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What happens after furlough

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What happens after furlough

By Donna Bulmer, Managing Partner of Haines Watts North East and Yorkshire.

The Chancellor Rishi Sunak will next week announce plans to potentially wind furlough support down for businesses from July. This comes in contrast to growing fears of spiralling unemployment and company bankruptcies in the summer. It certainly raises some interesting questions for businesses on the decisions that need to be made going forward.

If the Government’s £40bn job retention scheme, which runs until the end of June is not extended in its current form, the six million furloughed staff at around 140,000 UK companies will need to know what comes next. While we certainly need to avoid a cliff-edge moment where support is ended suddenly, there are a number of issues that businesses should consider now.

Engaging employees 

It’s vital for business owners to engage with their furloughed workforce so they are ready to return to the workplace. Savvy businesses will have already put in place digital measures, such as MS Teams or Skype chats, to ensure members of the team feel able to ‘pick up where they left off’. A strong, positive and inclusive culture is the glue that holds any business together and your workforce should know you’re thinking about them.

You should ensure you have good contact details for all furloughed staff and that you engage with them via calls, emails and virtual meetings regularly. There will be more challenges along the way as some employees may need shielding, others will be vulnerable. There are also those who have caring responsibilities.

A phased return 

Donna Bulmer

Donna Bulmer

Companies such as Nissan in Sunderland have recently announced plans for a phased return to the workplace. This comes after work was suspended seven weeks ago resulting in 7,000 workers being furloughed. Business owners will no doubt watch with interest to see how the roll-out of this, and other phased returns, work as they could very well act as a blueprint to other companies.

The term ‘phased return to work’ offers a gradual build-up to normal working hours and this could mean anything from a couple of hours to a few days a week. Any solutions put in place now by business owners need to be flexible and well planned, including regular reviews of the arrangement.

Both employers and employees could benefit from a phased and agreed return to work. However, it is vital that business owners keep the lines of communication open with workers. This will ensure skilled staff feel valued as part of the process and it could potentially help keep recruitment costs down in the long-term.

As part of any phased return, business owners will need to ensure social distancing measures are in place. This might mean spacing workstations and angling them away from each other. You might also need to stagger lunch-breaks to avoid gatherings and organise for more cleaning measures to be put in place. PPE will also be needed for a lot of social interaction.

Action plan around furlough

Business owners need a plan of action now to help with unfurloughing members of their team. There is no harm in revisiting the original written agreement that was made with employees when they agreed to be furloughed. While the detail is still being confirmed, issues such as a notice periods might arise.

Do you need to restructure or make redundancies? 

Many businesses have reported significant pressure on their cashflow as a result of the coronavirus outbreak. What will your cashflow, work flow and staffing requirements be after furlough ends? You need to plan what your staffing needs will be when things start to return to normal.

Furlough leave was brought in to help struggling businesses retain staff they will need in the future when they are in a position to rebuild, rather than making them redundant. However, when the Government scheme ends, businesses across industries, but particularly those in the hardest hit sectors such as retail, leisure and hospitality sectors, are still likely to experience financial hardship, it’s inevitable.

Business owners need to be prepared that they might need to restructure and or redeploy employees to different roles within the business. It is worth thinking about how many possible redundancies you will need to make and from which groups of staff and how and when you will consult with them about this. It’s also prudent as part of the unfurloughing decision to consider if you will be able to keep all those people in work and on what basis.

While there is plenty of information available on furloughing workers, there is not yet any guidance provided by Government on unfurloughing them. Whatever decision you come to, you need to be mindful of employment legislation and contract terms and conditions.

There has been much speculation as to what the Government will announce next in terms of people returning to work. For now, business owners will need to use their best judgment until we have more clarity on the situation.

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Optimum Finance bolsters its offering in three regions with two new sales directors and commercial director promotion

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Optimum Finance bolsters its offering in three regions with two new sales directors and commercial director promotion 1

Leading invoice finance provider and fintech firm Optimum Finance has appointed two regional sales directors to fulfil the funding needs of SMEs across three UK regions alongside the promotion of Lynn-Marie Jameson to commercial director.

Kelvin Thomas joins the business as regional sales director for Wales and the West and Iain Hendry as regional sales director for the South East.

Kelvin and Iain take up their roles as Optimum Finance embarks on its new growth journey following the appointment last month of fintech expert, Anthony Persse, as new CEO.

The new appointments come off the back of a period of strong growth for the firm which funded over £100m worth of invoices and reported a growth in clientele of 56% in 2019.

Kelvin joins Optimum finance with over 25 years’ industry experience. Having previously held positions as sales director at ABN AMRO Commercial Finance and Eurofactor – Credit Agricole. He is accustomed to delivering strategic regional plans and working within the SME sector to deploy cutting-edge funding solutions.

In his role at Optimum he will be overseeing sales activity in Wales and the West, helping drive Optimum’s bespoke services to those SMEs which need financial support.

With vast experience and knowledge of the South East invoice finance market, Iain is no stranger to working with companies to provide funding options which support business owners. Having worked for Santander, Ultimate Finance and most recently commercial director of Innovation Finance, his industry knowledge is extensive.

