Category Archives for "Business"

9 Ways Being Mindful Can Improve Your Productivity While Working From Home

(Source: getstencil)

Many of us had worked from home in one form or another before March 2020.

However, the start of the pandemic ensured it was no longer an optional extra or a perk that companies offered, and remote working quickly became the status quo.

Organisations which had previously baulked at letting their staff work from home occasionally, were suddenly forced to adapt business models and infrastructure to facilitate their entire workforce working from the safety of their homes.

Businesses like Google and Uber announced that their teams would work remotely for at least another year – or in the case of Facebook and Twitter, indefinitely.

This may have been an answer to prayer for some: no more early morning starts, long commutes, exorbitant transportation costs and busy trains are just a few benefits.

But while remote work enables flexibility, is convenient and saves a bundle on travel costs, it has its downsides.

For example, working from home was supposed to facilitate work-life balance. And in a world where we were mainly based outside our homes, having the option to do so a few times each week helped us achieve that.

But now that we are based at home? There have been references to the fact that we are now living at work.

The boundaries between work and home have been blurred and, in some cases, disappeared completely. Work now encroaches on our lives in a way no one anticipated at the start of the year, and until the public health issues with coronavirus are resolved – a vaccine is probably another twelve months away – it will stay that way for the foreseeable future.

There are ways to mitigate the downsides; it’s all about being aware of them and taking the necessary steps. So here are 9 ways being mindful can improve your productivity while working from home.

1.      It Helps To Have a Routine

(Source: getstencil)

Your commute has been reduced – significantly.

Instead of travelling for an hour (at least!), you only need to travel from your bedroom to your home office or desk.

Don’t get into the habit of rolling out of bed and logging onto Zoom with your pyjama bottoms on. While you no longer need to wake up two hours before work starts, setting your alarm to go off at a set time helps. That, and taking the time to prepare yourself mentally for the day ahead.

2.      Dress For Work

No one is expected to wear a suit at home, but deliberately dressing for work is a useful practice.

Comfortable clothes in the smart-casual category send the message both to yourself and others you’ll encounter in the course of your virtual working day that you’re in work mode.

3.      Designate a Work Space

(Source: getstencil)

As much as you’re able and depending on how much space you have available, assign an area in your home to be used specifically for work.

That will help establish the “I’m going to work” prompt in your brain, and is great for setting boundaries between your home and work lives.

And if possible, avoid working from the sofa or your bed. Doing so doesn’t help with those blurred boundaries and if nothing else, curling over your laptop while slumped in those locations isn’t good for your back!

4.      Watch The Clock

It’s no surprise that we’re all working longer hours. Since we’re saving hours on commuting, we’ve shifted to starting work earlier and finishing later.

Reports confirm the length of work days has gone up by an average of two hours, which is a significant rise.

Clock-watching is usually frowned upon – we all know that person who always made a beeline for the day at 5.00pm and wouldn’t stay a minute later. But, useful practices such as taking lunch and coffee breaks, and consciously shutting your laptop after a certain time are healthy ways to enforce boundaries and stop work encroaching on the rest of your home-based life.

5.      Watch What You Eat!

(Source: getstencil)

You’re at home, and the fridge is right there.

You have back-to-back calls to get through, and grazing while you sit mindlessly through them might help you get through the day…

…the convenience of having food and snacks within reach makes snacking and constant grazing tempting!

But it’s useful to be aware of how much you’re eating and when. Remember that you’re probably less active than you were six months ago; sticking to fixed mealtimes and being conscious of snacks and portions will help ensure you don’t end up with a significant increase in your calorie consumption.

6.      Make Exercise Part Of Your Routine

And linked to point 5 above, keep moving!

Now more than ever, it’s crucial to make exercise a part of your daily routine. There is more tendency to lead a sedentary lifestyle, which the World Health Organisation warns could be among the ten leading causes of death and disability as it increases the risk of cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and high blood pressure, among others.

So make a conscious effort to go for a run or walk before you start work in the morning. Or if you can make it to a gym after you’ve shut your laptop for the day, even better. Gyms are open and obliged by law to follow official guidelines to make their spaces COVID-secure, so call and ask what safety measures they have in place first.

7.      Take Breaks Between Calls

(Source: getstencil)

If you can, take breaks between Zoom calls.

It’s easy to go from one call straight onto a series of others, and before you know it, you’re left wondering why you feel drained and exhausted. After all, it’s not as if you’re doing anything other than sitting there, right? Regardless of how widespread the technology is, staring at small squares of ourselves and our colleagues is not normal and Zoom fatigue is real.

One way to guard against it is by taking breaks between those calls. Block out between 10 and 15 minutes in your diary, so anyone view your availability when trying to book a meeting will see that you are unable to meet at those times. This will force your colleagues – and you – out of the habit of booking and sitting through back-to-back calls.

8.      Switch On Your Camera

The majority of business meetings are being carried out via video conference, but it appears many of us aren’t comfortable being seen by our peers and so, decide not to switch on our cameras.

And it may surprise you to learn that only 55% of women enable cameras on video conference calls, compared to 65% of men.

While there is unspoken pressure to act a certain way when visible – not to mention that your colleagues can easily spot when you’re multi-tasking! – speaking to a series of dark squares is de-motivating and doesn’t do much for building rapport. Which is already hard enough to do virtually.

So if you accept an invitation to a Zoom, Skype or Microsoft Teams call? Switch on your camera and prepare to be seen.

9.      Use The Phone

(Source: getstencil)

It’s easy to forget that all meetings don’t have to be video conferences.

You can use the good “old” phone instead, or schedule a conference call if more than two people need to be in that meeting.

As mentioned above, there is an unconscious pressure to perform when you know we’re going to be on display, and that extra pressure can be taken away by having voice calls only where appropriate.

