Highways England programme. Simon is a leading UK authority on work-related road risk. He sits on several road risk groups, such as the Highways England Work-Related Road Risk Delivery Group and the Road User Behaviour Working Group for the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety (PACTS). Simon is the Chairman of the Association for Road Risk Management.

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