2020 has been a year we will remember for a long time…
As we approach the end of the year, we have asked our clients to tell us how their businesses have been affected, about employee wellbeing and productivity, and how they feel about the support they have received to date.
Our clients are predominantly from West Oxfordshire and the surrounding areas, and while we are in an area that thankfully has not felt the worst effects of COVID-19, local businesses have had to endure the same economic difficulties as the rest of the country during the national lockdowns.
What did we learn?
Working from Home
The survey found that local businesses have adapted where they can, with 88% telling us that their employees have been working from home at some point. While most businesses found that they achieved the same output from their workforce during this time, nearly 1 in 5 businesses (19%) said that productivity was negatively affected.
The survey also shows that home working is not necessarily better for employee’s mental health. 50% of employers noticed no difference in the mental health of their employees, however more than twice as many employers reported the mental health had declined in comparison to those that reported it had improved. One employer commented that having had 15 employees return to work after Lockdown 1.0, only two took up the option to return to home working again in Lockdown 2.0.
Before giving the results here, it is important to clarify that we do not specialise in either retail or hospitality and so this particular survey does not include these sectors.
In terms of revenue and personal income, responses to the survey showed that just as many businesses had improved fortunes compared to those whose results were negatively affected, although we do not know by how much (a 5% increase for Company A does not offset a 50% reduction for Company B).
Over 2/3 of businesses surveyed made use of the furlough scheme and 1/3 had planned or made redundancies. Conversely 2/3 of businesses reported that they recruited new employees and over 3/4 of businesses said that they had not put off recruiting a planned role, something which is a surprise given the reduction in advertised vacancies during that period.
The Government will be pleased to hear, that 5 times as many businesses said that they were positive regarding the overall financial support they had received to date compared to those who gave a negative response.
Interestingly however, more businesses reported being unhappy with the introduction of Lockdown 2.0 indicating that further restrictions and pain for business would not be received well in the region.
Beware falling into the “new normal” trap, and assuming that your employees are happier at home. Many will be lonely and will miss the camaraderie and friendships that come with working in a busy office or workplace.
Working from home does not suit everyone (or even most people). Spending less time commuting, and reducing expenses is great, but reducing social interaction and exercise can have negative consequences for many, not to mention working with young children and pets in the house can be very stressful and distracting.
Instead focus on a more fluid approach to flexible working. Give your employees the option to work at home when they want / need to in order to make their lives easier e.g. Home working during school holidays, flexible start and finish times around core hours to help with the school run, or a day at home if your Field Sales Rep has just done a 200-mile round trip. And if you do have people working from home, make sure you check in with them regularly (not just on their productivity but also their wellbeing).
The West Oxfordshire business community is strong and adaptable, and many companies (35%) have managed to improve their results during this very difficult time. That said, 40% have suffered financially during this period and would benefit from the local business community coming together to support them and rebuild our local economy.
While much of what the Government has done has been applauded, overwhelmingly the biggest complaint / criticism has been the “lasting uncertainty”, and “confused communication” that has resulted in unnecessary damage being done. It seems both anecdotally and through the results of the survey that additional lockdowns will not be supported to the same extent by our business community.
For businesses that are struggling with the effects of recent months, local support, guidance and advice on whether or not your business is eligible for additional support can be gained at OxLEP and GOV.UK