These tips should help you increase productivity while looking after your mental and physical health in this season.

And if you need more support as you make that transition to working from home long-term?

I offer a Remote Mentoring service which will help you tackle that inertia you’re feeling, and give you practical tools to get back to delivering on your targets.

Contact me to discuss your specific challenges and how I can help you.

3 Small Business Grants You Can Apply For Right Now

(Source: getstencil)

You may not know it, but if you are based in the United Kingdom there are several funding options available for businesses, many of which were made available as a direct result of the pandemic.

While many are loan facilities such as the Bounce Back Loan Scheme, Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS) and Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CLBILS), there are three grants you should know about.

What Are Grants?

(Source: getstencil)

Grants are sums of money given by the government or a public body for a particular purpose and unlike loans, are not liabilities to be repaid.

There are eligibility criteria to meet, and bodies which provide funding through grants will usually specify what the money should be spent on.

Are There Problems Accessing Grants?

Especially for small and medium-sized enterprises there is a surprising amount of this kind of funding support available, but the challenge with gaining access is two-fold:

  • There is limited knowledge about their existence. They either tend not to be widely publicised, or there is a lack of adequate explanation about the nature of the funding and how it works. This is unfortunate, as businesses which desperately need the lifeline don’t get the opportunity to apply for it, as has been the case since the end of August . Schemes such as the Small Business Grant Fund (SBGF) and Retail, Hospitality and Leisure Grant Fund (RHLGF) were announced to provide relief to businesses as a result of the pandemic, but were ended a few months later without an estimated 2 in 5 eligible businesses applying.
  • When researching available grants, it is rare to find relevant information that is up-to-date and collated in one location in a way that is easy to read and assess.

What Small Business Grants Can You Apply For?

That being the case, here are 3 Small Business grants you can apply for right now:

1. THE EUROPEAN REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT FUND (ERDF) PROGRAMME

This was announced by the Minister for Regional Growth and Local Government in July, and consists of £20 million of new government funding to help smaller businesses recover from the effects of the pandemic.

Who Is It For?

Grants from this fund are for small and medium-sized businesses.

What Is The Grant Amount?

It is a one-off cash amount of between £1,000 and £5,000.

Who Distributes The Grant?

The grant is distributed by Growth Hubs, which bring together the best of public and private sector partners to promote, co-ordinate and deliver business support based on local needs. They are embedded in local areas across England.

Who Is Eligible?

Your business qualifies for this grant if it is based in England.

How Can You Make a Claim?

Locate and contact your local area Growth Hub.

2. THE KICKSTART SCHEME

(Source: getstencil)

This was announced by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in July, and consists of £2 billion in funding to create more jobs for young people between the ages of 16 and 24.

Who Is It For?

Grants from this fund are available to businesses of any size to create new job placements and support young people on Universal Credit or at risk of long-term unemployment.

What Is The Grant Amount?

Funding is available for the National Minimum Wage for each role, and there is also £1,500 available for each job placement to set up support and training.

Who Distributes The Grant?

The grant is distributed by central government.

Who Is Eligible?

Your business qualifies for this grant if:

  • It is based in England.
  • The job placements are for new roles.
  • The roles are for a minimum of 25 hours a week and will last a minimum duration of 6 months.
  • At the very least, successful candidates will be paid the Minimum Wage for their age group.

How Can You Make a Claim?

  • If your application is for 30 or more job placements, complete your application online.
  • If your application is for less than 30 job placements, you’ll have to partner with other organisations to have a minimum of 30 placements. You can either find a representative to help you do this by getting in touch with your local Kickstart Scheme employer contact, or become a representative of a group of employers yourself.

What Else Do I Need To Know?

You’ll need the following details to complete your application:

  • The Companies House reference number.
  • The business address and contact details.
  • Details of the Kickstart scheme job placements and their location.
  • Supporting information to confirm the placements meet the criteria of the scheme.
  • Details of how the business can develop the employability skills of young people.

Once your submitted application is checked to make sure it meets the criteria, it will be reviewed by a panel. Current government estimates are that applications should be responded to within one month.

3. LOCAL LOCKDOWN GRANTS

(Source: getstencil)

To avoid a second wave and the need for another national lockdown, the government strategy to contain the spread of coronavirus now involves implementing restrictions on a local and regional basis.

Since many businesses caught up in these local lockdowns will see their revenue-generating activities halted, the Treasury has announced new funding to support and protect them.

Who Is It For?

Grants from this fund are for businesses forced to close as a result of local lockdowns or targeted restrictions.

What Is The Grant Amount?

Larger businesses will receive £1,500 every three weeks for the duration of any such closure. Smaller businesses will receive £1,000.

Who Distributes The Grant?

The grant is distributed by local authorities.

Who Is Eligible?

Your business qualifies for this grant if:

  • It is based in England.
  • Occupies a property or part pf a with a rateable value, annual rent or mortgage less than £51,000 (this qualifies for the £1,000 payment).
  • Occupies a property or part pf a property with a rateable value, annual rent or mortgage of £51,000 or more (this qualifies for the £1,500 payment).
  • Local authorities will also receive an additional 5% top up amount to enable them to help other businesses affected by closures which may not be on the business rates list. Payments made to businesses from this discretionary fund can be any amount up to £,1500, and may be less than £1,000 in some cases.

How Can You Make a Claim?

Contact your local authority.

What Else Do I Need To Know?

If you make a profit, you will be liable to pay tax on it.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you think your business qualifies for one of these grants, speak to your accountant in the first instance to clarify details such as tax implications before completing and submitting an application.

Why The Proposed Online Sales Tax Is a Bad Idea

(Source: getstencil)

In many ways, it was inevitable.

Since the start of the pandemic, the government has announced financial support in excess of £300 billion to shore up individuals and business of all sizes.

