Where will we work post-Covid?

by Vanessa Oakes,Course Director

As we move through the Government’s Roadmap to ‘normality’ over the next few months, employers will be starting to consider what this may mean for staff returning to office environments. Many staff who have been able to work from home throughout the pandemic have reported increased productivity, better work life balance, saving time and money through the elimination of the commute, as well as many other benefits.

There have been some drawbacks, particularly where staff have had to juggle home-schooling and caring responsibilities, but as these staff become able to return to a normal working routine, it is likely that they will start to experience some of the same benefits as their colleagues

A recent YouGov survey showed that 91% of respondents surveyed who have been able to work from home during the pandemic, want to continue to do so at least some of the time. This pressure from employees (who have proved that they can successfully work from home), should be a catalyst for most organisations to make changes to the levels of flexibility they will allow. If organisations choose not to offer greater levels of flexibility in WHERE staff work, they may see their employees move to a competitor who IS willing this. More and more frequently ‘working from home’ can be found on job advertisements for professionals, allowing these organisations to take advantage of the changing demands of employees, and  opening their vacancies to a much wider talent pool, giving them more choice in their chosen candidate.

Of course, organisations in some sectors have always been prepared to offer high levels of flexibility of working hours and location and have found the transition to working from home a case of ‘business as usual’. At least a third of the workforce pre-Covid had some access to homeworking, but anecdotes suggest remote working was reserved for management, those who were highly valued or those who had sympathetic managers.

What the ‘mass working from home experiment’ over the last year has taught us is that everyone in our organisations can benefit from a level of flexibility, and the organisation will benefit in return through higher levels of engagement and commitment. Consider another benefit to increasing flexibility, the ability to truly open vacancies to more diverse candidates, from those with disabilities for whom homeworking would be much easier, to increasing the number of women in the workforce (and in senior roles) through allowing more flexibility around WHEN the work can be done.

Vanessa Oakes
Vanessa Oakes

One of the main challenges to remote working has been around managing (or monitoring) performance. This link between presence and performance has been prevalent in sectors where a judgement about performance is not based on measurable KPIs, rather about the complexity of work and behaviours demonstrated in performing it. This could provide challenges to organisations who are willing to improve the flexibility which they offer. This raises a series of questions for managers and leaders:

  • What does ‘good’ work look like? This will be a question that needs to be answered by each manager as they attempt to define what their performance expectations are within the new parameters of work.
  • Are managers communicating their expectations clearly enough?
  • Are they making themselves available, but not inserting themselves unnecessarily into the working day of their teams?
  • And most importantly, are they developing relationships built on trust with each of their team members? It is these relationships that will determine the success of the flexible working strategy and will allow the organisation to take advantage of the many financial and intangible benefits of a flexible workforce for the foreseeable future.

We are now recruiting for cohort 5 of the Small Business Leadership Programme (free and starting 30th March) and Vanessa will be covering this topic in more depth on this course.

Vanessa Oakes on linkedin,Email Vanessa.Oakes@staffs.ac.uk

Which to use: Quick Ratio or Current Ratio for Liquidity Measurement in business

Status

Mayowa AKINBOTE

Just as businesses are adapting to the shock of Brexit, the global pandemic presents another disruption to businesses. These two events have created huge uncertainty for most small businesses while some have benefited . The striving small businesses are revaluating their strengths with financial metrics to enhance their sustainability as the new markets are emerging. Financial metrics present small businesses with the opportunities to increase efficiency in their operations, liquidity, profitability and stability during uncertainty period. Some commentators argue that inadequate liquidity is the major reason small businesses collapse during the uncertainty period.

The quick ratio helps the business managers to evaluate their businesses financial liquidity. This informs the business managers of how current assets excluding inventories can be quickly converted to cash to meet their current liabilities. This ignores inventory because it is not easily converted to cash. Unlike the current ratio which considers inventory value, the quick ratio is generally viewed as the conservative evaluation of business liquidity as it’s based on the business most liquid assets. For instance, a business has current assets worth £40,000 of which inventory is £10,000, and £15,000 worth of current liabilities thus the business has a 2:1 quick ratio. This indicates that the business can afford to meet the short-term liabilities twice with the short-term assets.

Money

Businesses with a 1:1 or lower quick ratio could be at risk of becoming a going concern. Thus, small businesses with limited access to funds might fire sale their non-current assets to meet the current liabilities.

Many businesses have already closed due to Brexit and the global pandemic and it has been estimated that a further approximately, 98,000 small businesses might not survive the current pandemic. Thus, small business managers that are currently struggling to survive should pay attention to their financial metrics especially the quick ratio.

