Our director & chartered financial planner, Paul Gibson recently chatted to Tees Business about the current Covid crisis and how ours and others businesses in Teesside will bounce back
TB: How are you dealing with the current Covid crisis and how much has it impacted on your business?
PG: Initially, like most businesses we had to quickly adapt as staff had to work from home. As an advisory, business face-to-face meetings ceased and we had to change the way we worked on a day-to-day basis. Introducing video conferencing to many clients was something new. But thanks to our investment in systems and processes over the years, the operational side of our business has not really been affected. In the early weeks of lockdown we did see a fall in the amount of new enquiries. But it has been pleasing to note that this has started to increase in recent weeks. Let’s hope this trend continues.
TB: What is morale like within your organisation and among staff?
PG: At Active we have a real team ethic where everyone pulls together. We share best practice and new ideas, and the leadership team has been keen for everyone to share their thoughts. Regular communication with our staff and clients has been key in recent weeks. We have encouraged every member of the team to be open, share concerns and shout up if they are struggling. It would be fair to say that everyone has experienced a ‘low point’ during the last 10-12 weeks. But we look out for one another and provide support where needed – that’s the team spirit we have within Active. In recent weeks, we have been encouraging everyone to take some time off. Although we are restricted in what we can do and where we can go, a few days away from work life does help switch off and recharge.
TB: How much has government intervention helped you and how do you think the government has handled the crisis?
PG: In our business we have not qualified for many of the government schemes that are available. The Job Retention ‘furlough’ scheme has been a lifeline to many businesses, including our own. The government has pledged an eye-watering amount of money in recent months to ensure that those who need support receive it. However, there will come a time in the future when the support is no longer available. It will be interesting to see how much this has cost in monetary terms with latest reports showing around £300 billion, and how we plan to rebalance the books in the coming years. That said, if the government had not given the financial support many livelihoods would have been at risk, and the economic and financial cost would have been much worse.
TB: How much do you think it will affect the Tees region, in terms of job losses and a recession?
PG: The Job Retention Scheme has been a lifeline to many businesses in the region. Speaking with businesses on a weekly basis, I have found that unless business levels and order books return to pre-Covid crisis levels quickly, job losses are inevitable. However, there have also been businesses that have performed strongly throughout this period, and they will be looking to employ more people in the coming months.
TB: What do you think we need to do to as a region to bounce back as quickly as possible?
PG: All businesses will need to prepare for the return with the safety of staff and customers at the forefront of all planning. For economic activity to return as quickly as possible, we need to avoid a second ‘lockdown’. Striking a balance between productivity and safety will not be easy and there will need to be understanding and patience throughout this phase. The fear of unlocking too quickly and the need for economic recovery are both very important considerations that will need to be closely monitored on a weekly basis. On a more local level, we need to support as many regional businesses as we can. If we can buy from local businesses and employ the services from local professionals, it will all help in the short term. We have some fantastic businesses in the region, let’s use them!
TB: And for your business, how do you plan to bounce back?
PG: We have created a ‘return to work’ plan to ensure that both staff and clients feel safe to return to Active House. We have employed the services of a clinical deep cleaning company to sanitise and disinfect the entire office and adapted meeting rooms so that we can meet clients face-to-face while observing the ‘social distancing’ policy implemented for the office. From initially having one person in the office per day, we now have a rota where we can have up to six people (from a team of 27) working in a socially distanced environment at any one time. We will continue to take government guidance with staff and client safety in mind however, the gradual return to work has started and is going well.
TB: If there was one positive message you could share, what would it be?
PG: The amount of support and advice that has been offered from the Teesside business community. From the business zoom conferences that have been organised on a weekly basis, on a variety of topics, to the one-to-one support and advice that has been available, has meant that I have never felt alone during this crisis. Business leaders have pulled together to offer support and advice in their specialist areas at a time of need, which is something that will live long in my memory – and is why I am proud to be a Teessider!
TB: How will your business work differently after the crisis is over?
PG: As a business we have learnt that we can be more efficient. Historically, many of the team have travelled the length and breadth of the UK to visit clients often spending more time travelling than anything else. The lockdown has forced us to adapt and work in different ways and, although the need to meet on a face-to-face basis will return, video conferencing will become a big part of our future.