The state had to intervene in unprecedented ways, from paying 80% of workers’ salaries through the furlough scheme to giving lifelines and loans to entire sectors.

But those significant levels of intervention have come at a cost.

The £300 billion wasn’t exactly sitting in a savings account; the Chancellor had to fund his announcements through borrowing. Fortunately interest rates on borrowing are at a historic low of 0.1%, but it means there is still a £300 billion-shaped hole in the public purse which must be repaid.

There have been hints and rumours about how the colossal expenditure of 2020 will be paid for. Will the Chancellor raise income tax? Is a return to austerity on the cards? Or, will corporation tax be increased?

Call me cynical, but my view is that many of these rumours emanate from the very heart of government itself, so they can get a read of how popular a policy might be if or when it’s announced.

But I digress. So far it’s clear that after a decade of George Osborne’s austerity, the electorate will not tolerate further cuts in public spending. Nor will income tax rises win this Conservative government votes at the next election. It might be four whole years away, but it’s always on the radar for politicians!

An increase in business rates might be the nail in the coffin for many businesses. Especially for a retail sector already on its knees before the pandemic which is now haemorrhaging money and employees with each passing day. So there is very little leeway to raise funds there.

What Has The Government Decided To Do?

(Source: abstractrecruitment.co.uk)

The government is proposing an online sales tax.

For more background information on what it is check out my last blog post; essentially it will be a levy of 2% on all purchases made online, and also a tax on deliveries of items bought online.

What Was The Rationale Behind It?

(Source: Business Live)

The government clearly needs to find alternative sources of revenue. Fast!

Since retail is in dire straits and will take a long time to recover – if at all – there are high hopes that this new tax will raise something in the region of £2 billion each year. According to the government, this could potentially fund a cut in business rates to give the sector a much-needed reprieve.

However, I doubt such a cut will actually be implemented. And that lack of transparency is my first issue with this tax…

…why position it as support for retail, when there is a black hole in public finances to fill?

That aside, it seems like a good idea at first glance: online sales were booming even before the pandemic and have gone stratospheric since March. It makes sense to raise funds from one of the few areas of the economy that is performing well and forecast to grow even more for the foreseeable future.

Or, does it?

Why I’m Against the Online Sales Tax

I’ll lay my cards on the table: I’m not in favour of the proposed online sales tax.

I think it’s a bad idea, and here’s why:

1. Impact on SMEs:

According to the government’s own figures, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) account for three-fifths of the employment and around half of the turnover in the private sector. So, total employment in SMEs was 16.6 million (or 60% of the total) and turnover was £2.2 trillion (or 52% of the total).

However, these figures are due to be updated and do not take into account the effect of the pandemic. When that update is published, I suspect both figures will see a significant reduction.

These businesses have already borne (and in many cases, are still suffering from) the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, and introducing a new tax as they seek to emerge from the doldrums could have a damaging and lasting effect, which is the opposite of what’s needed.

2. Who Really Picks Up The Bill?:

You’ve guessed it: these taxes will be passed on to consumers.

So, you and me.

That’s already happened with the digital services tax which came into effect in April: there are reports that companies such as Amazon have passed that tax onto its sellers, most of whom are small business owners who cannot afford to absorb it. Which raises the chances that the new digital services tax will be passed on to customers.

What’s to stop companies – especially multinationals who the government seems unable to hold accountable – from passing this new tax on to customers too?

Customers have already been battered and bruised by the pandemic. Official figures are yet to catch up and reflect current events, but estimates are that more than 600,000 people have lost their jobs. The last thing they need is a heavier tax burden!

And those who are lucky enough to still have an income and can afford to spend should be incentivised to do so, not penalised.

3. Timing:

To all intents and purposes, we are still in the middle of a pandemic.

Not many individuals and businesses have escaped unscathed. Its effects are still unravelling, and my sense is that this is not a good time to announce new taxes or tax rises. Especially as so many businesses are falling into administration, and job losses mounting by the day.

I accept that the government needs to plan ahead. But I would suggest that a new tax on the few successful areas now will inhibit and penalise, rather than encourage, economic recovery.

What Alternatives Would I Suggest?

I’m neither naïve nor an anarchist; and we do need to raise money for crucial public services to ensure education, universal healthcare and social welfare are always available for people as and when required.

But there are better, more efficient ways to fund them. I’m not an economist, and none of my suggestions have been costed. But here are some of the initiatives and actions I would suggest instead of a new online sales tax:

1. Focus On The Online Digital Services Tax:

This was introduced in April 2020. It applies to search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces with global revenue of more than £500 million and UK revenue of more than £25 million.

It is specifically targeted at companies like Amazon, Facebook and Google which have historically paid very little tax due to accounting practices which mean sales are processed through countries with low corporation tax policies such as Ireland and Luxembourg.

The aim was to achieve global consensus on a digital tax but with little progress made, former Chancellor Philip Hammond announced the UK’s plan for a digital services tax in his October 2018 budget.

The amount it is forecast to raise each year varies depending on which publication you read; it could be anything between £275 million and £500 million.

And while there are obvious teething problems with it – see the paragraph above about who actually foots the bill for this – I would suggest that it makes sense to ask businesses with millions of users in the UK who generate huge profits for them to do more by paying this tax.

The government could focus on refining it to curb practices such Amazon’s, and create more of a level playing field.

2. Revise The Debt Repayment Schedule:

I don’t know what the Chancellor’s plan is for plugging the hole in our public finances, or how soon he hopes to get it done.

But if it’s in the next year or two? I would suggest extending that out, with a repayment plan that is less aggressive.

We all know we need the medicine, and that all the support provided was not free.

Nothing ever is!

But the medicine risks killing the patient, if prescribed in large doses.

Plugging the hole quickly may look good on paper. But is it the right move, considering the severe blows dealt by the pandemic and lockdown?

