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How to manage staff working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak

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How to manage staff working from home during the COVID-19 outbreak

By Francesca Mundy, Lawyer and Senior Legal Editor at Sparqa Legal

The outbreak of a new coronavirus (COVID-19) has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation. In the UK, the Government declared a ‘moment of national emergency’ when it introduced a police-enforced lockdown, requiring people to keep their distance from each other in response to the pandemic.

Among the new measures announced by the Government, numerous non-essential businesses have been forced to close and businesses are now required to ensure that their staff are working from home wherever possible.

Whilst some businesses will be used to managing staff who work from home, for others this will be new territory. Businesses will need to adapt quickly in order to ensure business continuity in such unprecedented times. To help, we’ve pulled together some key considerations businesses may need to address.

Put in place an official home working policy 

Francesca Mundy

Francesca Mundy

Businesses are not legally required to have an official home working policy, however it’s best practice to put one in place so that both you and your staff are aware of what is expected of them during this uncertain time. It will also help to ensure that all staff members are treated consistently and that you avoid claims of unfair treatment or discrimination.

For businesses that already have a home working policy, it is important to check that it is fit for purpose considering the current circumstances. If any changes are required, make sure to notify all your staff of the amendments.

Conduct a health & safety risk assessment 

As an employer, you still have health and safety responsibilities towards your staff whether they are in the workplace or at home. Whilst home working is likely to be low risk, you still need to carry out a risk assessment on the suitability of your staff member’s home working space.

Considering recent Government measures, it will be inappropriate and impractical for you to carry out a risk assessment at your staff member’s home, so consider asking them to send a photo of their workstation instead.

Consider offering flexible working 

Nurseries, schools and colleges across the country closed on 20th March 2020 until further notice. This means that many of your staff may now be caring for their children whilst working from home.

There are different options open to your staff. Some may choose to use their annual leave to cover childcare, whilst others might be entitled to parental leave or leave to care for their dependants. Employers can also offer affected staff members a flexible working arrangement to help them to manage their responsibilities as a parent and employee. For example, you could allow your staff to spread their workload across more days in the week, or you could agree to reduce or alter their core hours. Given the current uncertainty, it may be appropriate to deal with flexible working requests on an informal and temporary basis.

Bear in mind that, if staff are not able to work because of childcare responsibilities, you may be able to place them on furlough leave and claim a proportion of their wages under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme. HMRC’s portal is now open for claims, which can be backdated to dates from 1 March 2020 to cover staff who have been on unpaid leave since then.

Check your insurance coverage 

Employer’s liability insurance should already extend to homeworkers as standard practice, but you will need to check the wording of your policy to confirm this. You will also need to make sure that any business equipment you have provided to your staff is covered by your insurance when it’s off your premises.  Note that you are not legally obliged to provide any equipment to your staff whilst they are working from home, but if you do, make sure you clarify which items will be provided and on what terms in your home working policy.

It is important to note that your staff members will also need to check that their own insurance policies cover working from home.

Protect your confidential information 

The security of confidential information and personal data can be difficult to supervise when your staff are working from home, but your data protection standards must be upheld. Make sure that your data protection policy is up to date and decide whether it is necessary to carry out a Data Protection Impact Assessment before allowing homeworkers to process any personal data.

Staff should also be reminded of their confidentiality and data protection obligations, and, if appropriate, you should consider providing additional training on how to securely store and transmit information.

Communicate effectively with your staff

Whilst your staff members are working from home it is crucial to build a relationship of trust and to establish clear lines of communication as you will not be able to have the same day-to-day visibility over their work. Set guidelines for checking in so staff members know how and when they are expected to be in contact with you.

You should also manage staff performance consistently and in accordance with your usual policies and procedures. If you foresee any departures from this, or if you need to alter how you assess performance, make sure this is communicated clearly to your staff to avoid any confusion.

Ensure employee wellbeing 

When staff work from home, it can be difficult to maintain the boundaries between work and home life. You should remind staff that they are not expected to work beyond their contractual hours and to take regular breaks during the day. Not only are they legally entitled to breaks, but they can help provide structure to the day and support their wellbeing.

Make sure you also keep in regular contact with your staff to see how they are coping. This can prevent your staff from feeling disconnected and ease any feelings of isolation whilst they are working from home with fewer daily interactions.

Business

5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year

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5 steps for SMEs to budget properly for the coming year 1

By Fabio Comminot, Head of Dealing, Switzerland at Ebury, one of Europe’s largest Fintechs, has provided a five-step guide to make sure budgeting is done on time.

During the challenging times of COVID-19, it is difficult to forecast orders and costs. This is especially true for SMEs that operate internationally and therefore are exposed to currency fluctuations and market movements. So budgeting is immensely important.

Autumn is budget season for most companies. Upcoming project costs, sales and fixed costs must be defined or forecasted. Budget planning should be as accurate as possible right from the start of the process to avoid unexpected consequences at the end of the year..

