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Largely, it’s difficult to find the potential for growth and optimism amidst a global pandemic. This has been no different on the British business scene. Several companies have faced job slashes, redundancies, and reduced funding. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), “Two-fifths of businesses who had furloughed staff provided pay top-ups to the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme”, meaning companies are still looking for support where possible.
However, a number of businesses across the country have been finding silver linings by exploring the possibilities for radical changes within their operations. If implemented correctly, the effects of the coronavirus have the potential to jump-start many businesses into the twenty-first century.
This year has brought with it the realisation that a number of companies were in trouble even before the pandemic precisely because they could have been offering flexible and remote working arrangements a lot sooner as well as digitising a lot quicker.
One big move for a lot of companies has been the reconsideration of space and how to handle a potential post-office existence, especially when it comes to product innovation and client communication.
Because there was never a UK-wide ban on office space, simply an encouragement to work from home when possible, the pressure came down on senior leaders to make the call on whether it was safe to continue working from offices.
Not to mention, Prime Minister Boris Johnson was constantly being challenged by colleagues on his advice and encouragement for people to return to work where they can do so safely - understandably, businesses were torn on what the right stance was.
London-based Abstract PR made the choice last month to serve its notice move out of the office, switching to being totally remote. Founder Am Golhar says the decision came down to her “responsibility as the founder”, and hopes this will help her company move forward with the future of work.
Despite the uncertainty and hesitation that comes with letting go of an office space and limited physical interaction, Golhar believes this time has given her business the opportunity to develop an online presence and forced her company into more innovative comms methods.
“As we have had to adapt to a virtual world, I feel we are more inclined to be seeing what is going on online, which provides an avenue of meeting new clients,” she said “As a very bespoke agency, we have always had our clients recommended to us, but there is also a saying ‘Out of Sight, Out of Mind’, just because you may not be talking at a physical event or so…it doesn’t hinder you from being involved in an online event or platform.
She says that in terms of team dynamics, if you do enjoy talking to your team, you can create the time for it by doing things like hosting a “Friday Social” over Zoom every week for her team to wind down and talk about non-work things.
“Before Covid the plan was never to move from the office,” Golhar said.
She explains that this period simply feels “too early” to consider a return, and will reconsider the benefit of an office when the country is in a safer place with the pandemic.
Some businesses, such as baby food brand Piccolo, have said that while the pandemic has brought challenges to their usual strategy of selling to wholesalers, it’s also spearheaded innovation and product development.
With newfound struggles come newfound solutions, especially for parents which have been spending much more time with their little ones as working from home became the word. Piccolo has thrown itself into how it could offer more, and stand out in the baby food market.
The organic brand has set up a temporary online shop, offering same-day delivery of Piccolo’s products, as well as setting up resource hubs for new parents.
Founder Cat Gazzoli says that Piccolo’s growth plans have “accelerated” and “moved up a notch”, despite the circumstances.
“We are especially focused on supporting families who are cooking more than ever before to feed their weaning babies and/or growing toddlers,” she says. With working parents’ needs changing to spending much more time with their babies, Gazzoli explains that there’s a demand for more advice, support, and creativity in baby nutrition.
“We have just come out with a new vegetable stock cooking sachet for babies made for babies,” Cat explains, “and toddlers with no sugar or salt so parents have more scratch-cooking ingredients that are healthy and convenient.”
For other organisations, the pandemic has brought with it the potential to enhance communication with clients using tools like video conferencing apps.
24 fingers is a company in Essex which provides companies and individuals with social media training. The small team has, through offering virtual classes online, been able to accommodate space for more clients and has seen the potential to grow.
“Before everything, we’d have monthly workshops and had about 12 people in a room at a time where we told people about how they can use social media,” Managing Director Emma Goode said. “The minute lockdown happened we said ‘we need to help more people.’We’ve now had over 400 people in training workshops, and now we’re at upwards of 30 to 40 people in training per workshop in contrast to the previous 12. The majority of these are people with established businesses.”
Goode adds that apart from the fact that business has moved beyond their physical boundaries, the circumstances many people have found themselves in have opened a new type of clientele for 24 fingers.
The company has noticed that school leavers whose final exams have been cancelled have developed an interest in social media, and are taking classes with 24 fingers.
“We’re teaching them to build up their LinkedIn profiles and get their social media to a good standard so that their applications stand out when they’re looking for jobs,” Goode explains, “it’s very important to have a personal brand these days.”
Such changes aren't just possible for bigger teams either. Life coach Nick Hatter has also seen the lockdown as an opportunity to expand his business and delegate more, which he believes will make him a “much better coach.”
“Before the lockdown I was doing quite a lot of face-to-face consultation and sessions,” Hatter told The Org. “On top of that, I was probably more stressed out in some ways because I was a bit of one-man-band, trying to do everything on my own. I was handling my coaching practice, doing the social media and the marketing, following up with new leads…. doing it all.
“Even in lockdown, I realised I felt quite tired. And I realised that it doesn't matter how fast or how hard I work, there's only 24 hours in a day.”
Hatter hired a team of virtual global assistant teams based in different parts of the world to help him run his business.
“Things feel a bit more manageable now,” he said, “I've got two teams, one in Pakistan and one in the Ukraine. The team in the Ukraine calls people up to do follow ups and things like that, and the team in Pakistan do a bit of social media management, a few odd jobs here and there. I've also used some social media management companies as well.”
While trusting others with his business was difficult at first, he encourages business owners in a similar boat to embrace expansion at this time if they have the means to do so.
“There's all this hustle culture and mentality which is a little toxic and leads to burnout,” he said “This has definitely helped me focus on coaching, improved my style, and freed up quite a lot of time so business can be more efficient.
“As I said, there’s only 24 hours in a day, and you can really use lockdown wisely to make that time work smarter.”
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