And will it do more harm than good?

3. Wholesale Review of Retail Sector and Business Rates System:

The government claims this new tax will potentially mean business rates can be cut.

As I’ve said, I’m doubtful that will happen.

But putting my cynicism aside, the truth is that retail has been on its knees for a long time.

A comprehensive review of the sector is urgently needed, and there have long been calls for an overhaul of the business rates system. A temporary rate reduction will not address the underlying issues and general view that it is no longer fit for purpose.

The system needs to be revisited and replaced with something that works for businesses and communities in the twenty-first century.

4. Fix The Leaks!:

It may surprise you to hear this, but many large companies get away with paying a fraction of the tax they should.

I’ve explained how internet giants have eluded paying the correct amount of corporation tax for so long, which brought about the digital services tax.

They are not the only ones; stories like this give the impression that once a company can afford expensive tax lawyers to handle their negotiations with HMRC, they can pay what they like instead of what they are actually liable for.

Unfortunately it sometimes appears to be one rule for one group, and another for the rest. As a small business owner, I certainly wouldn’t get away with trying to knock down how much corporation tax I pay…

…and I’m sure this is not an isolated example. It would be interesting to know how much has been “saved” by large companies in this way, and how that compares to the £2 billion the Chancellor hopes to raise with this new tax.

My suggestion? The government should ensure the rules are applied equally across the board. I know the government makes concessions and offers incentives to encourage businesses to invest, but after the initial one-offs there shouldn’t be further room to manoeuvre.

5. Stop The Waste:

Stories of wasted public funds abound, and I wonder if such practices would fly in a private organisation…

…there are too many to count, but I’ll give you a recent example. £15 billion was spent just in the last few months on the beleaguered test and trace system and personal protective equipment (PPE).

That sum alone covers this proposed tax for seven and a half years, and there are calls for a public inquiry to investigate how this was allowed to happen.

But that’s not all.

As I write, the test and trace system is still not fully operational. Experts say it is crucial when planning for the start of the academic year in September, and is also required if the rest of us are to return to some semblance of normality.

Yet, all that money has been spent and the world’s fifth largest economy does not have an effective tracking system to help combat the virus.

And the PPE? The whole batch was faulty and has now been condemned, as it did not meet basic standards set out by Public Health England.

It’s hard not to think that taxpayers are seen as an endless source of funds which can be frittered away at will.

The country is straining under the weight of the pandemic and besides, the business case has not been made for a new tax.

The Chancellor should put the brakes on.

How The Proposed Online Sales Tax Could Affect You

(Source: getstencil)

Following the series of financial packages announced by the UK government to support individuals and businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, one question has been on everyone’s mind:

How are we going to pay for it?

There had been hints and leaks that tax rises and austerity measures would be used to plug the £300 billion hole in public finances, which were subsequently denied. But the first official step has been taken by the government, with the Treasury consulting with industry on the best way to “provide a sustainable and meaningful revenue source for the government.”

Here is a summary of the proposed online sales tax, and how it could affect you if it is implemented.

What Is the Proposed Online Sales Tax?

There are actually two taxes being considered in relation to online sales.

The first is a two per cent tax on anything sold online. Early forecasts from the Treasury estimate that this will bring in an estimated amount of £2 billion each year.

However, note that this online sales tax is not the same as the digital services tax designed specifically for the likes of Facebook, Google and other international internet-based businesses which operate and have users in the UK.

Deliveries have increased significantly since the start of the pandemic, and the second proposal is to implement a tax on deliveries.

Why Were These Taxes Proposed?

(Source: getstencil)

The government believes that online retailers benefit disproportionately from the current tax system, while businesses with a physical High Street presence bear several financial burdens such as rents and business rates.

As the High Street has been in dire straits for a long time and is under even more pressure as a result of the pandemic, the thinking is that the £2 billion raised each year can be used to fund reductions in business rates for retail properties.

On the other hand, the delivery tax has been positioned as targeting traffic and congestion on the roads, with a view to achieving a reduction in toxic emissions and pollution.

When Will a Decision Be Made?

The government will make a decision on these proposals in the Spring of 2021.

And if you really want to know what I think about this proposed online sales tax? Have a look at my next post here.

Everything You Need To Know About Bounce Back Loans

(Source: getstencil)

The Chancellor launched the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) in April to help small and medium-sized businesses suffering from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

As Mr Sunak mentioned in his Summer Economic Statement, 1 million businesses have applied to the scheme and £31 billion has been approved in loans so far.

However even though it has been three months since the announcement, many people are still not sure how the scheme works.

So here’s everything you need to know about Bounce Back Loans.

How Do Bounce Back Loans Work?

With these loans:

  • Small and medium-sized enterprises can borrow up to 25% of their turnover.
  • The maximum loan amount is £50,000.
  • They are 100% guaranteed by the government.
  • No interest or fees are accrued for the first year.
  • After the first twelve months, the interest rate becomes 2.5% a year.
  • There are no repayments to be made in the first year. This is crucial, as this gives businesses some breathing space and a chance to recover from the turbulence of the pandemic.
  • The term is for six years. But if you can repay it sooner? No problem! There are no early repayment penalties.

What Are The Criteria To Apply For Bounce Back Loans?

(Source: getstencil)

To apply for help on the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS), a business:

  • Must be based in the U.K.
  • Must have been established before 1 March 2020.
  • Will have been negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Cannot be a bank or insurance company.
  • Cannot be in the public sector, or a state-funded school.

If you meet these criteria and wish to apply, there are several lenders participating in the scheme. You’ll find the list of the Bounce Bank Loan Scheme lenders here.

And a tip: You don’t have to do this, but it might be easier to apply wherever you do your business banking, if they are on the list.

What Do I Need To Apply For a Bounce Back Loan?

