COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of certain industries in the UK as they step up to act as the front-line response to protecting the NHS and ensuring society can successfully hibernate through this unique period in time. The world and the economy as we know it does not look now as it did only 5 business days ago and is evolving every hour. In a 4-part article, August Equity will provide an overview of the key areas and practices providing support in our nursery and care assets.
COVID-19 has shaken both society and the economy in equal measure. The majority of the workforce are working remotely, and all eyes are trained on daily government communication to understand what is being done, and how it will affect both life and business as usual.
We have seen all industries significantly impacted, as well as witnessing a rise in the concept of ‘key workers’ and ‘key businesses’. This is wide-ranging, from shelf-stackers in supermarkets, to carers for young and old alike, all NHS staff and teachers for the children of these key workers. We are experiencing first-hand the requirement for our care and nursery businesses to operate business as usual whilst they too deal with the norm-shaking impact of COVID-19. We will release a collection of articles over this uncertain period to share some of our learnings to date and practices we have undertaken to ensure our portfolio companies in these sectors continue to provide essential services as they navigate the unprecedented economic complications we are experiencing. Below are the outcomes from some of the discussions we have been having with portfolio executive teams:
Part one – Internal procedures, practices and easy wins
Management and communication
The ability for rapid action and reaction during such a tumultuous period is essential. Ensure the management team around you is absolutely clear on their responsibilities and who holds additional responsibilities relating to COVID-19. Look to spread responsibility across the management team and develop succinct lines of communication. Communication is a key factor to making rapid and accurate decisions that may make the difference to your business. Arranging a daily call, or even better, video conference is a good way to discuss progress on identified actions, new actions arising and share ideas and recent news. It is important to listen to everyone during this period. On the 21 February (some weeks before the full crisis unfolded) we raised our eyebrows when one CEO ordered a material quantity of facemasks. Being two steps ahead and thinking outside the box will become increasingly more important as we move toward the epicentre of the pandemic and you need a focused and mobile team around you to achieve this.
It is difficult to ensure everyone has a voice whilst also being able to make decisions robustly. This is where a COVID-19 sub-committee may be beneficial, enabling you to delegate key responsibilities including collating and condensing information and defining best practices. This will drown out unnecessary noise and allow you to focus on the essentials.
Communication shouldn’t stop with management. It is essential that your employees understand what you are doing during this period and how it will likely impact them and the business. Morale is a crucial intangible, especially with a vast number of employees in self-isolation, in lots of cases doing so alone with potential mental health implications. Regular updates from the top will allow you to instil a sense of calm and control over proceedings as well as providing a social touchpoint. A weekly email is good, but a conference call is even better; both is the ideal. Allowing employees to ask questions is important and leaders throughout the organisation should be ready to answer these questions.
Procedures and plans
The following procedures and plans have been developed and implemented by our executive teams during this period to date. The below is not exhaustive, it will be important to discuss with your management to ensure you have in place policies and plans that are personalised to your business. Collation and drafting of the below can be a delegated responsibility:
Regular cashflow assessment – Regular, ideally weekly, review of a short-term cashflow (i.e. focused on the next 13 weeks) will allow you to focus on your businesses immediate requirements and plan for any pinch-points.
Create a COVID-related Business Continuity Plan – Including Risks and Actions relating to business continuity overall, operational staff wellbeing, head office staff wellbeing, client wellbeing and scenario impact analysis including partial and full closure of the business for a period of time.
Have a Management Contingency Plan in place – Including who assumes which role in the case of illness across the entire leadership team.
Circulate COVID-19 declaration forms (for increased risk employees) – These should outline recent government guidance and highlight COVID-related risks. To be sent to high-risk employees for them to declare their understanding of the risks and choice to continue with duties.
Create an absentee monitoring programme – A spreadsheet that monitors staff off sick or self-isolating, including length of time and expected return date. It’s important to understand the number of staff required to ensure operations can continue as normal and monitor based off this assumption. If you regularly use agencies, remain in constant communication with your providers to ensure they are ready to assist should staff absentees reach a critical level.
Monitor and update your weekly KPI tracker – Including additional information that tracks areas of your business that are being directly impacted by COVID-19, e.g. client cancellations or daily school attendance (both pupils and staff).
Develop a company-wide newsletter / e-note – To be sent to all employees providing them an overview of recent, trusted news, managements view on how it is impacting your business / sector and a brief overview on what is being done to mitigate this on a business level.
Develop a COVID-specific page for your website – To create a single location from which you can provide COVID-specific updates for your clients and relevant external contacts.
Information is coming from all directions and is going out of date more rapidly than ever. Utilise trusted advisers and industry leaders’ websites and communications, which currently are all trained on dealing with COVID-19. Again, this can be a delegated responsibility with the information analysed and presented succinctly to management to aid decision making and internal communications. This includes, but is not restricted to:
- The Government
- Advisory practices (e.g. PwC, KPMG, Deloitte & EY)
- Accountancy firms (e.g. BDO, Grant Thornton and Hazlewoods)
- Legal practices (e.g. Travers Smith, Simmons & Simmons)
- Insurance brokers (e.g. Aon)
With some standard tasks made temporarily redundant, employee additional capacity can be utilised through encouraging internal training amongst colleagues. Team leaders / experts in their fields can be encouraged to provide training webinars or conferences to their teams or the wider business to help improve performance and productivity on the other side of COVID-19, for example, a Head of Sales providing a presentation on their best practices.
Finally, it is natural for people to feel concerned and confused during this unprecedented period. As well as providing regular communication and a direct line to the leadership team for questions, also look to boost morale in more creative ways. Technology is currently in the ascendancy more than ever, if you have video capabilities these can be utilised to organise and conduct digital drinks, quizzes, challenges, bingo – the list is almost endless! An individual, we have a Chief Morale Officer, can be nominated to lead the organisation of these sessions and we have found it a great way for teams to feel connected, have some fun and restore some order to the day. For example, digital drinks immediately following the end-of-week COVID review meeting helps draw a definitive close to the business week and kicks off the weekend on a relaxed note.
Up next: Part two – Business finance and banking