• While reports of business closures seem to dominate the press, there are also positive stories from those who are doing well. In line with this, we asked three of our clients about their experience of running a business during lockdown and the results had nothing to do with rainbows or sourdough bread.

    Many companies went from being office based, to suddenly having all staff work from home. While this came with its own technological challenges, it also meant that both staff and the customers these businesses worked with had to adapt.

    Early lockdown worries

    “During the initial period of lockdown, clients were not only worried about their health, and that of their loved ones, but headlines and communications regarding investment values dropping dramatically also caused many clients to worry about the impact on their longer-term goals for the future,’ said Duncan Wilson from Partners Wealth Management.

    “To help allay these fears, we were able to speak regularly to all clients.  Usually this was via video, which also allowed us to share our screens to get key messages across quickly to help them refocus on their ability to ride out the volatility.”

    Andrew Parker from leading insurance brokers, LifeSearch, agreed, saying that this sudden change made the company overhaul their technology practices instantly.

    “We deployed Microsoft Teams pretty much overnight for people to collaborate and have team video calls. We first trialled it in 2008 and since then it’s grown and grown in our business. Some naturally had been hesitant to try working away from the office but when the lockdown forced it upon us, it has changed a lot of perceptions.”

    Surge in new skills

    Rebecca Le Fevre from Daunt Books said the crisis pushed her to become a multitasker very quickly.

    “(The) sheer workload (was immense). Involving myself in the day to day running of our business offering an online service, while coping with issues I’ve never known – staff worries in a pandemic, codes of practice, the government Job Retention Scheme – and then juggling my normal HR duties (such as) payroll and pensions on top of that,” Rebecca said.

    Overnight Daunt books went from being a physical bookshop to one primarily based online. This sudden change also came with benefits though, with Rebecca saying the pandemic has shone light on the improvements that were needed to Daunt’s customer database, as well as efficiencies in its work practices.

    “(We now have) a growing online service which we will definitely take advantage of, but the physical bookshop is still very much a priority. Opening the shops again has taken a tremendous effort, rewriting staff handbooks, health and safety documents, researching best practice. It’s been the biggest challenge I’ve ever known professionally,” she said.

    Focus on what’s important

    Duncan reiterates this, saying that the pandemic has made many of his clients look at what’s important and reassesses their focus.

    “Our clients have been reflecting on what is important to them – family, career aspirations, work/life balance – and we have seen sustainable investing come more to the fore,” he said.

    “Just before lockdown, environmental concerns were in the spotlight, and during this period, people have found time to reappraise what’s important to them. Adding an environmental, ethical, and sustainable tilt to part of client portfolios has become a common theme during discussions. Coincidentally, during the pandemic, this type of investment has proven to be resilient.”

    A look to the future

    Andrew said that the pandemic changed the way his team interacted with each other and predicts it will overhaul the traditional office environment of the future.

    “Our team leaders delivered lots of creative things… like virtual pub quizzes, online hangouts and fun workshops which included employee’s families and kids. More centrally, we organised free online yoga classes for our people, free online (personal training), bundle giveaways with things like TV streaming vouchers, book tokens, and pizza delivery vouchers. We paid for annual subscriptions to mindfulness apps, financially supported our people buying home working furniture and equipment, payment holidays on loans they may have taken with us and so on. Really, any idea that came to mind, we needed a strong reason to say no to it.”

    “We (plan) to be bolder still about our flexible working programme and our offices may become more like drop-in, hang-out collaboration spaces rather than 500 people having a permanent desk each.”

    Duncan agreed, but added that in some industries face-to-face contact was still essential.

    “Since lockdown we have become more adept at recording videos and using a more engaging graphical format to assist client understanding of important themes. Similarly, we have hosted webinars with a broad focus, and have leveraged our independence to bring some of the most respected portfolio managers and experts onto these webinars to speak and answer questions.”

    “In many ways, the pandemic has shown that technology can allow service standards to continue from remote positions and help all staff have a potentially better work/life balance. This being said, video conferencing and remote working while beneficial are not a wholly adequate full-time replacement to bringing people together and seeing clients face-to-face if possible, but I believe that we will see a new way of working that will incorporate both.”

    Brachers clients lockdown experiences

     

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