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Make the Mahi Matter

Omicron is proving a challenge for businesses faced with staff absence and supply disruption. Andrew Ashton looks at what those challenges mean for business continuity and why it's more important than ever for businesses to focus on core functions in order to ‘make the mahi matter'.

About 5 percent of Tairawhiti's population now either has or has had Covid-19 in this Omicron outbreak and many others have had to isolate as close contacts. This has been a challenge for businesses, but many have already adapted or refocused.

Isolation times for positive cases and household contacts reduced to seven days from 10 at the end of last week but that still means employers will have to manage multiple workers being off sick or in isolation for a full week.

“At a time when every business is facing new challenges and Covid-related issues influence everything we do it's important that, as owners and leaders, the work we do now matters,” says BDO Gisborne managing partner Mike Torrie.

“For many focusing on the next two months and what is important, to keep the business functioning is the No.1 priority.”

This was a clear message from the Preparing for Omicron workshop provided a few weeks ago to local businesses: “Have a mindset which is willing to take up the challenge in a changing environment and focus on the issues you can control, not those which are out of your control.”

The workshop, put together by Mr Torrie along with Stu Potter and Pete Jarratt, senior consultants from BDO Gisborne's people and performance team, focused on three key components for businesses:

' Supply of goods and services into the business;

' The resources you have — including staff — to turn those inputs into outputs and the interaction with the market to sell them; and

' The ability to know what margins you have and how you may be able to maintain them in the current inflationary world.

“Once you have identified these key components, what are the key risks which could disrupt their flow or operation? What plan do you have to mitigate these? In technical terms, you need a business continuity plan,” they told The Herald.

“Once you have this, then committing it to paper and sharing it with those who can help, but also keep you on track, is a big part of tackling the current uncertain scenario we are all facing.”

An important saying was, “what you can measure, you can manage”.

“So, what are you going to measure every hour, every day, every week to know where you stand against your plan?

“Communication is key. We suggest you are deliberate in a communication plan that provides for the identification of the key stakeholders you need to support your plan, and therefore you need to keep the level of communication high. This may include key suppliers or your bank manager.

“As with the business continuity plan, ensuring you take action and are proactive with your comms will go a long way to alleviating levels of anxiety, as assumptions are either dispelled or confirmed as facts are discovered. Once we have these we can then start to ‘tweak' our plans based on new and verified information.

“Your plans and actions need to be ever-evolving to accommodate the changes we are experiencing.

“Finally, ‘make the mahi matter'! It is the time to be focused on the NOW. We all need to shorten our horizons to manage our cashflows and reserves, engage with critical suppliers, support and work with staff to manage needs both at work and at home, and keep our customers informed of facts which may change their expectations of delivery etc.

“The opportunity to take positives from this experience and learn is real, but what it also needs is a mindset that is focused on plans which you have identified, the risks, and the actions to be taken.”

Regional economic development agency Trust Tairawhiti's focus during the Omicron outbreak has been on providing one-on-one support to businesses through the Regional Business Partner programme.

“Earlier this month we engaged BDO Gisborne to hold the Preparing for Omicron workshop . . . about 20 businesses attended,” Trust Tairawhiti regional business growth manager Midge Te Kani said.

Trust Tairawhiti's latest CEO report said the workshop highlighted that businesses needed help to prepare for Omicron and adversity.

“It is clear that businesses are wanting to comply with government mandates and regulation, but are focused on getting on with business. It has also reassured us that businesses have become more adaptive and better prepared.

“Business highlighted key challenges they are facing amid Omicron, including supply chain issues, increased costs, recruitment and staff retention, and a lack of clarity around government changes to business requirements. There was also a lack of information around access and use of Rapid Antigen Tests.

“The business growth team continue to assess the demand for further workshops or webinars.”

Mr Te Kani said the trust was also sending out weekly communications to its business database with the latest government updates and information on support available.

“Our business growth advisers have twice-weekly calls with the MBIE business team for updates on key business-related information and to also provide feedback from what we are seeing in Tairawhiti.

