Focus SB unfurloughs staff and turns a profit
We have been working with a reduced staffing level throughout the lockdown period in order to provide customers also still working with a good level of service. Initially we were forced to take drastic action to preserve the business and protect jobs by negotiating payment holidays on premises rents, some capital finance, deferring VAT payment in April and applying for a loan via the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS).
Our MD Gary Stevens, recently interviewed by Neil Pringle of BBC Radio Sussex, says: "All of the above actions were taken because at the time we had no idea how long this lockdown period was going to last, so we took the view that we would be better off securing as much cash within the business as possible so that we could ride out any storm and preserve jobs."
Gary continues: "We have developed new ways of working as we are acutely aware that for most of our employees this extended period away from work, or remote working, would be totally alien to them so we wanted to create methods of communication that would reach everyone. We've held twice-weekly management meetings for updates from each key area within the business, created various WhatsApp groups for employee groups/departments, and a private Facebook group to keep everyone up to date on company performance, share stories and selfies of lockdown experiences. I've updated all staff with a weekly written update/newsletter in relation to company performance, furlough status, latest government advice and guidance. As well as good old fashioned telephone calls - particularly important for all those staff who have never experienced remote working, or being furloughed. Even more poignant during the recent mental health awareness week.
"Our workplaces are as safe as they can possibly be as we gradually start to reintroduce employees back in the working environment. We have flexed our furloughed staff in line with customer demand and are continuing to unfurlough staff gradually. We made a modest profit in April thanks to the furlough scheme and have taken extensive measures to ensure continued safety for the company's employees. We are very conscious that a small number of employees who have worked throughout the lockdown have developed a well-oiled process for safe working and we did not want to jeopardise that and compromise the safety of those employees, or the returning employees. We have created Covid-19 PPE packs for existing and returning staff (personal sanitisers, gloves, masks, marking tape, desk, and keyboard cleaning materials etc). A new induction process and form for all returning staff to ensure they adopt the new ways of working to preserve their safety and the safety of existing members of staff. We have developed a database of all staff to include personal contact details (email), access to transport, home status in terms of child care arrangements, and if they live with vulnerable/shielding people or key workers, and their attitude to risk of return."
Gary concludes: "As managing director of a company that is 200 miles from where I live was my main initial concern as I am usually in the office from Monday to Thursday, but with the measures we have put in place and the lines of communication it has worked out very well so far. Some of the most challenging aspects were, and still are, adopting new ways of working very quickly, managing teams and individuals remotely – most of whom have never worked from home before, communicating with a lot of remote employees who have probably never had as much time off work before and are worried about their jobs, their health and that of their families – so we have to consider their wellbeing and mental health too.
"It was a major challenge trying to interpret the plethora of information and guidelines from the government and interpreting it from our own perspective. For example, no-one had ever heard the word “furlough” until nine weeks ago and now we are all experts!"