Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to work we go!

Which dwarf has to stay at home with the rule of six? Happily since Snow White and her seven dwarves are in the same family bubble, they should be OK. 

The summer holidays are now a distant memory, the kids have gone back to school and the fortunate people with jobs to go back to have been relishing the opportunity to get properly stuck in to work with minimal outside distractions.  This blog reflects on our collective ‘return to work’ after the summer recess and questions whether it will ever revert back to pre-covid patterns of working. 

I personally saw the start of September as a key date to sharpen my focus, both in my work and personal life, after what seems like five months or so of ‘taking each day as it comes’.  In my work life I was operating at around 70% productivity in the preceding five months to September, with home schooling being added to the mix amongst other distractions.  Most of my business contacts with young children have relished the re-opening of schools so that they at least have some kid free time to be more efficient in their work life. September is when I consciously return the productivity dial back to pre-covid levels and enter the Autumn with a renewed vigour and spring (!) in my step. 

The late August/early September news (pre last week’s announcement of tightening of restrictions) was dominated by the Government’s call to arms around getting back into our places of work, if safe to do so, and supporting businesses, particularly those that have been so reliant on worker trade.  UK GDP fell by a record breaking 20.4% in Q2 (April to June 2020). In comparison, throughout the 2008 recession, GDP declined by no more than 2.1% in a single quarter.  GDP in July 2020 grew by 6.6%, which is the third consecutive monthly increase, but this has covered off just over half of the lost output as a result of coronavirus.  This is coupled with the recent news that 695,000 fewer people were on payroll in August 2020 compared to March 2020.  This is only going to increase as the furlough scheme winds down and companies look to remove costs in order to remain viable. 

Whilst it’s hard to ignore the ongoing covid doom and gloom, there do appear to be some green shoots of recovery.  Scouring the job boards shows that there are still a reasonable amount of roles out there – the challenge is that there will be many more candidates chasing down fewer roles.  We are helping candidates ensure that they stand out in that crowd.   I have just had an email from two of my clients who are looking to recruit into their team and need our help, which is the greatest number of new assignments we have had in a long while. 

This blog outlines four of my predictions in relation to changes at our work:

Working from home

Working 9 to 5 

Speaking to a variety of clients and candidates on a daily basis provides me with a great cross-sectional sample of how individuals (and businesses) are dealing with the pandemic.  Individuals are generally a little sick of constantly being on Zoom/Teams and having to stare at the same four walls of their office/bedroom/kitchen/lounge.  Quite a few people I speak to are now trying to break their lockdown routine by having a change of scenery once or twice a week.  Most are itching to engage face-to-face with their colleagues in some capacity.  There are a lot of benefits to home working but two downsides of it are the varying practicality of individuals being able to work from home and issues of isolation.  I recall one candidate I spoke to admitting that they just didn’t have the discipline to work from home. 

A lot of individuals are using the time to think about how work life will change post covid and if they have been used to a five day in the office pre-covid they are challenging the notion that they need to be in the office five days a week moving forward.  Many have proven that they can do a more than adequate job working from home.  I’d be interested to hear of any scientific studies that accurately quantify work productivity at home – anecdotal accounts suggest that home workers tend to start work earlier (as they don’t have the commute time to take into account) and are often working later as they are not subjected to that familiar signal at head office home time when co-workers start to leave.  True, there are distractions at home (deliveries, laundry, cleaning) but there are also may non-productive distractions in an office environment. 

Prediction 1: Finding balance

The days of the typical daily grind into an office are firmly over and will never fully return to previous patterns of commute. It is all about balance and I believe that many will settle on 2-3 days in the office and the rest of the time will be spent working from home (clearly this will depend on role/grade/location).  As long as this change doesn’t materially affect their ability to do their job.  This could also change the dynamic on where people live, relative to where they work; more on that in a future blog. 