Unlike the quick ratio, many commentators argue that the current ratio cannot accurately evaluate some businesses short-term liquidity power. For instance, a retail business that targets seasonal customers will stock up inventory for the season. Thus, toward this period the current ratio rises and fall after the seasonal sales. Hence, the quick ratio would be best to evaluation the liquidity ability of such businesses as it ignores the inventory value.

However, other commentators argue that excluding the inventory value from the current assets could be an inefficient way of evaluating liquidity ability for some businesses. For instance, small business such as corner shops that a large percentage of their current assets are fast-moving inventory. Thus, excluding the inventory from the current asset would relatively inflate the current liability. Hence, the quick ratio will present an inaccurate picture of the business to cover their current liability with their most liquid assets.

In conclusion, business managers need to consider both the quick ratio and current ratio, especially during the uncertainty period. This would provide a more accurate measurement of their business ability to pay their short-term liabilities without being forced to fire sale their non-current asset.

Business managers need to ensure that the quick ratio and current ratio is not too excessive compared to other competitors in their sector as this could indicate poor control of working capital. This might suggest that the business is not turning over its inventory quickly enough or is carrying slow-moving or obsolete inventory and has poor credit control practices resulting in their customers delaying payments beyond the agreed terms.

STOP PRESS: We are now recruiting for cohort 5 of the Small Business Leadership Programme (free starts 30th March).

Mayowa Akinbote FCCA
Lecturer in Accounting and Finance
Staffordshire Business School
Staff Page: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/people/mayowa-akinbote
LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/mayowa-akinbote-33448895

How COVID-19 Exposed The Ethnic Poverty and Enterprise Rift (Participate in Our Research)

Dr Tolu Olarewaju, Lecturer, Staffordshire business School


The British Academy (the United Kingdom’s national academy for the humanities and the social sciences) has tasked us with investigating the specific challenges that UK business owners faced during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown, the strategies that they used to keep their businesses afloat, and how they engaged with financial and regional support.

We are also interested in how best to support members of the Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) business community.

To participate in our study, kindly fill the survey below and/or please share the URL with your networks if you know any other business owners:

URL: http://staffordshire.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_50kNUNYOKJFFQNM

Photograph: benjamin lehman | URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/gkZ-k3xf25w | Unsplash

Ethnic minorities were particularly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK and US, as in some other countries. In particular, the risk of death for some ethnic minority individuals who contracted COVID-19 in these countries was two to three times more compared to white individuals.

This disparity was a result of the underlying social and economic risk factors that ethnic minorities face, such as living in overcrowded and urban accommodation, being employed in riskier lower-skilled jobs, reduced access to healthcare, and structural racism. In other words, ethnic poverty in developed countries is driving higher infection and consequently death rates for ethnic minorities.

Drivers of Ethnic Poverty

Underlying the drivers of poverty for ethnic minorities in many developed countries are several socio-economic factors which include historical factors, discrimination, educational and entrepreneurial variations, and employment and pay disparities between ethnic groups.

Despite facsimile policies that emphasize equal access to education and employment in many developed countries, discrimination remains a critical barrier to equal employment. Several studies have found that both ethnic minorities are called back for interviews 50% less frequently than comparable whites, hired less often for high-skill jobs, and once hired are paid less. Thus, despite the increasing educational gains made by ethnic minority individuals, many are overqualified for the jobs that they do. Ethnic minority workers also often report not being given pay rises and being passed over for promotion.

Another very important driver for the disproportionately high poverty rates among ethnic minority groups is the concentration of such workers in low-paid work. Ethnic minority workers are more likely to work in low-paid sectors with limited progression opportunities and lower wages. Lack of movement out of low-paid work increases the risk of poverty among ethnic groups. In addition, there is generally a lower percentage of ethnic minority workers who are managers, directors, and senior officials.

Photograph: Maria Oswalt URL: https://unsplash.com/photos/qFkVFe9_d38 | Unsplash

Business Ownership Disparities

Before the pandemic, BAME business owners were less likely than non-BAME business owners to obtain mainstream business support and in the early days of coronavirus, nearly two-thirds of BAME business owners felt unable to access state-backed loans and grants, leaving many on the brink of financial ruin.

BAME-owned businesses are traditionally concentrated in the sectors worst hit by lockdown such as retail, health and social care, education, restaurants and accommodation.

The economic crisis facing these businesses is aggravated by the fact that they are more likely to hire a considerable number of BAME employees and attract more BAME customers. The significantly higher risk among such groups from COVID-19 implies that these businesses would have had to incur considerable costs to protect their staff and customers.

Solutions

Ethnic minorities consistently report reduced access to education, lack of social and financial capital, unemployment, low-pay, and poor progression from low-paid sector work. This suggests similar solutions for all groups, which would lead to better-quality jobs and higher pay. However, given that some of the drivers of poverty, such as higher unemployment and inactivity rates disproportionately affect ethnic groups, specific forms of outreach activity and drawing on local knowledge may be needed in these contexts.

