UK SME Confidence peaks as end of lockdown looms

A year on from the initial lockdown, the successful roll out of the vaccines is allowing more and more people to safely go out to work and socialise, with businesses also planning to reopen.

UK SME Confidence peaks as end of lockdown looms

A year on from the initial lockdown, the successful roll out of the vaccines is allowing more and more people to safely go out to work and socialise, with businesses also planning to reopen. Sensing this, optimism of UK small business leaders has skyrocketed as consumer spending is set to rise in the coming months.

While there will be more uncertainty and challenges, including around how we work, there are also opportunities for growth for businesses that retain the ability to pivot to customer needs. With the UK recovery gathering pace, small business leaders now have a greater understanding of the roadmap and are planning for what lies ahead.

This optimism is reflected in the latest quarterly Confidence Index report from Vistage, the world’s leading business performance and leadership advancement organisation for SMEs, which found that 3 in 4 business leaders (74 per cent) expect overall economic conditions in the UK and Ireland to improve in the next 12 months.

Given this rise in optimism, the report has identified the two areas CEOs are focusing on in the new world. 

Talent Acquisition and retention

According to the report, businesses have recognised talent acquisition and retention as key business objectives in the next few months with 98 per cent of CEOs saying they consider creating a strong organisational culture as important or very important. Furthermore, 91 per cent believe that attracting qualified talent is important or very important to their business in the next 12 months. To thrive today, it is critical that CEOs continue to engage their workforce, starting with a clearly communicated vision powered by the right culture and team to achieve that vision.

Good leaders know that people continuity creates business continuity. Investing in people helps to create long lasting success, and the ability to find candidates with the right skills for the job is crucial for any organisation irrespective of economic or market conditions. Continually recruiting and being hyper-aware of options at each level will greatly increase businesses’ ability to compete for top talent.

No longer a HR issue, SMEs should also re-examine hiring practices and how they assign opportunities and award promotions, making conscious efforts that go beyond simply diversifying the workforce and move toward inclusion. This will ensure that all employees feel safe, respected and that their perspectives are valued. Successful diversity and inclusion efforts not only have positive impacts on recruitment and retention but are shown to be linked to improved productivity and bottom-line performance.

Remote Workforce

Vistage’s Confidence Index revealed that UK business leaders are keen to make plans for a hybrid workforce, with 75 per cent of companies confirming that they plan to continue to offer employees the option to work from home to accommodate the growing trend as well as to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

Advances in collaboration applications such as Slack, Zoom and GoToMeeting, combined with the astonishing performance of internet infrastructure, have made distributed workforces possible – but should be continuously evaluated and upgraded to ensure suitability for a long-term solution. Even more important than maintaining digital infrastructure is mitigating cybersecurity risks. Companies should institute new training and policies to protect against cyber threats, as people are the weakest link in any cybersecurity plan.

The forced march to digital collaboration has broken down both generational and emotional barriers to this work style. Work from home was already high on the list of preferences for the emerging workforce. It will now become part of everyday life for knowledge workers. 

Optimism will lead the way

As we hopefully and cautiously get nearer to the end of this crisis, this is the moment for strong, inspirational, and most importantly, focused leadership. As businesses recover and rebuild themselves for the post-Covid world, the way in which CEOs lead the change will determine how successful they are – which most businesses are confident about through their focus on key components related to budding remote workforce and talent acquisition/retention.

Vistage’s post-Covid guide ‘Decision Factors 2021’ explores potential routes to recovery as the UK economy opens up and CEOs navigate a volatile economic climate.

Geoff Lawrence
Geoff Lawrence

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