A study reveals that two-thirds of companies admit that they have no plans in place for a resurgence of the COVID-19 virus. Larger firms are slightly better prepared for localised lockdowns (45%) and a second wave (39%) than SMEs, but the figures are still under half of businesses.
The report, entitled ‘Better Business Resilience’, was commissioned by Driving for Better Business (DfBB), the government-backed Highways England programme, surveying 150 SME business owners and over 150 decision-makers at board level in large enterprises.
The report shows a snapshot of the attitudes and behaviours of SMEs and large enterprises towards business resilience across the UK. The report demonstrates 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 future preparedness.
Failure to prepare for future
The findings show that many businesses failed to implement measures prior to lockdown, with one-quarter of SMEs not having any measures or policies in place to prepare. Large enterprises were more prepared than their SME counterparts; all large firms had prior measures or policies in place to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and provision for subsequent government advice. Almost twice as many large firms had some form of policy in place to support staff wellbeing and health relating to COVID-19 compared to SMEs.
Responsiveness to lockdown measures was on the whole quite low with only 28% of large firms and 40% of SMEs introducing working from home policies for their staff. Measures to protect the mental health and wellbeing of staff varied across the nation. Nearly half of firms in Greater London (42%), the West Midlands (42%), and the East of England (45%) integrated COVID-19 wellbeing and welfare measures into their company policy; the North East of England lagged behind with only 29% of businesses introducing these measures.
Leaders’ top concerns over the impact of COVID-19
The report has found that the three main COVID-19 concerns among business leaders were over rebuilding their business after the pandemic (42%), operational costs (38%), and staff welfare and wellbeing (37%).
Beyond this, 37% of business leaders are concerned about operating profitably within government guidelines and staying in business in the event of another lockdown, with businesses in the West Midlands and the North East of England most concerned about these.
The impact of the pandemic on staff is also a major concern: almost a third (32%) of business leaders are worried about staff mental health, and 29% are worried about staff absences due to COVID-19.
Top of mind for business leaders are rebuilding their business and surviving any additional lockdown measures, while managing workforce welfare and mental health. However, the report has found that in general, businesses are not communicating their concerns to their Board, with older companies even less likely to do so. 1 in 5 organisations, with more than 20 years in operation, did not brief their Board on any driving for work related issues.
Changing the future of work
COVID-19 is changing the future of work, with just under three quarters (70%) of large enterprises anticipating an increase in the adoption of working from home practices while less than half (48%) of SMEs expect the same. Visiting, exhibiting, and speaking in person at conferences have been put on hold; more than 40% of SMEs and over 50% large enterprises agree that they will likely see a decrease in event participation.
Future staff travel and mobility requirements will also be impacted: large enterprises anticipate an increase in requirements for company cars (56%), company vans (47%), and staff using their own vehicles for work journeys (70%) – also known as ‘grey fleet’. At the same time, 51% of large companies expect to increase their use of external couriers or delivery services.
Better business resilience
The promotion of staff mental health at board level and the wellbeing and welfare policies implemented highlight the incredible progress being made by businesses.
Large enterprises have excelled in supporting staff wellbeing and welfare during COVID-19: large firms were twice as likely to provide resources and signposting to support their employees’ mental health during the pandemic than SMEs. Over twice as many large companies deployed a Driving for Work policy, including COVID-19 modifications and adjustments, compared to SMEs.
SMEs also did well to adopt flexible working policies; whilst 43% of SMEs had flexible working policies in place before the pandemic, only a third of larger firms did.
Commenting on the findings Simon Turner, Campaign Manager, Driving for Better Business said: “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 fallout from a global pandemic though.”
“COVID-19 caused thousands of deaths across the world and we are only beginning to see the longer-term impact it will have on society, the economy and businesses.”
“Overall, the findings showed that business leaders have similar concerns, though those that run SMEs are more concerned than larger enterprises. Top of mind for business leaders are rebuilding their business and surviving any additional lockdown measures, while managing workforce welfare and mental health.”
“The economic outlook is uncertain, to say the least, with experts divided over exactly how badly different sectors could be affected. On the whole, however, our survey sample were optimistic. One thing that is certain though, is that firms must adjust quickly to the current environment and take every opportunity to minimise operational costs and improve efficiencies in order to give themselves the best chance of survival, and the ability to thrive as soon as conditions allow,” said Mr Turner.