Similarly, government solutions to reduce ethnic poverty in developed country contexts include interventions that ensure that education, training and apprenticeships are provided for ethnic minorities as well as schemes that help tackle low pay among ethnic minority workers. There is a need for policies that focus the on education, skills and training for ethnic groups particularly digital, literacy, and numeracy skills. Moreover, policies should also be encouraged that monitor the workforce in relation to ethnicity, which should include the recruitment, retention and progression phases of jobs.

Authorities need to work with employers to provide better-paid jobs and they should do more to listen to and encourage employers to hire a diverse range of skills and experiences. It is advisable to consider putting targets for ethnic minority representation on boards, something that has proven successful in the case of gender. It is also important to recognise the benefits of positive discrimination in the labour market, rather than view legislation to combat ethnic inequality as red tape or political correctness. Mortgage market discrimination needs to be eliminated as this would allow ethnic minorities to take advantage of the benefits that come with owning a home.

State-backed grants and loans should be made more accessible as an incentive to business owners who have incurred additional costs to protect customers and staff. Crucially, the process to obtain them should not be too onerous and the criteria should be fair. Regional governments should also take care to plug BAME businesses into the supply chains of local projects in response to the pandemic.

Source: Author

All these should reduce ethnic poverty and the economic and health inequalities that the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted.

Don’t forget to participate in our research if you a business owner: http://staffordshire.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_50kNUNYOKJFFQNM

Notes: Excerpts for this essay was taking from my book chapter: “Ethnic Poverty: Causes, Implications, and Solutions” available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/344725834_Ethnic_Poverty_Causes_Implications_and_Solutions

Coronavirus: The Battle Axe

The coronavirus started in China and spread to Europe and America in the first quarter of 2020 with a “battle axe” on businesses. The leadership of the most affected countries have become Santa Claus with their supports to the households and businesses. Many industries have experienced the offensive side of the coronavirus battle axe while other industries benefited from the defensive opportunities it created.

Industries such as Aviation, Road haulage, Ferries, Steel, Horticulture have all taken the pain of the offensive side of the battle axe. For instance, many of the affected developed countries economies are shut down and consumers are under stay at home policy. These have serious negative impacts on these industries revenue and sustainability investments. To complicate the pain emergency loans support from financial institutions have dried up thus, there are fewer chances of survival without taxpayers interventions. Some commentators are of the view that greener pastures are not guaranteed for the industries that will survive the pain as the new world of doing business will emerge. 

The likes of the e-commerce marketplace (Amazon); pharmaceutical companies (AstraZeneca and Pfizer); video conferencing (Zoom, Teams and Skype) and entertainment streaming (Netflix) industries benefit from the defence of this deadly axe. The longer the stay at home policy takes more people and businesses start thinking of a different way to sustain their livelihood and businesses from home. Another innovative business opportunity created is the products that many governments make mandatory to be worn everywhere. Although some of these products are reusable, few concerns have been raised about the materials used in the production and the ability to recycle these materials.

This pandemic has brought difficult business operating environment. Many business leaders are worried about how to sustain productivity to increase growth by adapting to the new business environment that the pandemic created. Businesses should protect the workforce with physical and emotional support, empathetic communication, training and retraining of employees in readiness for recovery. They should review their supply chains and possibly arrange alternative sources of raw materials or services. Also, businesses should frequently review the impact of the worst-case situation on the business cash flow and the governments’ tax relief provisions and other supports. Finally, business leaders should consider their business digital transformations by increasing IT infrastructure and digital upskilling.

The Small Business Leadership Programme is provided by Staffordshire Business School and is fully funded (free). Participants will develop strategic leadership skills and the confidence to boost business performance.

The course lasts ten weeks and the next two cohort start dates are
West Midlands 12th January 3.00 – 4.30 pm
North West 13th January 3.00 – 4.30 pm

Register here https://smallbusinesscharter.org/sblp-registration

For more details see the website
https://smallbusinesscharter.org/small-business-leadership-programme/

Mayowa Akinbote FCCA
Lecturer in Accounting and Finance
Staffordshire Business School
Staff Page: https://www.staffs.ac.uk/people/mayowa-akinbote
LinkedIn: http://linkedin.com/in/mayowa-akinbote-33448895

Preparing for the New Normal – How accommodation providers in France are rethinking and adapting their services and what can we learn from this?

Paul Dobson, Senior LEcturer,Staffordshire Business School


It’s been a challenging, confusing and worrying time for most industries during this current Coronavirus Crisis. But the hospitality sector in particular stands to be one of the hardest hit as it struggles to contemplate how it can continue to trade successfully keeping social distancing in mind, coupled with a rapidly shrinking economy.  As part of Staffordshire Business School’s support to organisations I’ve been supporting the local and international hospitality sector and as the French businesses are ahead of us in coming out of lockdown I’ve noted some points to help prepare UK organisations.

