Chiene + Tait: Kiwis offer post-lockdown lessons for UK business

David Shadwell, accounts and business support partner at accountants Chiene + Tait, recently returned to the UK after spending nine years in Wellington, New Zealand. He details the lessons Scottish businesses can learn from New Zealand as we begin the process of coming out of lockdown.

David Shadwell

Before recently returning home to take on a new role in the UK, I spent the last decade living and working as an adviser in New Zealand. The country has taken a robust approach in managing through the coronavirus pandemic and is now providing some useful insights into how businesses here might eventually emerge from the current lockdown restrictions.

New Zealand’s public health strategy appears to have been immensely successful with fewer than 1500 confirmed cases and only 21 deaths from Covid-19 to date. The country is now several steps ahead of the UK in coming out of lockdown as it progressed into Alert Level 2 last week with a further easing of social restrictions.

As the UK begins to slowly emerge from its own lockdown, there are a number of useful insights that businesses here can take from the New Zealand experience.

Under New Zealand’s previous stage of Alert Level 3, there were restrictions to keep workers safe and limit interaction with customers to prevent the further spread of COVID-19.

Here in the UK, businesses should now be assessing their ability to meet these restrictions and operate safely. They must follow UK Government guidance which prevents most businesses from operating where close physical contact is unavoidable.

Retail and hospitality businesses need to consider how they can facilitate contactless customer collections on their premises if they want to be allowed to reopen in the early post- lockdown stages. Ensuring strict hygiene measures are put in place will also be essential.

As UK construction and manufacturing employers will have already experienced after Boris Johnson announced on 10 May they could return to work the following day, events in New Zealand also suggest that businesses won’t get much notice about changes to lockdown measures. New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave her country only two days’ notice before entering into its latest phase of Alert Level 2.

Just as New Zealand businesses have been self-assessing their ability to meet the restrictions and operate safely, employers in the UK will need to carry out similar coronavirus risk assessments before allowing staff back to work.

Businesses here are likely to be required to encourage home-working and staggering shifts to prevent buses and trains being overwhelmed. Staggered shift times should also improve social distancing inside offices where employers must keep staff two metres apart. It may be necessary to use floor tape or physical barriers to set out appropriate spacing. Additionally, providing more parking spaces may be necessary to avoid employees sharing cars.

Even with UK Government guidelines in place, every business will need to make some judgment calls on these matters. This is the ideal time for UK businesses to make such assessments as it will ensure they can be better prepared once they get the green light to reopen their operations.

Public health in the UK has been much more profoundly affected by COVID-19 compared with New Zealand. We can, however, take heart from how our antipodean friends are emerging from social restrictions and getting their businesses back on track.

While companies here are understandably keen to get back to normal as quickly as possible, it’s also important for employers to recognise that the pace of change has been turbocharged since the middle of March. Many employees will now want to permanently change the way they work as millions will have discovered a productivity boost gained from fewer social interruptions.

Going forward, businesses here should keep an open mind on the potential benefits of allowing their staff to work in a different manner. This is one of the many opportunities that UK businesses can grasp as we enter a new, post-lockdown era.

  • Read all of our articles relating to COVID-19 here.

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