As more and more of us return to work and businesses continue to open their doors back up, we take a moment to sit down with some members of our corporate team and get their thoughts and opinions on a selection of our clients frequently asked questions.
Our clients come from a range of organisations and we explore how businesses are preparing themselves for the future and longer term strategy.
How do you think the workplace and working culture will evolve going forward?
Employers are fitting into various categories whether that be on site, working from home, furlough or at risk of redundancy. Working from home (‘wfh’) has been a central topic of debate for many companies.
The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the, previously academic, concept of virtual working and turned it into an everyday norm for many of us. The lack of clear statutory guidance and the speed at which businesses have had to adapt has meant that we have seen a vast array of different approaches in implementation and execution. It is also dependent on the business in being flexible to the individual whilst still meeting the needs of the business and maintaining strong levels of workplace productivity.
While many traditional office-based businesses have opted for a split of some form, whether that be three days in the office and two ‘wfh’ (and every imaginable iteration thereafter), we have also seen some clients move towards an entirely virtual platform with a view to eliminating their office footprint all together. A vast array of articles and other literature have provided guidance and tips on eliminating distractions and other interferences to those who had swapped the traditional office environment for that of their own home office.
Regardless of what structure you opt for, it is important to take the time to prepare and implement a plan to meet your requirements while also being clear with employees on what is expected of them. The companies we have seen having the most success in this area, all have two things in common; they have all implemented clear policies on ‘wfh’ and they have all ensured that their culture and ethos has not been diluted as a result of implementing ‘wfh’.
If you have any concerns about workplace return, our employment solicitors work side by side with us to help businesses and employees achieve their goals in the most efficient and effective way possible. Contact us today.
Dom Szentpali, Solicitor | Corporate
As a result of the pandemic, are there any specific areas of commercial law that you think will be the subject of review or modernising?
The law regarding the signing of documents has a very rich and intricate history dating back centuries. However, it’s in need of reform if it’s to avoid hindering the modern way in which business is done.
A particular strength of the legal system of England and Wales is the principle of freedom of contract as it allows for legally binding relationships to be created using multiple methods, which also extends to documents executed using electronic signatures.
The problem arises when parties look to execute deeds and have certain documents witnessed. This particular topic has been the subject of uncertainty for a number of years as e-signing platforms continued to emerge. Fast forward to 2021 and e-signatures have become a mainstream means of executing documents across a range of business sectors, including finance and legal.
Although we have seen some progress in relation to clarifying the position, more needs to be done in order to find the right balance between modern convenience and legal formality to ensure that the execution process offers sufficient protection and authentication of signatories and witnesses while avoiding becoming overly burdensome.
What challenges do you think your business corporate clients will face in the coming months and year?
Despite a busy M&A market and retail continuing to exceed targets month on month, business owners should be using this opportunity to learn from the last year and take a critical look at the future of their business and plan accordingly.
The end of furlough is in sight with the latest extension granted by the Chancellor ceasing on 30 September 2021. For some companies plans will need to be put in place for the repayment of CIBLS, BIBLS and other COVID-19 pandemic related emergency lending, for which businesses should check the terms of their loan agreements carefully.
For some businesses, there will be specific restrictions in CBILS loan agreements preventing some businesses from acting without consent of the lender and there might be specific financial covenants which a business must satisfy whilst the loan is outstanding.
It is vital that businesses sit down with their advisors and discuss what options are available to them and identify areas where they can look to save costs or increase revenue.
The ‘new normal’ also presents new opportunities. Businesses should take the time to identify such possibilities and prepare for them now, to get ahead of their competitors. The more preparation undertaken at this stage will help to identify risks and increase resilience for any future period of turmoil, whether related to COVID-19 or not. If you have not already done so, now is the time to start preparing forecasts and both implementing short-term and long-term business development plans.
Iwan Thomas, Solicitor | Corporate
Were there any novel challenges that your corporate clients faced during the pandemic, if so, how were they overcome/ circumvented?
Many of our clients have faced novel challenges since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, they can largely be categorised into three key topics:
- Technology: The pandemic has led to many technological advances and forced many businesses to modernise and update their existing practices. One example in particular is the adoption of cloud computing technology to enable people to seamlessly work from anywhere at any time. This has helped many clients create flexible and largely uninterrupted business practices, even during the heights of lockdown.
- Training: The pandemic certainly created a headache for HR and recruitment specialists, no more so than when rolling out internal training for employees. The pandemic all but eliminated the ability for new joiners to come into the office for orientation and training. The same can be said for regular training sessions and updates on regulatory changes and work practices. However, we have seen some very creative uses of virtual meeting software, outdoor spaces and interactive induction packs to help bridge the gap.
- Supply chains: Hot off the heels of Brexit, the COVID-19 pandemic made trade decisively more complicated. Disruptions to everything from manufacturing, logistics, customer interaction and marketing, everything in the supply chain of a typical business has been affected. In many cases, this has led to an entire rethink of how businesses operate on every level. The key to a business remaining competitive post-pandemic has been the ability to adapt its core functions to meet the shifting needs of its client and customer bases.
Louise Hayward, Solicitor | Corporate
What would you say are the key considerations for your corporate clients to be making as the post-lockdown transition continues?
Take the time to review all the things that may have fallen by the wayside during the pandemic. Give your statutory registers a health check and make sure they are all up to date.
Have you got a succession plan in place? Whether it’s a family run business or a multi-national organisation, now is a good time to start considering the future and taking the necessary steps to help secure your company’s longevity as well as your future exit.
Are all your business contracts still fit for purpose? With large scale changes in the way that we all work, it is time to review your key contracts and make sure that they fit with your new way of working. Be sure to review contracts and check that you are not incurring unnecessary costs for redundant or defunct agreements.
Do you have sufficient insurance coverage? One matter that has been particularly overlooked is business insurance and PII. As the work climate has changed, so have the potential risks and liabilities a business is exposed to. It is important that you contact your broker and review your policies to make sure that you have sufficient and appropriate cover in relation to any changes that your business has made to its operations over the past 18 months.
Great news on getting your virtual platform set up and the smooth transition of your workforce to working from home, but is your security up to scratch? The pandemic resulted in huge spikes in the number of things we do online, from shopping and banking to medical appointments and working. With this rapid increase in our virtual footprints came a surge in cybercrime. Your business may be at more risk now than ever from ever more sophisticated cyberattacks. Accordingly, it is important that you ensure your systems, data and accounts are protected.
Joshua Cronin, Solicitor | Corporate
How Moore Barlow can help you
As the economy begins to recover from the pandemic, it is important for businesses to take stock of the situation and implement a practical and commercially viable plan for their own continuity.
At Moore Barlow, our corporate solicitors are here to help and guide you through the process. Contact us today.