Business

OPINION | Ready for lockdown? A last-minute checklist for businesses

As we heard from the President on Tuesday, from midnight tonight,
there will be a nationwide lockdown. Initially, this is set to last 21
days. 

As of Wednesday 25 March, South Africa had 709 confirmed
cases of coronavirus. More worryingly, since the first case was detected on 5
March, new infections have doubled every few days. If this continues, there
will be hundreds of thousands of cases by mid-April.

The ‘social distancing’ measures announced by the President
will save lives. However, as he acknowledged, the economic implications are
dire.

So how should individual businesses respond to the outbreak
and prepare for lockdown?

If you haven’t already prepared for your workplace to close,
you should do so urgently.

For some traders, such as restaurants and bars, this will
mean shutting down their business.

Others will have the capacity to continue working
throughout. This requires that employees are equipped to work remotely. Among
other things, staff need clear
guidelines and access to the right technology
.

If you provide an essential service, ensure you have met all
the administrative requirements, including preparing signed letters for all affected
employees certifying their status as essential workers, as per government
regulations.

While there’s still time, test the IT systems that you rely
on when staff are working from home. A good way to do this is a trial run, with
IT on hand to sort out technical issues. 

The president has announced a range of measures aimed at
cushioning the economic blow inflicted by Covid-19.

This includes the establishment of a Solidarity Fund.
Government will seed the fund with an initial R150 million donation. Otherwise,
it will be constituted by contributions from the private sector. The fund will
be applied to compliment government efforts to fight the virus and support
those whose lives are disrupted.

Businesses interested in donating to the fund can find
information at www.solidarityfund.co.za
or by calling 0860 001 001.

The government also announced support for business,
including:

If your business is affected, you should look into what
support is available. If you’re eligible, be sure to put in an early
application.

As the
Economist’s Bartleby column
pointed out this week, it’s in a crisis that
business leaders really show their mettle.

This is no time to hang back and hope for the best. You need
to communicate clearly and proactively with both customers and staff.

Outline your plans to navigate the economic downturn and
reassure both audiences that you have the financial capacity to survive. Staff,
in particular, will be concerned. Some soothing words will help boost morale.

From an economic perspective, we are entering uncharted
territory.

So far, governments have responded well. Major economies
have announced substantial fiscal stimulus. Central banks are likewise using
monetary policy to prevent capital markets freezing up.

But make no mistake about the challenge ahead. With commerce
effectively shut down for a period that could last six months or more, the risk
is that the global economy will spiral into a prolonged depression.

Individual businesses will experience a massive blow to
revenues. As cash flow dries up, rents and wages will be just the first of many
obligations businesses will struggle to meet.

It’s in no one’s interest for otherwise viable companies to
go under. The only way this can be prevented is through a mixture of government
support and cooperation between businesses and their financiers to defer
obligations.

Nathalie Schooling is CEO of Customer Experience Company nlighten. Views expressed are her own.

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