It’s good for businesses to work in a broader geographical space

Meeta Sahni
Chief executive of recruiters The Maine Group, and female business mentor

“We’ve lost about 90% of our business inflow. The clients still active with us are in the hedge fund sector, accountancy, law, and technology, which is not just untouched, it’s booming. We’ve also diversified more into advisory and consultancy around employment and hiring.

“It has felt like a cliff edge at times but everyone we speak to tells us the same thing: they’re frustrated and want to get going again when it’s safe to do so. After all, it’s not an economic recession; it has been caused by a pandemic.

“We’ve been working remotely since mid-March and it’s been surprisingly smooth. It’s good for businesses to work in a broader geographical space and on video calls with clients. We’ve found people have more time for you and are asking more questions.

“Overall, we’ll allow our people to have more flexibility in remote working, use video-interfacing more, and build better relationships with clients. We’ll be smart around costs and overheads, and many businesses will cut fixed costs such as property. It will be about proceeding with caution but with positivity.”

I hope we all take time to reflect on the benefits of this period

Grace Rothery
UK management director and head of retail, Gazprom Energy

“As the largest business gas supplier in the UK we’ve seen demand for energy down 20% since lockdown began. Our SME customers such as pubs have been severely impacted, as have mid-market retailers.

“We’re also keeping a close eye on our cash flow and working capital. There’s concern around what our markets will look like after lockdown. Although there will be demand for energy, it may not be as large as it was before, particularly from hospitality, so I’m horizon scanning to see how we can develop a forward strategy.

Our staff, including call centre workers, are fully remote working, which we managed to turn around in just two weeks

Grace Rothery
UK head of retail, Gazprom Energy

We did have business-continuity plans for remote working, but it was only ever envisaged to last for a week.

“We haven’t had any critical system issues, but people are not as optimised as they would be in the office. There isn’t that interaction you get when you’re all in the same place and can knock five or six conversations off your to-do list. It takes a bit longer remotely.

“When this is over there will be more flexible hours. The future of work might change. We don’t need a lot of people working in a big office necessarily and that might impact commercial property lettings.

“I hope we all take time to reflect and think about the benefits we’ve had from this period. We don’t need to rush around like we did before.”

We’re no longer hesitant about remote working

James Kinsella
Founder and owner of online printing company instantprint

“Our business of 270 staff is split roughly in two, those producing the printed products in the factory and those in the office, who have continued working almost uninterrupted remotely.

“With lower volumes in the factory, we’re currently running a skeleton team but across a 24-hour shift pattern to ensure we’re compliant with social distancing. We’ve had to make significant changes with lots of additional floor markings, posters and signage. Another new measure is staggering shift start times and breaks.

“Going into this, we recognised communication would be key to maintaining an engaged workforce. We established a daily update email to the whole team, letting everyone know any developments. This email includes a weekly video that my co-founder Adam Carnell and I send to every member of the team. The production quality wouldn’t win any awards as it’s filmed on our phones but it’s a great way to get a message out. We’re also doing regular video presentations to the management team, where we use an anonymous question tool for the Q&A session, which has proven extremely valuable.

“In terms of what has been resilient, operationally our systems are well automated because of years of development from our in-house teams. This has meant that when orders are placed, they have flowed as normal through the business.

“As a business we’d always been hesitant when it came to remote working, however, our experiences so far have shown that individuals are often more productive and better able to focus. This is certainly something we’ll take forward from this.

“My hopes for the future are that we can find a way out of the current situation and businesses are able to reopen as quickly as is safely possible. We’re doing all we can to help by launching new products like vinyl floor stickers to help implement social distancing.

We’ll see a stronger employee commitment after all this

Ed Brown
Co-founder of Friska, a chain of healthy fast-food restaurants

“We’ve seen a massive impact as we’ve closed all our sites. Revenues have now gone to zero and it’s been a cash drain to get through it. It’s unheard of but the government’s furlough scheme has acted as a real life saver. Like many in our sector, we haven’t paid the rent quarter between March and June. These payments make up the lion’s share of our fixed cost base.

“Going back and commencing trading will be a lot scarier than being in this hibernation period. Revenues won’t come back at anything close to 100% and we don’t know how landlords will deal with the quarter just gone and subsequent quarters. Hopefully, we’ll get a combined solution that works for landlords and for us, such as reworking leases.

“We don’t expect to get back to anything close to normality by the end of the first quarter next year. We do takeaway, have a click-and-collect app for customers and can ensure social distancing in our kitchen so we won’t be as badly affected as a small, niche restaurant. It’s about focusing on margins and costs and perhaps innovations such as going cashless.

“It’s been great to see how our staff have come together, shown pride in the business and been keen to get back working. You’ll see a stronger employee commitment after this. It’s the most challenging thing I’ve ever dealt with and it’s made me more aware as an owner that strange things can emerge.

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