The exact details of what you need to provide to apply for a Bounce Back Loan may vary slightly from lender to lender, but in broad terms this is what you’ll need to do:

  • You’ll be asked to fill in a short application.
  • You’ll be asked to confirm that you qualify, i.e. that you meet the criteria listed above.
  • To provide details about your business such as business name and address, contact details, and your annual turnover.

The process should be easier if you apply with your business bank, as there is already an existing working relationship. They already have some data and knowledge about you and your business, which should simplify and accelerate the application process.

What Should I Do Next:

If a Bounce Back Loan sounds like the kind of support you need or qualify for, it’s worth having an initial conversation with your accountant.

And once you decide to proceed, contact any of the banks listed in the list of lenders above to start your application.

Still Struggling To Understand How It Works?

(Source: getstencil)

If you need further clarification about the Bounce Back Loan Scheme (BBLS) and how it works, you can contact me here.

Summary of The 2020 Summer Economic Statement

(Source: theguardian.com)

Did you listen to Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Economic Statement last Wednesday 8 July?

“We will not be defined by this crisis, but by our response to it,” he said, and respond he did.

It was the second stage of his response to the coronavirus pandemic, and the focus is protecting, supporting and creating jobs.

The first stage involved providing crucial and immediate support in March through initiatives such as the Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme, where employees are furloughed on 80% of their salaries. £20.8 billion has been claimed by businesses so far, which has ensured that 9.1 million people kept their jobs.

However it was never expected to run indefinitely, and Mr Sunak confirmed the scheme will wind down by October and be replaced by a Jobs Retention Bonus Policy aimed at retaining people in work and staving off the threat of unemployment for millions.

Here’s a breakdown of the policy, and a summary of the Summer Economic Statement: 

Protecting Existing Jobs

Jobs Retention Bonus Policy:

The policy has at its core a reward system for employers who bring back furloughed staff and retain them till January 2021. Companies will be paid a Jobs Retention Bonus of £1,000 for each employee, on the condition that they are paid a minimum of £520 per month.

Financial commitment: £9 billion.

Hospitality & Leisure:

(Source: getstencil)

There was an acknowledgement that these sectors employ more than 2 million people who tend to be among the lowest paid n the country. Consequently, people who work in this sector have been some of the hardest hit by the pandemic. And the numbers don’t lie; 1.4m have been furloughed!

The Chancellor announced two new measures to revive the hospitality and leisure industries. The first is a VAT reduction on food, accommodation and attractions such as amusement parks from 20% to 5%. The reduction on this sales tax takes effect on Wednesday 15 July and will run until 12 January 2021.

It’s expected to benefit 150,000 businesses and protect 2.4 million jobs.

Financial commitment: £4 billion.

The second measure to facilitate recovery in the hospitality and leisure sectors has been designed specifically to get customers back into restaurants and pubs. The government-backed “Eat Out to Help Out” discount will be available for everyone in the country to use on certain weekdays this August.

Patrons will benefit from a 50% discount (up to a maximum of £10 per head) from Monday – Wednesday for the month, and businesses can register from Monday 13 July.

Supporting People To Find Jobs

Kickstart scheme:

(Source: getstencil)

A new kickstart scheme targeted at young people will pay employers to create new jobs for 16-24 year-olds at risk of long-term unemployment.

To qualify, the jobs must last six months, be for at least 25 hours per week and pay at least minimum wage. With a £6,500 grant per person and no cap on available places, the expectation is that this guarantees that the youth do not bear the brunt of the economic effects of the pandemic.

Financial commitment: £2 billion. 

Apprenticeships, Trainees & Support for the Unemployed:

Mr Sunak also announced schemes to encourage employers to take on trainees, Career Advisers to support 250,000 people, an expansion of the universal skills offer (with plans to triple existing places), apprenticeships funded at £2,000 each, and support for the unemployed with more work coaches, and £1 billion pumped into the Department for Work and Pensions to help support people back into work.

Creating Jobs

A Green Recovery:

(Source: getstencil)

Government ministers have previously talked about making this a green recovery, and the Chancellor announced a historic investment in infrastructure & jobs in the sector by way of a green homes grant, which will provide homeowners and landlords with vouchers to make their homes more energy-efficient from September.

Expected to make 650,000 homes more energy-efficient, the vouchers will cover two-thirds of the cost or £5,000 per household. This will double for low income households.

Financial commitment: £2 billion.

Stamp Duty Cut:

(Source: getstencil)

Probably the most eye-catching announcement was the immediate cut in stamp duty on property sale transactions below £500,000 until 31 March 2021. This is expected to resuscitate the property industry and In the Chancellor’s estimation, this temporary cut will benefit 9 out of 10 people buying their main home.

Total financial commitment for these announcements and initiatives is £30 billion. The third phase of his coronavirus response will be announced as part of the Autumn Budget & Spending Review.

Why Microsoft Teams Is The Best Tool For You

Lockdown restrictions are easing, and different sectors of the economy are set to reopen over the coming weeks.

However, many businesses are reluctant to go back to “normal”, as various research shows that the majority of workers are anxious at the thought of returning to their previous working hours and office environments.

What’s more, there is concern that doing so will have a negative impact on their mental health and productivity and as a result many business leaders have announced that their teams will continue to work from home for the time being.

While working remotely for the foreseeable future will allay some very important public health concerns, there are downsides which have to be carefully addressed. Using the right technology and tools to facilitate remote working and collaboration between individuals and teams in a business, or with clients and suppliers can make all the difference when it comes to whether you make a success of this “new normal” or not.

One tool I would highly recommend for collaboration is Microsoft Teams. The service was launched in 2017 and has grown in popularity in the last three years. Since the start of the pandemic in particular, the count of daily active users has hit a record 75 million.