Businesses, in the main, are being exceptionally flexible and supportive of their remote teams in coping with the pandemic.  There are some businesses that have closed their offices permanently and have no intention of getting a new office for the foreseeable future.  Most businesses are slowly opening up their offices, albeit with significant reductions in occupancy levels to ensure they remain covid-compliant.  These companies are often taking an individual level approach as everyone has a different perception of risk to the current pandemic.   This approach is contrasted by other businesses who are expecting colleagues to come in.  This is a scheduling/management challenge to have different groups of colleagues arriving on different days and starting/leaving at different times which has the potential to erode the face-to-face benefits of being in an office with colleagues. 

Prediction 2: More flexibility

Businesses in general need to improve their flexibility about how, when and where their teams work. If they fail to show flexibility to the new worker demands then they risk losing talent once the employment market recovers. 

I won’t be home for Christmas 

Prediction 3: Christmas sales suffer

Apologies for switching back to full on doom and gloom mode but the way things are going in the UK I think Xmas will effectively be ‘cancelled’.   Christmas is obviously a time for most families to come together but this year it will be very different.  Families will not be coming together in the way that they have traditionally.  I anticipate sales to be supressed at the grocers this Xmas (it will be interesting to see what the tone of their Xmas adverts will be this year) as the traditional seasonal uplift in spend from home family catering will be subdued.  The upside is there is likely to be less food waste! Average spend per household is likely to be down as people tighten their belts in anticipation of continued financial and economic uncertainty. I also anticipate the cost of domestic short-term holiday lets to sky rocket as more people will want to celebrate Christmas within their family bubble in a different setting. 

The Emperor’s New Clothes 

I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about the impact these work changes have had on work attire.  Over the last 5-10 years I have seen a general ‘softening’ of work attire from very formal to smart business casual.  I can’t recall the last time I wore a suit and tie – it was probably for a wedding or a funeral.  This increased working from home has created an entirely new set of work/home combinations.  I have been relatively casual when working from home (particularly in the hot weather), opting for comfort over style.  When I know I have video calls, depending on who with, I will tend to change into smarter attire.  Workers attire has moved from smart formalwear to smart casual workwear (pre-covid), to a wardrobe of casual day wear that they supplement with an occasional smart casual outfit that comes out at video conference call times during the working day.   I am yet to meet someone who has conducted a Zoom call with a full suit, shirt and tie on.  Let’s face it, it’s much easier to quickly change when you only have to modify what you wear from the waist up. 

We have seen the demise of TM Lewin as a result of covid-19 and the other formal wear specialists will certainly be assessing their existing portfolios and product ranging in order to survive.  This will  also have an impact on dry cleaners, as their volumes will reduce across the board as people tend to wear apparel that can be washed at home. 

Prediction 4: Christmas best sellers

Christmas best sellers, particularly catering for middle aged professional males (such as myself), will be a nice selection of casual shirts and polo shirts (with colour coordinated face masks).

Time will tell how we all adapt and how much our lives change to make way for new and hopefully better working practises. 

I’d love to hear what you think the impact of covid will be on our future working patterns. Have you already begun to reassess how you want to work next year?  

Please let us know in the comments below and if you need some advice on how you can stand out from the crowd, get in touch on 07979 756257 or email steve@redtigerconsulting.co.uk 

Photo by Oleg Magni from Pexels

Algorithms Evolve – How human error, not Artificial Intelligence failed our A Level students

In a previous blog I waxed lyrical about how one benefit of COVID-19 has been the very clear use of data (not always the right data) and analytics/modelling to help drive decision making (not always the right decision!). Then the dominating UK news this week has been the right royal mess up over the A level results and the use of the ‘Algorithm’ to change some people’s final gradings, resulting in around 40% of results coming out lower than predicted. 

Exam results time is always stressful and there will always be winners, losers, and surprises in between.  The marking of most subjects is certainly going to be more art than science and in a ‘normal’ year there will always be a challenge around consistency of marking.  Allowing each student’s teacher to grade them is intrinsically going to impart bias that wouldn’t be there if it was handled by an external examiner.   This latest fiasco, with a last minute change in methodology, will mean that there is even more stress and uncertainly as a result.  There are students who have initially missed out on places who may now retrospectively get the grades they need and the place has been offered to someone else.   I personally think that the Universities with oversubscribed courses should scrap any offers to date and start the process all over again if it’s not too late to do so. 