When asked about his role, Kelvin said: “Joining the Optimum Finance team has been fantastic. I am enjoying getting to know the portfolio of businesses we work with and how we can help them.

“I am incredibly excited to be focused on expanding Optimum’s offering across Wales and the West delivering strategic plans, deal origination, business development and overseeing mixed asset and product strategies. I’m really looking forward to engaging with SME’s and creating funding solutions for them”

Iain comments on his role: “Given the current circumstances it has never been more important for SMEs to consider invoice finance to support their long-term financial health. In the past I have been part of a team which has provided SMEs with funding solutions to improve cashflow and I am excited to continue to offer this as part of the Optimum Finance team.”

Anthony Persse, CEO at Optimum Finance said: “We are pleased to welcome Kelvin and Iain and to announce the promotion of Lynn-Marie to commercial director. We have an exceptionally strong team in place as well as the drive and tenacity to provide quality, bespoke funding solutions to UK SMEs as they forge ahead in uncertain times.”

For information on the latest job opportunities at Optimum Finance, keep an eye out on https://optimumfinance.co.uk/ or contact the team at [email protected].

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What The Pandemic Has Taught Us About Remote Work

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What The Pandemic Has Taught Us About Remote Work 2

By Anthony Lamoureux, Strategy and Development Director at Velocity Smart Technology

Before the turn of the decade – which already feels like it was at least a few millennia ago – remote working was something of a fringe professional concept. While nice in theory, many established businesses thought it might create more headaches than it was worth and, as such, was best left to the agile young start-ups who could afford to throw out the traditional corporate playbook.

While some forward-leaning businesses might have given employees the odd day to work from home, it was far from the norm. How could they be sure those employees would really get any work done? And without the watchful eye of middle management, what’s stopping them from turning a coffee break into an afternoon down the pub?

But one global pandemic later, and things are very different. Practically overnight, businesses no longer had the luxury of toying with the idea as a far-off possibility – they either had to adapt to a remote workforce or close shop altogether.

Has it been the unproductive mess many feared? Quite the opposite.

The revolution happened on a Zoom call

Not only are employees able to stay safe and socially distance – they’re often more productive, happier, and have more disposable income with less travel and eating out. This shouldn’t really come as a surprise, as studies have made the case for remote working for some time. A 2018 study by FlexJobs found that 65% of respondents were more productive when working from home, while a 2019 report by Owl Labs notes that 80% of remote workers are happy with their job, compared to 55% of on-site workers.

Businesses themselves are also realising the benefits of a remote workforce can lower their costs. Office space in London is the most expensive in the world – coming in at around 500 pounds per square foot per year for a prime location – so if having a grand central office isn’t as necessary as we’ve been all led to believe, CFOs will be placing that expense under increasing scrutiny. As Forbes contributor Amar Hussain affirms, the cost-saving implications of remote workers alone make it a huge draw.

With 73% of people in the UK believing that flexible working is the new normal, and future pandemics all but guaranteed, business leaders and IT directors need to ask themselves a few important questions. Is their workforce sufficiently equipped for remote productivity? Are they prepared for the challenges unique to this paradigm? What other parts of their business operations might be holding their business back? How can they ensure all remaining employee contact is COVID-19 secure?

Staying one step ahead of remote working challenges

Increased reliance on technology is the standout challenge of the new remote-working world. When every employee needs a functioning laptop and steady internet connection to connect with their peers and fulfil the bare minimum of their duties, they’re one technological hiccup away from grinding to an unproductive, radio-silent halt.

Remote tech support is nothing new, but it has unavoidable limitations. If an employee infects their machine with malware, a remote technician should easily be able to take control of the machine and remedy the situation without ever having to be in close proximity with the hardware or the click-happy employee. However, this technique is actually abused by scammers who trick their victims into installing a Remote Administration Tool that gives them free reign over their files, passwords, and other valuable info – so always err on the side of caution.

But when the hardware itself is the issue, many remote tech support solutions feel sorely out-dated. Say a member of your team accidentally knocks their work laptop off their makeshift balcony workstation. It falls 6 storeys and, against all odds, doesn’t survive intact. Now begins the long and arduous process of making contact with the tech team, handing in the broken machine and waiting for a replacement.

Even today, this kind of issue takes on average 2.9 days to resolve, and when that employee depends on their laptop for all their work, you’re looking at nearly three whole days of wasted time that will inevitably have an impact on the company’s bottom line.

Contactless IT support empowers the remote workforce

Thankfully, remote IT solutions exist that enable businesses to provide IT equipment to employees at all hours of the day – while meeting social distancing guidelines and ensuring devices are disinfected and collected safely. Smart Locker solutions allow employees to replace their IT assets within an hour, without having to deal with an IT technician or wait days for a workable machine. And with COVID-19 Secure features that include a Device Disinfect Check and Device Quarantine, employees can rest assured that their exposure to unwelcome pathogens is kept to the absolute minimum.