If you don’t use Microsoft Teams already, here are some of the reasons why I think it is the best tool for you to use when working remotely with your clients, partners and suppliers, and also internally within your business:

Online Meetings

With Microsoft Teams, you have the ability to host and attend webinars and online meetings.

You can have a one-to-one meeting with someone else, or a video conference with as many as 10,000 people!*

They could be your colleagues, or people from other businesses and organisations.

Regardless of the number of participants you’ll get to see and hear everyone clearly, and also have the option to record it so anyone who misses it can watch the replay.

*Depending on your price plan.

Chat

(Source: Brooke Cagel at Unsplash)

While we never appreciated the significance of water cooler conversations, the lack of them since the start of the pandemic is having a detrimental effect on morale and driving an increase in isolation, as well as affecting how bonds are developed and trust is built among colleagues.

While there is no direct replacement for that kind of physical and social interaction, I’d argue that the chat function within Microsoft Teams is as close as you can get to that informal manner of communication.

The chat function works for those times when you need to send a quick message, and do not require the audit trail that email provides. You can ask your colleagues about their weekends, a quick question about a piece of work, or when they are available to talk, for example. All without leaving the tool.

Call

You can make audio calls from within the tool, either by clicking on a saved contact or typing in a phone number.

So if you decide not to use or enable video, you can speak to your teams using the call function.

Collaboration

Collaborate on projects and joint pieces of work. Multiple people can work on documents, without worrying about version control or corruption.

Privacy & Security

As the use of the internet and collaboration tools has risen during the pandemic, it is no surprise that cybersecurity issues have risen as well. For example, the video communication and chat tool Zoom has had a number of well-publicised incidents highlighting its vulnerabilities. While the company quickly sought to address these and continues to do so, in many ways the damage had already been done as many organisations warned their teams off using the tool, and declared Microsoft Teams to be their preferred tool instead.

For Teams, Microsoft recommends a number of best practices to ensure that you are able to work efficiently and safely. These include:

Using two-factor authentication; giving your team members the correct level of access they need to complete their tasks and no more; and conducting careful assessments of what features are required (and enabled) for people outside your organisation.

Their Customer Base

Microsoft Teams is used by organisations as diverse as Accenture, the Metropolitan Police, schools, universities, hospital networks and the NFL.

But it isn’t just for large organisations. Smaller businesses – even if you only have one employee – can also make the most of the functionality. You wouldn’t be the only one: thousands of small businesses have recently migrated to the tool, and Microsoft has practical guidance to support small businesses that are having to adapt to working remotely.

New To Teams?

(Source: getstencil)

If you’re new to Microsoft Teams and need to get your head around it quickly, I’m running a workshop on Friday 10 July which will help you hit the ground running. I’ll give you an overview of the tool and how it works, explain how to set it up, manage communication and collaborate with your clients and teams.

It’s on sale now, so secure your place today. Click here to book.

How To Support Black Professionals

Mural of George Floyd (Source: knowtechie.com)

The days since George Floyd’s murder on 25th May by a policeman in the United States have gone by in a flash.

His senseless killing captured on video exposed the reality of racial injustice to a global audience, and has forced us all as individuals, communities and countries to examine our bias and confront our complacency.

People were shocked and appalled. But organisations and some public figures were tentative in their initial reactions.

That soon changed and slowly businesses started to declare their abhorrence of racism and support for Black employees, customers and the community as a whole.

From multinationals like Apple, Nike, adidas, Visa and MasterCard, to organisations in the arts like the Barbican and Shakespeare’s Globe, and fashion publications like Vogue and Vanity Fair, businesses of all sizes and in various sectors have spoken out.

The overwhelming show of support culminated in #BlackoutTuesday on 2nd June, where people refrained from posting anything other than a black square on their social media accounts.

As a Black woman while I think it has taken far too long for racism and racial injustice to capture the attention of the general public, the universal condemnation of Mr. Floyd’s murder and subsequent declarations of allyship are heartening.

However, it’s important that the support was not just a performance that occurred on social media.

It’s crucial that tackling racism does not fall off the agenda once the news cycle moves on, and that all the declarations of allyship and support actually translate from the intangible into catalysts for real, practical change.

So, if your organisation really wants to ally with Black people, here is some food for thought.

Economic Power

(Source: getstencil)

The importance of money and economic power cannot be overemphasised. In the here and now, an income helps pay for life’s necessities. In the medium to long-term it allows us to make choices, many of which can have lifelong implications.

Internships & Recruitment

As income and subsequently economic power stem from jobs and careers, the first step is to examine your hiring practices and how opportunities are afforded to people. Is this done equitably?

For example, internships often appear to be the preserve of the privileged. And they are – because they are mainly unpaid.

Question: Who can afford to take up an unpaid summer internship at a law firm?

Answer: Young people whose parents are well off. Who, in reality, don’t need the leg-up that an internship provides anyway.

Another example: What happens when your recruiting partners and HR department come across a name they are culturally unfamiliar with? Is that CV automatically discarded? Are you more likely to invite a “Sarah” or “Andrew” in for an interview, and not bother with an “Adanna” or a “Kweku”?

Do you only hire people from your alma mater or certain schools?

Also, how do people hear about vacancies? Where are they advertised? Is information about vacancies made available to a wide-ranging audience, or does it stay privy to subscribers to the Financial Times and The Economist only?

Not that there is anything wrong with these publications, but advertising in them alone facilitates and entrenches the exclusion of certain demographics.

Then take a look at your teams. How are they constituted; what is the make up?

As you seek to support Black professionals it is important to make sure they are in the room and feel confident that they can speak, and have their voices heard when they do.

Career Progression

And once they are in your organisation there must be a progression route that is clear and transparent, not one that is opaque and dependent on whether they go for drinks after work. Review the career paths in your organisation, which open the doors to economic power.