With the effects of the COVID pandemic it has become difficult for all companies, no matter their size or history, to plan and make sales forecasts. Early planning and hedging are especially important for companies that work internationally and are therefore particularly exposed to currency risk.

These five steps will help SMEs take the right measures for the coming financial year, in time for budget season:

Step 1: Estimate your costs or sales in foreign currencies 

As difficult as it may seem, every company must estimate its expected fixed and variable costs for the coming year. Most companies can forecast their revenues based on experience or existing orders.

However, start-ups or young companies should also be able to at least estimate their costs including rents, insurance, wages and production costs. Special attention should be paid to costs or revenues that are spent or received in a foreign currency.

Step 2: Profit or cost assurance – define the strategy

As soon as an approximate plan for the coming year is in place, the company should consider the importance of currency management. Regular earnings or expenditures in foreign currencies are exposed to movements in exchange rates. If costs in a foreign currency are to be forecasted until the end of the year, the company needs to minimise volatility. This means that the exchange rate should be fixed so that there are no unexpected negative consequences at the end of the year.

Another option would be to protect the operating profit. Fluctuating exchange rates can rapidly ruin intended profit margins. In this case the company could aim to define the forecasted sales in the foreign currency and fix the margin based on this.

Step 3: Fix your budget rates 

The budget is set, the currency management goals are defined, the major part is done. Now it is a matter of defining the budgeted rates for the various currencies based on the current exchange rate. A buffer of about 5% can be useful when doing this – for example. instead of fixing the exchange rate from US dollar to Swiss franc at the current 91 cent, a rate of 95 cent could be budgeted. In this way, the minimum budget rate is defined and any negative exchange rate movement can be at least partially compensated for.

Step 4: Define the hedging strategy

With the targets and the budget course set, the next questions are: What currency developments can be expected? What is the industry outlook? Is the order situation relatively secure? Or is there practically no empirical data?

This step is where Ebury can support the company. Our experts in FX markets help answer these questions and begin to define the individual hedging strategy.

Step 5: Ensure a flexible fit

It’s done: the measures have been defined, now it’s time for implementation.

Ebury will implement the previous steps and , so that the company focuses on its core business. In contrast to traditional financial services providers such as banks, Ebury constantly monitors international trade and political events in order to assist clients with strategy adjustments. The Ebury team is supported by state-of-the-art technology and international currency analysts. It makes no difference whether the changes are driven by the currency market or whether the company’s order situation itself is changing. This allows the SME to focus on its operational business, which is worth a lot in uncertain times like these.

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Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year

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Nearly 14 Million1 UK adults more likely to spend on Black Friday than they were last year 2

Yolt launches evolved app to help shoppers save whilst they spend

  • Across the UK, consumers are set to spend £6.4bn on discount days
  • Despite the pandemic, 1 in 5 stated they would see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, revealing they will be likely to spend £240 more than they spent last year
  • Yolt today launches a brand-new evolution of the smart money app, which aims to help people save whilst they spend, saving a minimum of £416 a year
  • To help people spend smarter this Black Friday, the smart money app Yolt has a host of new features including round up functionality, and cashback offers with a wide range of retailers including John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s

New research* from Yolt, the award-winning smart money app, reveals that over a quarter (26%) of UK adults have said they are more likely to wait for discount days, such as Black Friday, to do their Christmas shopping than they were last year. In response to the pandemic and to help people shop smartly in the run up to the festive period, Yolt has launched a brand-new evolution of its app designed to help users to save whilst they spend. New features include the Yolt account and virtual Money Jar, as well as new cashback partnerships with the likes of John Lewis, Argos, Asos and Domino’s. The evolved smart money app can be used to save shoppers a minimum of £416** a year.

Despite the challenging economic climate, Yolt’s data insights from the first lockdown period in the UK showed that there were increases of up to 355% on spending in categories such as groceries, online clothing retailers, takeaways, and streaming and gaming services. On top of this, Yolt’s data revealed a change in consumers’ financial priorities – with many attempting to save in lockdown, but 65% not being successful in doing so. Therefore, to enable people to find the right balance in their efforts to save for any uncertainty that lies ahead, but also enjoy discount days such as Black Friday and festivities in the run up to Christmas, Yolt has launched a host of new features uniquely designed to help people save whilst they spend.

The evolved app comes at a time of challenging economic conditions, where more UK consumers are actively seeking discounts to try and balance the books this Christmas. Yolt’s research found that consumers across the UK spend an average £6.4bn on discount days such as Black Friday.

In total, over a third (35%) of UK adults said they would be looking to take advantage of upcoming discount days, with nearly one in five (18%) stating they do all their shopping for Christmas and birthdays on discount days and during sales. UK consumers said they tend to spend over £120 on days such as Black Friday and Cyber Monday, and surprisingly almost one in five (19%) state they will actually see an increase in their spending on Christmas this year, verses last year. Those expecting an increase revealed they will likely spend an average of £240 more on this Christmas when compared to last year.

