Survey: Businesses change operations in response to pandemic

Posted on Dec 2, 2020 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
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Businesses are changing their operations to include steps to keep employees and customers healthy, according to the latest University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh COVID-19 business and economic impact survey.

The majority of businesses responding to the latest monthly survey reported introducing significant changes in their operations in the last several months, says Jeffrey Sachse, interim director of UW-Oshkosh’s Center for Customized Research and Services.

Changes in hours (31 percent), addition of physical barriers (21 percent) and changes in layout (18 percent) are the most common adaptations. Many respondents suggested that the last two accommodations were impractical given space limitations. This continues to be a challenge, especially in the restaurant and retail sectors, he says.

“Businesses were asked to identify the steps they were taking to ensure the safety of their operations for employees and customers,” Sachse says. “These are of particular importance as we have continued to see an increase in positive cases across the country.”

Wisconsin businesses have been slow to adopt two popular strategies nationwide for pivoting business operations — delivery services and e-commerce. Only 10 percent of businesses report adding each while there is growing national interest in the two offerings. Sachse says the low rate of adoption may be a function of customer expectations.

“The adaptations that are the most popular are those that also are the easiest to reverse. Hours can be extended and barriers removed,” he says. “Once a business establishes a completely new service, whether it is an e-commerce front-end or a delivery partnership, customers expect those services to continue even after their necessity wanes. This is a more difficult investment for most business owners to make.”

In addition to sharing how they’ve changed operations since the pandemic begin, respondents also reported the following impacts for the month:

  • Inventory losses of $804,000
  • Income gains of $9.5 million
  • Wage and productivity losses of $1.8 million
  • Other financial losses of $5.2 million

The results confirm the weaknesses seen in other economic indicators, including consumer spending and consumer confidence, Sachse says.

“The income gains reported here are largely confined to the construction and manufacturing sectors and are largely the result of either the ongoing clearance of the state’s construction backlog or advance sales into 2021,” he says. “We know that there is growing optimism in several sectors that news of the first effective vaccines and other treatments will spur a resumption of normal business activity next year.”

The November survey also showed continued concern regarding business survivability, with 30 percent of businesses reporting viability under six months with current conditions.

“We should expect these rates to increase given the increase in positive cases this month and calls for the resumption of business limitations and other controls,” Sachse says.