Suppliers & Vendors

Another useful exercise is to review who you give your business to. Which suppliers and vendors do you work with? Whose products do you sell and showcase to your audience?

Create A Culture and Environment that Is Safe, Nurturing and Enabling

The culture in an organisation is often taken for granted.

We assume it just happens, but in truth it is a function of what is we create or allow.

From the perspective of a Black professional in the United Kingdom, my experience has been that racism is never overt. However, it can be subtle, insidious, carefully planned and executed, to debilitating effect.

It is not uncommon for people who do not “fit in” to be managed out of organisations. While nothing is ever explicitly expressed, things can be made so unbearable for the individual that they resign out of frustration or are asked to leave after a campaign that portrays them as incompetent.

At first glance, this scenario may seem like an exaggeration. But it is more common than you realise, and often thrives in toxic environments created or allowed by Senior Management.

Bringing Black professionals through the doors of your organisation is not the end of your obligations. The work to ensure a positive and enabling culture and working environment is continuous and must be prioritised at the highest levels.

Provide a Platform

(Source: getstencil)

Every organisation has a platform and uses it every time it organises or participates in industry conferences, events, and panel discussions.

It is worth considering the following: Who do you invite onstage to speak at your events? Who participates in the panel discussions you organise? If you have a podcast, what is the demographic of the guests you choose to interview and showcase? And, which members of your team do you send to represent your organisation at conferences?

Another thing that is common is that once a Black man or woman is located, he or she can often become the “go-to” expert from a diverse background who is always given a platform. It makes life easier, but having one person who is always invited does not do much for diversity.

Apart from the fact that it prevents others having access to opportunities, it is important to remember that there is not one homogenous Black view of the world. We vote Labour and Conservative, voted both to leave and remain in the European Union, are vegan and meat eaters, are students, employees, business owners, currently unemployed, homeowners, tenants and everything in between. There are a myriad of perspectives and opinions which you cannot access if you only give a platform to one “go-to” person.

So, challenge your events and production teams, your researchers to look further afield. Insist that they provide you with a different list of names the next time you want an expert, speaker, panellist, or podcast guest.

Leadership & Decision Making

(Source: getstencil)

It is one thing to have Black men and women in your organisation and have their voices in the room.

It is also imperative that some of those voices are empowered and have the ability to influence and effect change from positions of seniority, so they have the authority and freedom to propose and chart a different course in the organisation if need be.

This is because it is easy to overrule junior members of staff, even middle management. Their input and views can easily be discounted.

But making sure Black men and women have the ability to influence, shape and make key decisions makes it hard to ignore their input and perspectives. Tackling that power dynamic and ensuring there is a better balance means usual viewpoints can be challenged by someone who is less concerned about the consequences of speaking up or having a different view.

Look at your Senior Management or Leadership teams. Who is in them, and what can you do to address any imbalance that exists?

Are you actively working to develop and coach the next generation of Black men and women to step into positions of leadership?

I cannot pretend that these alone will resolve all race-related issues in businesses and organisations, but if acted upon they are practical steps in the right direction which will go a long way to making a significant difference.

It is important that this moment in time acts as a trigger for real and lasting change, and does not end up just being a hashtag. But that will not happen on its own; action is required now.

So, I challenge you not just to say that Black lives matter.

Go further and put your money where your mouth is. Because your actions going forward – as a leader, as a business or organisation – will speak much louder than your words.

Coronavirus Pandemic: Business Winners & Losers

There are always winners and losers.

With redundancies and bankruptcies announced by companies that are household names every day, you’d be forgiven for thinking it’s all doom and gloom out there.

But as sure as there are businesses which have been hit hard by the pandemic, others have found a niche, quickly adapted their business models, taken advantage of the opportunities, met customer demand, and thrived.

Some businesses and sectors are busier than ever right now, and I’m excited and fascinated by their success. Here are a few of the success stories.

Some of the Winners

Board Games & Jigsaw Puzzle manufacturers

(Source: getstencil)

Maybe unforeseen, but as families spent more time together, they entertained themselves with games and puzzles which resulted in sales of the likes of Monopoly, Cluedo and Scrabble rising by 240% in the first week of lockdown.

Collaboration Tools

Tools such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom have risen in popularity.

As people around the world were forced to work and socialise remotely, their need for technology to help them do so increased exponentially. My mother is in her seventies, and even she has now downloaded one of these apps onto her phone!

And she’s not the only one: apparently Zoom has been downloaded over 2 million times and its founder’s net worth has risen by $4bn since March. Microsoft Teams also saw usage grow to 44 million daily active users in the first week of March, so up by 12 million in just a week.

Food Subscription Boxes

The likes of HelloFresh and Mindful Chef have experienced rapid growth as the restrictions stopped us eating out, and forced us to stay in and spend more time in the kitchen.

Demand grew for fresh, healthy ingredients and customers were attracted by organic items suited to a range of diets and tastes. They have seen sales soar by as much as 300% since the outbreak.

Groceries

(Source: getstencil)

One of the first places society was seriously impacted was with availability of food and the ease with which we could buy it.

Supermarkets like Tesco and Sainsbury’s couldn’t get rid of their stock fast enough! They adapted by hiring as many as 40,000 staff and implementing social distancing measures as they saw sales increase by 30%.

Items ranging from canned foods and alcohol to flour and yeast flew off the shelves.

Home Improvement Stores

As we stayed at home, we suddenly noticed all those jobs that needed doing! After an initial drop in sales, people flocked back as soon as shops like B&Q started to reopen in accordance with social distancing guidelines.

Loo Roll manufacturers

(Source: getstencil)

Who would have foreseen this basic household item being stockpiled?

No one, and companies like Who Gives A Crap saw their sales multiply by as much as a factor of 12 in one day.