Concerns around affording Christmas are perhaps leading more people to take advantage of Black Friday deals than in previous years. Almost four in ten (37%) don’t tend to set savings aside for Christmas, and almost a quarter (23%) said they are going to have to dip into savings that weren’t allocated for Christmas this year. Finding the right balance between spending and saving for future uncertainty is going to be an increasing challenge for people during the festive period.

Pauline van Brakel, Chief Product Officer at Yolt, comments: “Given the incredibly challenging times we are facing this year as a result of the pandemic; it’s perhaps unsurprising to see that people are more likely to wait until popular discount days such as Black Friday to help them to spend smart over the festive period.  Savvy spending in the run up to Christmas is always a good idea, and discount days can help ease what is for many a very expensive time of year – having said that, people should try not to overspend and risk getting themselves into debt.”

Pauline continues: “Finding the balance between spending and saving isn’t easy. And whilst it might seem like a difficult time to save right now it is also perhaps more important than ever. We’ve launched an evolved version of the Yolt app to help people save whilst they spend. The app enables people to spend smart by earning them cashback on their purchases at selected retailers and rounding purchases up to the nearest pound. Encouraging users to save is central to the app, not only by spending smartly but also by finding them competitive deals on their household bills and even spotting Christmas bonuses or refunds and prompting users to add them to their virtual savings jar.”

The new Yolt app is available from today, with full access to all UK users on iOS. Android will follow in 2021.

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday

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Christmas isn’t cancelled: European shoppers plan to spend more online this Black Friday 3
  • Half (52%) of European consumers plan to do Christmas shopping around holiday sales, including Black Friday, compared to previous years
  • 60% say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online
  • A third (34%) plan on leaving their Christmas shopping until the last minute in hope of securing bigger discounts

As Black Friday approaches, European consumers are not going to let a turbulent year spoil their Christmas. As shoppers continue to adapt to the changes caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, they are getting even savvier with their spending. New research from Kaspersky has found half (52%) plan to do more Christmas shopping around sales or shopping holidays, including Black Friday, compared to previous years. What’s more, a third (34%) plan on leaving it until the last minute in the hope of securing bigger discounts.

In a bid to enjoy Christmas while also adhering to COVID-19 social distancing measures, European consumers are focusing their attention away from physical stores to find their gifts. In fact, three-in-five (60%) say they are planning to do most of their Christmas shopping online. A fifth (20%) go as far as saying they will make all of their festive purchases online this year, despite not usually doing so.

With online sales set to rise, Kaspersky’s findings also indicate that most consumers are not expected to scale back on their Christmas spending – despite economic recessions across the continent. Only a quarter (26%) of consumers are planning to reduce their Christmas shopping budget this year by at least a third or more due to financial restrictions caused by COVID-19. However, this figure rises to 30% amongst 25 to 34-year-olds, the age group most widely affected by pandemic-related job cuts.

Yet, as the number of consumers bargain hunting online rises, so does the amount of risks being taken to secure big savings. Only 16% are not willing to exchange their personal data for online discounts – despite the potential of falling victim to fraudulent websites and sales scams.

“The festive period is always a big deal, and never more so than this year, as people seek to redress some of the chaos the pandemic has caused throughout 2020. It stands to reason that people are looking to do the majority of their sale shopping online in a bid to stay safe, as well as grab a bargain. But we must also consider that where the crowds go, the criminals follow. Just as pickpockets flock to crowded areas hoping to get lucky, cybercriminals will be looking at consumer shopping trends and trying to exploit people’s eagerness to grab a bargain and save some money. So, my advice would be that people do their research, follow some basic common sense measures when shopping and avoid getting swept up in the tidal wave of hype as we seek to remedy 2020 with a happy festive season. One thing to always bear in mind is that if it seems too good to be true, it probably is,” comments David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky.

Kaspersky warns bargain hunters to remain wary of potential Black Friday and festive season sales scams. If a deal looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Shop online with confidence this Christmas by following our advice on avoiding retail scams:

  • Only shop with legitimate online stores. It’s always safer to type in the address yourself, or select it from your bookmarks, rather than clicking on a link. Use your browser address bar to check if the website you are visiting is genuine and secure and that they carry the padlock or HTTPS
  • Complete purchases through secure payment methods. Pay with credit cards or robust payment services so that transactions remain protected
  • Verify discounts. If you receive a sales discount via email or text, check the sender and any web links are legitimate before you click
  • Keep your device software and applications up-to-date and protect all your devices with a reputable internet security product. Cybersecurity solutions with behaviour-based anti-phishing technologies, such as Kaspersky Total Security, can send your notifications if you are trying to visit a phishing web page
  • Manage your passwords. Password managers can help you shop with multiple retailers by safely storing your credentials, so they are unique for all of your online accounts
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