Helping your fleet work from home
In these unprecedented times, Jonathan Musk looks at essential information to keep your business running.
With government predictions of up to a fifth of the UK’s workforce off sick at the peak of the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic, it’s essential fleets arm themselves for the long haul and prepare for the worst while hoping for the best.
Spotting the signs
First and foremost, it is our duty as fleet managers to help employees spot the signs of the virus. The World Health Organisation (WHO) says symptoms more commonly include fever, tiredness and a dry cough. Other symptoms that not everyone get include shortness of breath, aches and pains, sore throat and some report diarrhoea, nausea and a runny nose. There are also reports of new symptoms possibly including the loss of smell and taste.
Those experiencing mild symptoms are asked to self-isolate and contact their medical provider. Those with fever, a cough or difficulty breathing are encouraged to contact their doctor and seek medical attention, for example by going online to NHS or calling 111 – only if you cannot get help online.
What is the Government doing to help?
Aside from encouraging, but not enforcing, a widespread lockdown, the Government has rolled out a series of measures to help businesses survive the current financial uncertainty and difficulty in operating business.
The Government has also warned that if the advice is not followed by citizens, then it may be forced to adopt measures such as those already in place in parts of Italy and France. We are currently in the second phase of the Government’s coronavirus plan of action, which progresses from ‘containment’ to ‘delay’ before the ‘research’ and ‘mitigate’ phases.
To tackle the financial crisis that has been exacerbated by the virus and the Government’s own moves to stem its spread, includes unlimited loans and guarantees to support firms and help them manage cashflows. Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak announced an initial £330bn of guarantees – equivalent to 15% of UK GDP.
He said, “any business who needs access to cash to pay their rent, their salaries, suppliers or purchase stock will be able to access a government-backed loan or credit on attractive terms”.
The Chancellor also announced comprehensive measures for businesses on Friday 20 March, including the payment of up to 80% of wages for staff kept on by an employer, up to £2,500 a month – largely welcomed by businesses nationwide.
Nonetheless, the unemployment rate is expected to rise from 4% to 6% even including the measures, although that figure would likely have been higher without them.
Other measures included deferred VAT payments until the end of June, and interest-free cash grants to small businesses.
For larger companies, it’s a little less clear. The Chancellor announced up to £5m interest-free loans for 12 months for companies with a turnover of up to £45m a year. However, the Government will only guarantee the loan up to 80% and this is to the bank, not the business taking the loan – which remains 100% liable for the debt. Loans are also only on offer to companies that wouldn’t otherwise be able to get a loan without state intervention, which critics have pointed out will be extremely difficult to judge. And of course there’s the big question mark over whether firms will want to take on new debt at a time of financial instability and uncertainty in the first place.
Working from home
With employees working from home, it’s crucial to set up a routine for workers and of course ensure that they have what they need to facilitate working remotely in the first place. Fortunately, many fleets will be used to this from the very nature of the industry. But for those more usually office-based, it’s advisable to encourage dedicated work areas be set up within a home, to be able to distinguish between work and home life more effectively and set clear boundaries. This is particularly important for the mental health of employees.
Technology is the answer…
In this age of computing, it’s relatively easy to work remotely and effectively. Most laptops come with built-in microphones, speakers and webcams, enabling video chat and conferencing with relative ease.
Key players in providing this include Microsoft Teams, Slack, Zoom and Webex. Most offer a free subscription and many companies have enhanced their free offerings in light of the global crisis. This includes, for example, Zoom and Webex extending the free version of their software to allow for up to 100 participants to conference call and including a call-in option too, enabling those who don’t have internet access but who do have mobile reception at the time to still participate in meetings.
Remote desktop services, including TeamViewer, Join.me and Splashtop, have also seen a massive increase in demand since the crisis first arose. These allow an employee to remotely connect to their in-office machine and control it remotely. The services offer encrypted connections to better allow for secure access, in case an employee needs to access sensitive files but that shouldn’t be taken off-site.
But communication is the key
While the above solutions allow staff to work remotely and business to continue, no part of the puzzle is more important than communication. Keeping phone lines open, and using online-chat (for example in Microsoft Teams) can help each of us get through the crisis with an aim to return to normality in the future.