So what has the coronavirus pandemic taught us about remote working? In a nutshell, it’s here to stay. For a company to thrive in this new paradigm, it needs to evolve how it gives support to its remote employees to ensure they’re equipped and capable to give their all.

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The art of change management for finance and accounting teams

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The art of change management for finance and accounting teams 3

By Magali Michael, Director at Yooz

The Covid-19 crisis has had a dual impact on businesses across the world.

On one hand, existing projects such as remote working and new forms of teamwork were forced to accelerate. On the other hand, it highlighted some of the downsides of not moving forward with change, including losing customers and experiencing heightened competitive pressure.

Digital transformation has become an inescapable reality, but for the better. As American investor Warren Buffet once said, “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.”

2020 has forced digital transformation within almost all business functions, including finance departments that have lagged somewhat on digital initiatives, tending to focus more generally on marketing and the client experience.

According to Gartner, the health crisis has motivated almost 70% of board directors to accelerate their digital transformation strategies.

In finance and accounting, communication and teamwork (44%) and technology and infrastructure (31%) are among the main challenges according to a Blackline survey.  More than eight out of ten professionals also expect to see faster digital adoption as a side-effect of the crisis.

The reality of digital transformation is far more complicated. There are as many different digital transformations as there are companies, with widely diverse contexts, strategies, constraints, and complexities found within each organization.

However, three key words are commonly found in any digital strategy: technology, organisational, and human.

Three pillars of digital transformation

Each common feature has its own levels of complexity and unique challenges. It is therefore necessary to combine several facets, ranging from the easiest (technology can be brought into a company) to the less easy (existing organizations need to evolve) and arguably the most difficult (integrating human factors).

By definition, people’s behaviour varies. Uses, corporate culture, and corporate values must adapt constantly, so change management concerning people is very clearly a key piece of the puzzle.

Still, it is a difficult mission because the transversal aspects required for digital transformation directly confront people’s individualism. Change can cause anxiety and worry regarding employment, skills, and collaboration methods – think back to the histeria around AI taking people’s jobs.

Companies that experience the greatest difficulties carrying out their digital transformation are those that consider digital transformation above all to be a technology project that people will follow.

McKinsey has observed that 70% of companies fail to reach their objectives, while Forrester puts it at around 60%.

Based on the three key principles, we can predict that the success of a digital transformation process is only 10% based on technology tools, 40% based on organizational adaptation and 50% on effective change management.

In other words, professional expertise and soft skills (non-technical skills related to how people work) weigh heavily in the functional richness of a given technology solution, however high-performance the solution may be.

American economist Gary Hamel provides a good summary of the pitfalls facing companies when it comes  to change:

“Today’s organizations were simply never designed to change proactively and deeply—they were built for discipline and efficiency, enforced through hierarchy and routinization.” 

The majority of organisations could not efficiently adapt to external shocks that force rapid change, such as a serious and sudden global health crisis, as change is considered in most companies as a simple interruption of the status quo, often imposed by upper management.

In order of importance, analysts at Gartner identified five barriers blocking change: risk aversion, poor management quality, directors’ approach, lack of commitment by employees, and employees’ lack of trust in the overall vision.

How can businesses receive ‘quick wins’?

The first step is to avoid underestimating the challenge. Be aware of the problem, particularly regarding an approach overly focused on technology to the detriment of usage, cultural issues, and human factors.

It is also important to question why digital transformation is not generating the expected results. Failure to succeed may be related to the specifics of both corporate culture and individuals, with their values and beliefs, and these aspects must be identified to distinguish those that pose a problem from those that are likely to boost the process in the right direction.

As Edgar Shein, professor of management at MIT, put it: “Culture is the primary source of resistance to change. It is therefore necessary to focus simultaneously on the environment, beliefs, and behaviors.”

The next principle is to set a clear direction to avoid improvisation and leverage existing features and available resources. This involves knowing how to find benefit in the unexpected, which can be used as a strength instead of a constraint.

The third principle is that it is wise to take on work projects that allow rapid deployment, while generating strong visibility, immediate benefits, and driving behaviors and practices forward.

For example, in the finance function, that is exactly what happens with accounts payable (AP) automation, which combines low levels of investment in terms of time and budget, especially when using Software-as-a-Service.

AP Automation brings maximum exposure concerning many processes with solutions that are simple to deploy. User satisfaction rises thanks to the elimination of time-consuming tasks, coupled with better understanding of daily gains.

Change is also generally more welcomed and accepted with this approach, as it reduces concern within the business and presents the transformation in a positive light – notably by saying goodbye to time-consuming and demotivating tasks with little added value while encouraging people to step safely outside their comfort zone.

All-in-all, management consultant Tom Peters  summarizes the stakes of change management perfectly: “Change is about recruiting allies and working each other up to have the nerve to try the next experiment.”

Change comes from within

There’s no doubt that digital transformation is a hugely complex task for businesses and finance departments, but by having a clear vision for the end-stage and implementing gradually after strategic planning will help get every member of your team moving in the same direction.

However, there must always be room for flexibility. To view digital transformation as a success, employees have to embrace change, so make sure that everyone in the company is on board to keep moving in the right direction.

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