Alert level 4: What it means for businesses and staff

Newstalk ZB/ NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 6:54pm
(Photo / Getty)
(Photo / Getty)

Alert level 4: What it means for businesses and staff

Newstalk ZB/ NZ Herald,
Publish Date
Mon, 23 Mar 2020, 6:54pm

Do a cashflow forecast, and then do it daily and be prepared to make real-time planning a daily task - these should be the first actions for SMEs caught in the Level 3 and 4 coronavirus maelstrom, says a business change expert.

Zac de Silva of Business Changing is offering down-to-earth advice for businesses grappling with how to proceed during the four week lockdown announced by the Government to try to halt the spread of Covid-19.

De Silva recommends:

  • Do a cashflow forecast asap - and then do this daily, as events evolve
  • Apply for the government grant
  • Look at what costs you can cut back on but be careful not to cut so much back that you're unable to execute and operate as you need to when you need to
  • Forget the normal 90-day plan - instead, have a real-time weekly plan... and be prepared for it to become a daily one.

De Silva said it is really important to use the next four weeks for the future good of your business.

"This is a really disruptive time for all businesses, however you'll have more time in the next four weeks to work on your business than ever before so make it count. What improvements and innovations can you come up with?

"To keep family harmony, communicate with every member on how you plan to work with at home - perhaps, if the door is shut, I am unavailable as I am working. You need to maintain a routine so communicate with your family what that looks like to reduce stress and demands on your time. Come up with a schedule - and incorporate, say, a daily walk with your family, lunch with your family, a finish time of 5pm."

De Silva advises communicating with customers how you will be working for the next month.

"For example, not at all, no change except working from home, more slowly than usual etc. Share the channels they can use to communicate with you - for example online meeting hubs.

"Make a plan: how are you still going to look after customers at this time? What does your new customer care plan look like?"

His advice for how a business communicates with its staff during the lockdown is to first email all staff with guidelines on what Level 4 requires.

"Remember not everyone would have seen the announcement or recognise what it means for them. Share a brief outline on the government's requirements and what that means for your business.

"Be honest with your staff and let them know where you need extra effort, so they can focus on the right things. They'll want you to get through this as much as you do.

"Figure out what your bare minimums and essentials in terms of work output are for the coming four weeks and how you can make this happen - communicate this to your staff."

If a business has staff able to work remotely, De Silva recommends outlining what is expected of them in terms of work and output.

"Agree with them on what they need to work on for the coming month from home, keeping in mind that they may have distractions of children at home. Set a constant communication rhythm with online meetings every day, perhaps in the morning to set up the day ahead.

"You could look to set a schedule, with some measurements, to keep your team motivated and accountable."

If staff have time on their hands, de Silva suggests considering what value-adding projects can they do over the four weeks to make the business stronger in recovery time - for example learning, tidying up databases, finetuning backend processes.

De Silva recommends talking to main suppliers and business contacts, including the landlord and bank manager, to see how they can help through the challenge.

His firm will offer advice on 60 steps business owners can take on its website from Tuesday noon: www.businesschanging.com.

Business support organisation EMA said there was plenty of advice available.

Head of advocacy and strategy Alan McDonald said the EMA has extended its advice phone line service (0800 300 362) to non-members and hopes to be officially considered an essential service so its staff can continue advising companies while locked down at home.

The EMA has been receiving up to 400 calls a day from members seeking advice on how to cope with the pandemic and its crushing economic and operational impacts, he said.

Put simply, from now on all non-essential businesses should consider themselves closed for the next four weeks as the Government acts to try to save tens of thousands of lives, he said.

McDonald said the Ministry of Social Development had been "really helpful" to SMEs, which make up 90 per cent of New Zealand's businesses, turning around applications for financial assistance in 48 hours and less.

MSD had been urging businesses not to delay putting in applications and if there were issues, the ministry would get back to them, he said.

McDonald recommended businesses seeking advice also refer to MSD's website and to use its call centre.
BusinessNZ provided the following help lines for advice from the BusinessNZ network:

  • Auckland 0800 300 362 (upper North Island: EMA)
    • Wellington 0800 800 362 (lower North Island and Marlborough: Business Central)
    • Christchurch 0800 50 50 96 (Canterbury and West Coast: Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce)
    • Dunedin 0508 656 757 (Otago and Southland: Otago Southland Employers' Association)

Businesses should talk to their banks "and talk early", EMA's McDonald said.

The EMA applauded today's new Government support announcements for business which extended financial assistance to all businesses, not just small operations, and removed the $150,000 funding cap. McDonald said the cap had been causing a great deal of worry.

It would now cost $9.3b, up from $5.1b.

He said the Government deserved recognition for the speed with which it had responded had recognised the plight of small business in the fast-moving pandemic and put in place processes to help them.

New Zealand's business support groups including the EMA, chambers of commerce and regional business groups had been working together to help business through the pandemic, he said.

Advice was available - businesses just had to ask for it, he said.