The COVID-19 pandemic has created problems for all businesses across the UK. Not only have we seen a complete shift in the way people work, but many businesses have had to completely change how they operate to accommodate lockdown restrictions and remain open for trading.
As we move into a post-covid world, there is no new normal, only a next normal. The only certainty is that uncertainty is around the corner. With the threat of local lockdowns and a potential second wave very much a reality across the UK, business leaders must be on their toes and able to react quickly to ever-changing circumstances – all while making decisions that could determine the future success of their business.
Out of necessity, businesses have had to reinvent and realign their strategies. Indeed, over the lockdown period we have seen digital transformations that would have taken five to ten years to come about be implemented within weeks. With many businesses adopting new digital ways of working such as cloud-based systems, remote access and digital payment software, to survive through lockdown. Technology will undoubtedly play a huge role in any economic bounce back, as with access to the right technology and tools, businesses will be able to minimise the disruption caused and begin to move forward with confidence in the next normal.
Key lockdown challenges
During lockdown businesses faced myriad issues – difficult customer retention and acquisition, as well as managing employee productivity and engagement have all taken their toll. In fact, after surveying business owners to explore how they have been affected by the pandemic, our research found that over half (56%) of British businesses felt that their biggest challenge was the cancellation or pausing of work from customers and clients. This was followed by late payment of invoices (32%) and an influx in customer queries and questions (31%).
To add to this perfect storm, businesses had to keep up with ever changing government guidelines to ensure that they could remain operational in a safe way. One in five (19%) respondents cited a lack of clarity around the lockdown rules impacting business results as a key challenge. Supply chain problems and technical software challenges while working from home were also named as barriers to business growth by 19% of respondents.
However, the impact of these challenges faced by organisations during the crisis can all be controlled, with the right tools and technologies in place. This highlights the necessity for businesses to have as strong a handle on these controllables as possible. Whether that be their people, commercial contracts, supply chain or cashflow. So if the worst happens, they will be in the best place possible to react.
Harnessing technology to move forward with confidence
We have already started to see many of the trends established during lockdown continue through to the next normal. For instance, many were encouraged to move to cash free trading to reduce the spread of infection, but they have since learnt the benefits of managing cashflow digitally. Our research found that nearly a third (29%) of businesses that moved to cash free trading predict they will return to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2020. Online transactions are much more efficient, as businesses are able to manage cashflow for both clients, customers, suppliers and staff in one place; ensuring that everyone is paid on time and the business isn’t left in the lurch at critical points in the month.
Probably the biggest impact of lockdown was the move to mass remote working. While this was not an easy move for all businesses, four months on, remote working has enabled businesses to work when they want, where they want and however they want – with minimal reported impact on overall productivity. Again, technology has played a fundamental role in supporting this. Our research found that nearly a third of participants (26%) who moved to the cloud or hosted systems to support flexible working have seen improved overall engagement within their business.
Many companies are turning to their HR teams to help them tackle challenges in the future, especially employee engagement – which is crucial at a time when we’re all working from home. In fact, our research found over two thirds (68%) of companies that have invested in employee engagement processes and tools during lockdown predict they will return to normal trading within a year. Further, many have rightly recognised that maintaining employee morale will be a significant challenge in the coming months. Staggeringly, three quarters identified employee mental health as a business challenge for them. This is where staff engagement systems come into their own – helping HR teams reach out to those in need and providing an easily accessible portal for support, regardless of where staff are based or how big the company is.
Looking to the next normal
While there is no silver bullet for the UK’s economic recovery, one thing is certain; harnessing the right technology solutions will give businesses the insight and tools they need to bounce back with confidence. British business is resilient and has already adapted successfully to meet the challenges of the pandemic head on. With a continued push to control the controllables through harnessing technology and better managing customer and employee engagement, we will see a much faster economic recovery.