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Small Business: Getting Back to Business

Small Business: Getting Back to Business

Luke Hamilton

In March 2019 the Minister for Employment and Small Business, Shannon Fentiman MP released a media statement declaring that small business contributed $113 billion to the Queensland economy and employed 44% of the private sector workforce.

Twelve months later, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit with restrictions forced upon many small businesses requiring them to close their doors and stand down employees. The loss of income for employees and business owners had immediate impact on the economy and the welfare system.

Both the Federal and State Governments announced stimulus packages aimed at saving jobs and keeping businesses afloat, including; Cash Flow Boost, Apprentice rebates, JobSeeker, JobKeeper, and JobMaker. In addition, concessions and deferrals on tax obligations and grants were made available for small business. These stimulus packages were all designed to help small business and employees effected by COVID-19 shutdowns.

In May 2020, the Queensland Government released a roadmap to recovery outlining a three-stage plan to open up businesses again, as well as customer limitations to help limit the COVID-19 spread. All businesses are required to have a Work Health and Safety Plan in place with strategies to manage their COVID-19 risk, and those identified as having a high risk of transmission are subject to mandatory COVID Safe Checklists, and mandatory COVID Safe Training.

As restrictions ease, small business will need to be flexible and adapt with change. Businesses and employees working together to ensure safe workplaces and practices are adhered to.  Considerations for preparing to come back to work, may include:

  • Staggered starting times for employees to avoid congestion on public transport

  • Cycling or walking to work to eliminate public transport congestion and maintaining social distancing

  • People working from home where possible to avoid travelling, and to reduce workplace numbers

  • COVID Safe training for employees of high-risk businesses such as hospitality and tourism

Bringing employees back to work carries additional challenges for maintaining a safe working environment, and it is important businesses consider changes that may be required within the workplace, including:

  • Hot-desking may no longer be an option, or may require additional sanitising procedures

  • Cleaning and sanitising requirements for high-touch, shared amenities such as kitchens and bathrooms, handrails and escalators, public spaces such as restaurants and cafes

  • Increased use of video meetings, replacing face-to-face meetings

  • Online training to replace seminars and conferences

  • Reorganisation of workplaces to ensure safe distancing measures are met

  • Restrictions on patron numbers within designated areas at restaurants, gymnasiums and other places with large gatherings

Some longer term impacts to the workplace may lead to broader changes for infrastructure needs:

  • Decentralisation of the workforce to reduce congestion in the CBD could lead to lack of demand for office space

  • Flexible working hours could impact public transport and scheduling of services, requiring additional ore fewer services

  • Lack of public transport infrastructure in suburban areas could lead to more people driving, or create the need for additional infrastructure projects to fill gaps

  • If more people cycle to work, bike lanes and cycle paths would require changes to current road conditions or build new pathways

  • Flexible working hours could lead to increased utility costs due to offices opening for longer hours

The impact to consumers may be more than just physical changes, however the changes required for business to continue trading in the changing environment will result in higher costs, ultimately passed on to consumers. Airlines for example have suggested removing the middle seat from passenger planes, thereby reducing the number of seats to absorb the costs of providing flights. Restrictions on numbers of patrons on premises for retail and hospitality will restrict the earning ability of the business.  How businesses adapt to these changes without alienating their customers and keeping profitable will be the key to survival in the long run.

The change in consumer patterns bring about further changes to which businesses must adapt.  Online shopping has become even more popular as it allows for consumers to shop safely from their own homes. The demand for contactless payment and delivery is now expected. This online shift will likely require less retail space, and cause a shift in employment from service to delivery.

As a business owner it is vital that you keep abreast of the changing times, surround yourself with dedicated and professional staff and advisers.  They will be the key to your survival in this changing world.