What does the Roadmap mean for business and hiring planning?

The new four-step plan to pull us out of lockdown, dubbed the ‘Roadmap’, is designed to bring cautiously optimistic hope.

Whilst the government has been keen to hammer home the fact it is cautious, we need to take the good news where we can get it. The gentle and hopeful crocuses and daffodils springing up around us in the earliest glimmers of spring sunshine, are giving us all a sense of anticipation for better times ahead.

The Roadmap is offering the same, and particularly businesses.

The Roadmap from a business perspective – Step 1
Dates for the Roadmap have largely been framed around society and individual members within it. Schools and colleges will return on Monday, 8 March. On 29 March you can enjoy those crocuses and daffodils in your own garden along with another household, or up to six people. At the same time, you could head out to some newly reopened outdoor sports facilities (even if outdoor swimming in March doesn’t quite float your boat).

This is Step 1. It doesn’t sound hugely relevant for businesses just yet. However, don’t underestimate the overall power of having a plan of attack. Just knowing we can get out of this is a confidence boost.

Also, don’t underestimate the impact on businesses of children going back to school. Parents working from home whilst juggling home-schooling haven’t just breathed a huge sigh of relief because the Kitchen Café will get some respite. They are also breathing a sigh of relief because they know that they can work with more focus and productivity. Parents who have been furloughed for childcare reasons can now come back.

In short, businesses are getting a large chunk of their workforce back without having their loyalties split in a painful juggling act where a pestering 7 year old will always win.

What about Step 2?
Step 2, which will happen no earlier than 12 April, definitely spells good news for businesses as we see more of the economy open once again. Non-essential retail can open up once more along with beauty salons and hairdressers. Hopefully being boosted by spring sunshine like we enjoyed in Lockdown 1, pubs and restaurants can welcome punters outside. Attractions, such as theme parks and zoos, as well as drive-in cinemas can open too.

For retail, hospitality and beauty industries, this is excellent news. Many of the industries hit hardest by the lockdown and the effects of the pandemic in general, can slowly grind their gears back into action. Nonetheless, with Rishi Sunak extending furlough to September, breathing space is still possible, whilst these sectors still have restrictions.

The wider economy is also likely to see Step 2 as an opportunity to move forwards. Many employers are expecting Step 2 to be when they feel more confident about bringing their workforce back into the office.

Spring, which is traditionally a good time for hiring, is always a time of optimism. Early indications are that the lockdown exit plan, combined with the successful vaccine programme roll-out, has already had a sizeable positive impact on business and hiring confidence.

Confidence matters
As we all know, confidence breeds confidence, and fear breeds fear. If businesses feel confident with what’s lying ahead, they will feed confidence in others, and likely self-drive growth and recovery.

However, whilst the Roadmap, and Steps 1 and 2 offer clear hope, it is, as we’re being told, cautious hope. Nonetheless, we need to accept that simply ‘faking it till we make it’ is going to be important for moving forwards. Businesses need to plan, and they need to do it from bedrock of hope.

What about Steps 3 and 4?
As Neil Carberry, Chief Executive of the REC, said in response to the Roadmap announcement: “June is a long way away.”

And that’s where business planning, and crucially, hiring plans, may start to flounder.

Step 3 won’t be with us until 17 May at the very earliest, when we may finally be able to kick the rule of six to the kerb, being allowed to meet up to 30 outdoors. Hospitality and entertainment will then also be able to reopen indoors.

Finally, Step 4 comes, at the earliest on June 21. Legal limitations on meetings will be lifted. But frankly, Steps 3 and 4 are looking distinctly blurry compared to Steps 1 and 2.

So, along with the warnings of caution, that does inject a sizeable aspect of the unknown in the very near future for businesses that are, understandably, still feeling jittery from the last year, and potentially holding onto the cliff edge by their fingernails.

The answer is to plan, with flexibility
Fundamentally, the Roadmap gives businesses a mixture of feelings. We’ve got CBI South West calling it a “good starting point”. Other business owners, such as Raoul Fraser, have said they are “extremely disappointed” with the Roadmap. Some are positively welcoming it with open arms, saying it’s vitally important that the government are being more restrained in their approach, and trying to take an “irreversible” route out of the quagmire of the pandemic.

Whatever your individual business position, we do need to be pragmatic. The Roadmap does offer a plan, even if it’s an elongated one with lots of caveats. And that means that businesses should start actively planning their own roadmap too. It is a long road ahead to recovery, but to recover, you need to plan.

It’s time to look with relative confidence to your hiring intentions, so that you are in a prime position to snap up the talent in a candidate-rich market. With the Budget support to employers too, with the extension to the furlough scheme and extended business rates holidays (until June and 75% after that), employers need to play their part in fuelling genuine economic momentum in the months ahead.

As you plan, plan in flexibility. For example, use temporary staff until the ground below you feels solid again. But don’t stagnate. The businesses that will thrive the fastest will be the ones which got their plans in gear to match the Roadmap.

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