“Going forward we will focus on delivering business events and workshops online where possible to ensure continuity of support.”

Gisborne baker Walter Findlay is one company having to work around the new challenges.

“With the Covid-19 Omicron variant in Gisborne, Walter Findlay Ltd has been following all government requirements and recommendations, as well as taking extra precautions to minimise the risk of the spread within our business teams. Unfortunately, the inevitable has occurred and we now have some employees isolating,” company communication manager Alyx Findlay said.

“We are currently short-staffed and have had to take some measures to ensure we are able to continue to supply bread to our customers. We have made the decision today (March 8) to reduce the number of SKUs/brands being baked at our Gisborne plant — with some loaves even being brought in from other Quality Bakers bakeries.

“This may mean your favourite bread variety is out of stock over the next couple of weeks — and we do apologise for this. Please bear with us as we work to ensure it is back on-shelf as soon as possible.

“A big shout-out to our wonderful team who are working hard and doing an amazing job continuing to provide our regions with bread — thank you for all that you do.”

Supermarkets are also under the pump.

Pak'nSave owner Foodstuffs NZ corporate affairs manager Emma Wooster said challenges with the increasing number of team members isolating throughout the supply chain meant getting product to store and on to shelves was the biggest issue right now.

“As some of our suppliers are being impacted by staff having to isolate, we've been working with them to find the best way to maximise product availability in stores, including giving priority to stocking the most popular items first.

“Our teams are working hard to ensure we have options in every category and we may also limit the number of products customers can buy in one shop, so everyone has a fair opportunity to get what they need. This will vary from store to store. We've also been cross-training and employing more people so we can keep the stock flowing to our stores and on to shelves.

“We're keeping all the tools we have in place to help keep people safe, including increased hygiene and sanitation measures, physical distancing in store, mask use for teams and customers, and scanning the QR app.

“As more team members are required to isolate, customers may start to see some changes to how we operate in-store; this is to make sure we can keep our teams and customers safe and the stock flowing on to shelf.

“During the Omicron peak, we may reduce the opening times of individual stores,. Please check our websites or local store Facebook page for the latest up-to-date information.

“Rapid Antigen Testing is also proving a valuable surveillance tool within our co-operatives. Our teams in supply chain and our distribution centres are taking regular Rapid Antigen Tests which is reducing the risk of transmission at our sites and giving our people extra reassurance we're doing all we can to keep them safe at work.

“Supporting New Zealanders to find value with the rise in the cost of living is a challenge we take on every day with passion. We want to be really up-front about the fact we're not increasing prices as a direct result of lockdowns or the red traffic light setting. We haven't before, and we won't now — but as an industry and a nation, we're all having to share the burden of the price rises as a result of wider inflation, and this will sometimes mean higher prices on products at the supermarket shelf.

“Foodstuffs is 100 percent locally owned and operated, so our store owners know their communities and their customers and go the extra mile to meet their needs. Over the past two years we've continued to keep all our stores open, and we're so proud of that. We're a small country and we've done well through this pandemic by working together and respecting each other, and we'll need to continue to do that.”

Business NZ's advice to staff:

Get your booster shot as soon as it falls due (three months after the second dose)

Wear masks as much as possible

Minimise face-to-face meetings

If meetings with customers, suppliers or other external contacts are required, ensure these are set up with one metre in between everyone (meetings) or contactless (transactions), that vaccine passes have been checked and everyone scans in

If possible, work from home on days when no face-to-face contact is required

Wear masks while out of the building

Make frequent use of sanitiser

Go home immediately if feeling ill or if advised you are a close contact of a Covid case, and isolate for the required period

Let your employer know so they can make arrangements for supporting your ability to work from home or receiving support to stay at home

MAKING IT MATTER: BDO Gisborne managing partner Mike Torrie. Picture supplied
RATS GALORE: More than 1 million rapid antigen tests have arrived in Foodstuffs distribution centres like this one in Auckland and are being distributed to New World, Pak'nSave and Four Square stores — with some also donated to a number of charities throughout New Zealand. Picture supplied