After 2 months enduring some of the strictest lockdown controls in Europe, France is slowly opening up its economy and society. And the vast, hugely varied accommodation sector, which historically welcomes visitors across the world, is undergoing a rapid and radical revolution to ensure it can continue to attract customers in these unprecedented times.

The newly forced need to keep distance and natural sense of personal safety has fallen well into the hands of some of the self-catering sector. Private homes and villas, especially those that can offer generous outside space as well as little or no contact with others, have seen a huge demand since the 11th of May when the French Prime Minister officially declared that travel up to 100km was now permitted. The public, who have been largely “imprisoned” with massively limited scope to be outside their own homes since the middle of March inevitably have an overwhelming desire for a change of scenery. However, this is not a universal permission and policy, and restricted zones still exist across France, and indeed many local governments, even in the less-infected “green regions” are enforcing the continuation of heavy trading restrictions and forced closures of accommodation providers. But where these rules do not apply, the flood gates have opened and demand, all from customers within the 100km radius, has been significant. Also worthy of note is that the average length of stay has seen a dramatic increase for this time of year.

That’s not to say that this is return to normal times for these accommodation owners. French hospitality organisations have had a massive increase in questions about sanitation, personal responsibility and uniform industry standards on cleanliness and contact that the UK accommodation businesses will need to be prepared for when lockdown restrictions are relaxed. As of today, these restrictions haven’t been totally clarified in France, and only “best practice” guides from local tourism authorities exist online. Some of the leading booking platforms and websites for this sub sector are advising “safety gaps” between customers of, for example, 24 hours to allow any surfaces to become less likely to cross contaminate in the future. What is apparent from discussions with French hospitality businesses is that there is an increased desire for customers to have  “direct online contact” with the service rather than through  online booking platforms.  This could be a welcome shift in attitude as this not only allows peace of mind for the customer, but also less commissions for the business owner to pay to the booking platforms which have come under much public criticism and scrutiny of late because of their high charges. One of the French businesses I’ve talked to has had an 800% increase in Facebook messages, their analytics has shown an increase in both mobile and desktop visitors to their website and the number of emails has increased by over 200% compared to last year.

The B&B (Chambres d’hote) and Hotel sector have reported an uphill challenge. With a mix of different guests under their roofs, all with potentially varying attitudes to respecting the new government guidelines, this poses a significant threat to their short- and medium-term existence. However, those that can offer genuine space, especially outside, have a clear advantage over those that cannot. Going from one restrictive box to another isn’t likely to be a great draw for the new discerning needs of the Covid-19 era traveller.  Forced confinement has brought about a new desire to be out and about in nature, and burn off all those excessive calories consumed since March.

But with the high season fast approaching during which these businesses would traditionally run at maximum occupancy, the reality is that these organisations will be forced to not only give “buffers” in between guests checking out and the next ones checking in, but also run at a lower occupancy to ensure that interaction between different customers is minimized. Therefore “Making Hay whilst the sun shines” will this year inevitably bring about a lower yield, and reduce the vital cashflow which sustains many of these businesses during the quieter months. 

An example of changes implemented is the hotelier Tim Bell and Ingrid Boyer in the Auvergne region of Central France. Tim has developed their website to include a link to their Covid-19 guidance on their home page (see https://chabanettes.com/). This is updated on a regular basis and outlines their commitment to client’s safety.  He implements rapid alterations to its usual offerings and has created the foundations for business continuity and customer confidence.  He has also set up a Facebook forum for like minded accommodation owners in Europe seeking support and advice. Tim collates industry data, statistics and best practice ideas from all over the accommodation sector and share his opinions and advice with the group.

The sector in which he operates is having to rethink more radically about its traditional services to ensure competitivity and customer confidence. This ranges from the provision of catering which is leaning initially more towards a “Room Service” culture to a complete overhaul of the check-in/check-out customer touch points, looking to technology and globally recognised physical safety barriers to reduce risk of viral spread. For an industry which relies heavily on close, personal contact for their reputation and overall experience, keeping a balance between customer satisfaction and safety is proving challenging, but not impossible. Clients now expect a more sterile and distanced world, with supermarkets leading the way in some innovation and rethinking of the customer journey that the hotels are learning from, such as one-way corridors.

Until the world is safely vaccinated against the virus, the accommodation industry will have to adapt quickly and radically to guidelines, legislation and customer fears. History has told us that businesses that do this will have the best chance of survival, and those that don’t not only fear a downturn in business, but also a very visible online reputation for ignoring what is now the number one priority for the 2020 traveller – Safety.