Algorithms are becoming increasingly pervasive in our lives, and many people are not aware of their uses.  From insurance quotes based on home postcodes, to selective advertising on social media – our clicks, likes and location are being used by a number of Artificial Intelligence (AI) algorithms to, in theory, serve us appropriate content.  It doesn’t always work – the number of times I am promoted hair care products is testimony to that!  There are plenty of examples where there are good applications of AI, from insurance costs based on how you drive through data collected via a black box, to uses in healthcare where speedier diagnosis and access to the most appropriate treatment can vastly improve outcomes.   The algorithms are only as good as the data they utilise in order to develop their ‘intelligence’ and in a lot of cases require use of inferences that are wide of the mark.  Timandra Harkness (@TimandraHarkness) summed it all up quite nicely: “the data used by an algorithm to make a decision about you is largely about other people, rather than you personally”. 

I stumbled upon an excellent piece in the Guardian by Dan Davies who succinctly summarised the A level issue by saying: “The problem was fundamentally insoluble, from a mathematical point of view. If the system is dependent on exams to allocate the grades, but it can’t have the exams, then it can’t allocate the grades. No statistical method in the world is going to be able to give you good results if the information you’re looking for is fundamentally not there in the dataset that you’re trying to extract it from.”  It’s worth looking into his article in more detail: 

Read: This year’s A-level results are a fiasco – but the system was already broken by Dan Davies

Ofqual’s Research and Analysis Findings

Ofqual, the Examinations watchdog have published their findings on their whole approach (be warned, it is a 318-page extravaganza).

I’d love to hear from anyone who has read the report from cover to cover!  

Ofqual have to be held accountable for this and I’m sure Gavin Williamson will be getting some tips from Dominic Cummings on self-preservation. 

Download Awarding GCSE, AS, Alevel, advanced extension awards and extended project qualifications in summer 2020: interim report.

Life is a Roller Coaster 

It’s been a roller coaster in our household, with my step-son being one of the Covid-affected students who did not manage to sit his A level finals this year.  At the start of it all, when he realised he wouldn’t be sitting exams and they announced his grades would largely be based on his mocks, he was all for re-doing the whole year again.  Like many students he didn’t apply himself in the run up to his mocks and was aiming to knuckle down and achieve at least one grade above his predicted grades in his finals.  I advised him that as long as he got to a decent University, studying a good course, his A levels wouldn’t really matter in the long run.   Granted, employers still look at A level subjects and grades to get an insight into the person (e.g. are they Arts/Maths/Science focused) but grades and subjects aren’t necessarily a guarantee of success in a role – strong marks merely indicate that the candidate is good at study and retaining information for test in exam conditions. 

Fast forward to last week’s results day and my step-son was much more philosophical – he was a little disappointed with his final grades but happy in the knowledge that he had been accepted into his first choice University on his first-choice course.    I was also happy as he had achieved his aim whilst coming in below what I’d budgeted for when I offered him a financial, grades based, incentive to encourage him to put the effort in. 

These are some of my tips for the weeks ahead: 

  • Don’t Panic – September is only around the corner but there are a lot of people in the same boat.  I know that Universities will be bombarded with enquiries so please be patient but persistent in your enquiries.  Remember that the admissions folk will be working flat out to ensure they deal with it as quickly and fairly as possible. 
  • You are not Alone  Every individual is different in terms of what they got, compared to what they expected, and where they will end up.  But you are united in the fact that you are the class of COVID-19 and there will be outpourings of empathy for what you have had to experience. 
  • Universities of the UK Unite – This is easier said than done and I know there has been a lot of work to date, but I do think that most Universities will be overly accommodating to the current situation and do their best to help students who have been unjustly failed by the system.  If they aren’t, then imagine what they may be like when they have already collected your fee income?! 
  • Employers’ Empathy – As someone working in recruitment, I do believe that the class of 2020 will have a special place in peoples’ (HR and hiring managers) hearts. There will be a degree of leniency towards those who went through that year and the grades achieved.  If necessary, make sure you stand out in other ways – your passion, knowledge, skills, experience and drive will get you much further than your A level grades. 