Payment & Money Transfer Apps

The use of apps such as TransferWise, Paypal, Cash App, Venmo & Xoom have risen by 11% since the beginning of March. And it makes sense: as well as doing all our shopping online, it quickly became apparent that cash is neither suitable nor hygienic at the current time.

Fitness Trainers

(Source: getstencil)

Exercise became a release, an outlet, and a way of keeping children occupied, and the industry adapted to the new normal accordingly by moving its business model online.

Joe Wicks quickly grabbed the nation’s attention. As did gyms, online yoga studios, fitness instructors and others in the sector.

Some of the Losers

Cinemas & Theatres

(Source: getstencil)

As cinemas and theatres became no-go areas, many streamed shows and performances to stay in touch with their audiences. However, in terms of revenue it’s not the same as people attending in person.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing activities ground to a halt, not just because of the restrictions but also because of supply chains that were severely disrupted.

Restaurants

(Source: getstencil)

Hospitality ground to a halt. However many quickly became delivery-only, which has hopefully helped.

Retail

High streets were already in dire straits, and the pandemic has only compounded issues.

Many moved operations online, but the lockdown has still had a devastating effect on the likes of Cath Kidston, Cafe Rouge and Bella Italia.

Travel & Tourism

(Source: getstencil)

Airlines, hotels, agents, tour operators – anyone connected to travel and tourism has seen their revenue dry up. Big hitters like Virgin Atlantic and British Airways are feeling the pain.

As restrictions start to ease this month, the hope is that this kicks off the recovery process.

Why It’s Time To Pay Attention To Business Continuity Planning

(Source: getstencil)

I don’t know what you’ve experienced but in my working life I’ve noticed that Business Continuity Planning often features at the bottom of the pile, the last item on that list of business priorities.

And that’s if it even gets on the list to begin with! It’s rare to see this type pf planning being given the time and attention it deserves. But the coronavirus outbreak and its wide-ranging impact on economies and businesses has brought the benefits of good Business Continuity Planning into sharp focus.

So What Is Business Continuity Planning?

Business Continuity Planning is the creation of systems to deal with potential disasters and threats to a business.

It involves reviewing a number of hypothetical scenarios and planning how your business can continue to run, even if all hell breaks loose! For example: What would you do if there was a cybersecurity attack?

Or, if the City of London (and your office-based teams) had to be evacuated?

Or – as has happened this year – if the whole economy and your supply chain shuts down for a few months? Would you still be able to offer your products and services; could you afford to pay salaries to your team, your suppliers, and yourself?

It’s become evident that many plans were not worth the paper they were printed on, and are in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

That’s why I’m exploring Business Continuity Planning, and what a good plan should contain.

Preparing To Create Your Business Continuity Plan

Before you start on the actual plan, there are a number of steps to complete.

They may require some research and consultation with stakeholders, as the information is unlikely to be readily available:

  • Conduct a Business Impact Analysis. Identify the critical functions and processes which are core to your business’s existence, without which there wouldn’t be a business to run! What would the impact would be if they are interrupted? Pinpoint who’s responsible for each one and capture their contact details. Include alternative locations where these functions can operate from, and details of how people will be moved there (and by who).
  • The next step before the actual Business Continuity Plan is to identify the risk and impact on business functions. So, list the functions performed by each department, categorise them by order of importance, and describe what the impact would be if that function is suddenly lost. Would the department and wider business activities be crippled? Or could you easily adjust and continue operating?
  • The final piece before you start on your plan is to quantify what the losses would be if part (or all) of your business became unavailable. A simple way to do this is to estimate the revenue you would normally generate in a month, quarter or year, and use that figure as a baseline. You could get more sophisticated and include things like salaries and other contractual agreements which would potentially still need to be met.

What Are The Components of A Good Business Continuity Plan?

Recovery Strategy

The first thing to start with is your recovery strategy.

Include a list of team members who need to be available, their departments and contact details. You also have to think about how you will contact and communicate with people, and frequency. So, you will definitely send out communication at the start, but would you continue to do so at regular intervals? Every 30 minutes, or every hour, for example? Will the comms differ in content and frequency depending on people’s locations, where they are based and seniority?

What Resources Do You Need?

Next, work out who and what you need to keep the business going. Which members of your team, which departments and which equipment and systems are needed to perform business-critical functions?

Decide In Advance Who Will Participate In Making Decisions

Then, determine who should be part of the decision-making process. Beware though, as this can get political! There may be several people in the Senior Leadership Team, who think they should be all be involved. But try to stick to a core group; the last thing you want is a roundtable where people struggle to move things forward at what will be a crucial time.

A key point is that your Business Continuity Plan should focus on each department or area of your business. Particularly in a large organisation, you need to involve departmental heads who will naturally know more when it comes to pinpointing critical functions, people and resources.

Test & Maintain

Once completed, your Business Continuity Plan and the team whose focus it is to manage any disruption have to be tested at regular intervals to help identify any weaknesses and make sure they are robust and resilient.

On a final note…

Just to say that Business Continuity Planning isn’t just for large businesses! It applies to small, medium and even micro-businesses. The size of the plan and the level of detail may vary, but the apparent benefits of having one means this cannot be ignored and has to be priority.

If this isn’t something you have paid attention to before and creating a Business Continuity Plan is now a priority for you – which it should be – then contact me here and I can help you get started right away.

Bibliography:

Investopedia.com. Business Continuity Planning. (2019). [online] Available at: https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/business-continuity-planning.asp [Accessed 22 May 2020]

aig.co.uk. Building a Business Continuity Plan: Guidelines For Preparation of Your Plan. (2013). [online] Available at: https://www.aig.co.uk/content/dam/aig/emea/united-kingdom/documents/property-insights/business-continuity-planning-guidelines-for-preparation-of-your-plan.pdf [Accessed 22 May 2020]