Small businesses need more clarity than large to get back to work, new research shows

Recent weeks have seen new policies emerge in the UK as lockdown measures begin to be eased. Increasing numbers of businesses are re-opening and, in England at least, we are no longer told to ‘stay home’ but rather to ‘stay alert’.

Accompanying the headline slogans are various documents. There are now policies on everything from ‘Construction and Other Outdoor Working’ to ‘In-Home Working: Other People’s Homes’ and ‘In-Transit Working: Vehicles’.

So is this helping? The answer may well depend on the size of your business.

Our recent Covid-19 business sentiment tracker found that larger businesses are becoming more confident, whilst smaller businesses seem increasingly confused. Asked to what extent they agree that “after the change in Government advice… my business has clarity about what will happen over the coming months”, net +34% of medium and large businesses (>250 employees) agree, compared to net -13% of small businesses (a 47 point difference).

As a result, over two thirds (69%) of small businesses say that they have ‘not made any changes following the shift in Government advice’. This trend is further reflected by confidence in the Government’s strategy for dealing with Covid-19, which amongst small businesses has dropped by eight points to below half (47%), whilst amongst medium and large businesses it remains steady and 14 points higher (61%).

So why the divergence? One explanation could be that the policies themselves favour larger businesses. But I think there’s something else going on. Whilst new policies are being released, that does not mean they are easy to understand. Indeed, those to have cited concerns with the ‘lack of clarity’ from the new advice include the mayors of both London and Manchester. It is this confusion, I believe, that is driving the divergence in confidence.

Larger businesses have HR departments, lawyers and compliance teams. Professionals well-versed at interpreting complex policies against a backdrop of ambiguity. Larger businesses may not be entirely clear what they are supposed to be doing, but they have the depth of resources to be confident in taking a ‘defendable position’. In other words, they feel increasingly confident to make their own decisions.

Smaller businesses on the other hand are unlikely to have such resources at their disposal. Interpreting policies may instead fall on the shoulders of the business owner or company directors – people skilled in their trade but often without much legal experience and with hundreds of other demands on their time. And for them, the ambiguity left by the policies does not lead to ‘defendable positions’ but rather to uncertainty, confusion and ‘fear of getting it wrong’.

The #1 thing small businesses need to get back to work is clarity. Straightforward policies, communicated simply and without ambiguity. Policies that can be understood by everyone – even Dominic Cummings. The silver lining is a big opportunity for B2B brands to stand out and make a positive impression by simply communicating with clarity and simplicity.

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