One in five SMEs worry COVID restrictions could return soon

Business confidence

Confidence among Britain’s SMEs remains strong with almost eight out of ten saying they are expecting a boost in trade over the coming three months now that most COVID restrictions have been lifted.

A survey also found that a significant number of SMEs are concerned about the continued impact of coronavirus on their business, with one in five worried that COVID restrictions could be brought back in the coming three months.

This rose to more than a quarter of businesses in the leisure and entertainment sector.

The impact of COVID remains a constant theme amongst SMEs. The survey found that 24% of firms plan to purchase more protective equipment for their staff over the next three months, while 18% plan to spend on protective measures for customers.

Top of the shopping list was new equipment and IT, selected by 24% of SMEs; new stock and equipment, cited by 21% of firms; and new products and services, chosen by 19% of SMEs.

Jason Oakley, CEO of Recognise Bank, who commissioned the research, said: “SMEs have weathered a tough and unpredictable 18 months and while their confidence continues to stay strong, the shadow of COVID remains a constant concern and a risk to their businesses.

“We cannot underestimate the importance of the role UK SMEs will play in getting our economy back on an even keel, so they need all the support they can get, whether it’s customers using their local businesses more, or increased support and guidance from the financial sector to provide them with the funding they require.”

Commenting on the survey findings, Sridhar Iyengar, Managing Director, Zoho Europe said: “Whilst UK business has good reason to be optimistic about future economic prosperity, we must acknowledge that the battle with Covid-19 is far from over and will continue to impact businesses. The UK government has already demonstrated a propensity to make fast U-turn decisions around lockdown policy and Covid-19 restrictions, which have impacted SMEs, so concern about restrictions potentially returning is understandable and employers should be ready for any such scenario.

“It is key that employers liaise with staff to understand their concerns, and ensure that a potential return to the office is developed in the right way while protecting them from Covid risk. One of the most popular solutions will be a hybrid working model, which sees employees return to the office on a part-time, or rotational basis until the risk of Covid diminishes. A hybrid working model also brings benefits of cost and time efficiency enabled by remote working and flexibility for workers, while also enabling some level of human interaction, which has been sorely missed by many during the pandemic, and can contribute significantly to workplace wellbeing.

“Even if the UK faces no more pandemic-related setbacks, the right cloud-enabled technology is imperative to help businesses adapt to the new business models gaining traction over the last two years. This includes new trends in remote and hybrid working, an increased dependency on AI-enabled automation of backroom tasks, and demand for data-based insights acquired via user-friendly business intelligence platforms.”