What next for this class of 2020?   I personally think Ofqual should not be seeking to fit a ‘bell shaped curve’ or attainment quota to the distribution of grades and just go all out to award people the grades that their teachers felt they could have achieved.  So what if this year more people than ever got higher grades compared to previous years – they deserve it for the disruptions that COVID-19 and this marking fiasco have provided to them. 

For me personally, I wait with baited breath as my step-son is already anticipating an improvement on his grades, which will mean additional ‘incentive payments’ due from me.  The impact of COVID-19 could have further financial implications for me personally I’m afraid! 

I’d love to hear your thoughts… let’s have a heated debate!

Feature image: Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

What did I achieve in lockdown?

I write this blog exactly 20 weeks into ‘lockdown’ and the headlines are still dominated by the continued impact of the virus. Whilst restrictions are being slowly lifted (and in some cases reinstated) it is clear that a return to our once ‘free’ lives is still a while off.

In my capacity as a recruiter I have been speaking to a wide range of people over the last 20 weeks, from candidates that are either working or furloughed to those who have been made redundant or in the process of redundancy. One common theme throughout these conversations is how people are coping with the impact of the virus and also how they are utilising the time to their advantage. There is certainly more time and opportunity for reflection as the pace of life for most people, apart from key workers and those working with young children to look after, will have slowed down to some degree.

Some of my conversations have centred around what to do next in terms of career; people usually find themselves at a crossroads with a desire to move in a new direction. In these cases I am there to offer advice and act as a sounding board for any ideas they may have. Some conversations have covered ideas on how to utilise the time to further develop skills or gain new skills. In most cases these skills directly benefit their careers, in others it is trying something new that takes them away from their work life in some way.

In writing this blog I have been challenged to really think about what I have personally achieved in the last 20 weeks.

Work gains 

Despite the documented drop in activity with our core recruitment services, I have personally achieved quite a bit in the last 20 weeks. I didn’t think I had before I took the time to document what I have done in this blog – 20 weeks seems like a lot.

Red Tiger revenue in lockdown

The other two thirds of Red Tiger Talent was furloughed for the first month so I was essentially manning the fort with a variety of tasks: doing the admin, planning new initiatives, writing blogs, dealing with enquiries and, of course, speaking to people.

It’s good to talk – During this time I have been averaging five conversations a day with clients (existing or potential) or candidates (existing or new).  That means I have spoken to at least 500 people during lockdown.   That is more people than I have friends on Facebook.   These conversations have been everything from careers advice, dealing with redundancy, general chats about weather/football/lockdown, to supporting those suffering with mental health issues. 

The mother of all databases – ‘Libraries gave us Power’ as the Manic Street Preachers say on their song A Design for Life.  Red Tiger Talent’s library is twofold – it is the knowledge and contacts that Paul and I have in our heads and the second is our Recruitment CRM which contains extensive details of many candidates in our area of expertise.  It is never complete – there are always new candidates to add, and it is never up to date – people do naturally leave roles and start in new positions, but we constantly strive to ensure that this captures not only the skills and experiences of candidates but all information shared across the recruitment process. 

New ideas have been formulated – There is no doubt that it has been a good time for ideas. The challenge for Red Tiger Talent is to prioritise the development of these ideas and progress them from ideas to tangible business propositions.  Watch this space – some will be launched in the not too distant future (not sure why I suddenly had the urge to become all cryptic!). 

Excel training for the masses – This started as an idea to deliver face-to-face to university students and has evolved into a proven, focused online training course for beginner or intermediate Excel users, aimed at anyone wishing to boost their confidence and mastery of Excel.  We have had young to old participants, novice to experienced Excel users and we really thrive on the feedback on how our training has made a real tangible difference to their Excel knowledge and confidence.   The plan now is to supplement this training with a number of other courses (either in Excel, GIS, data analytics or a range of softer skills). 

Completed Zoom – I feel there are 3 levels of Zoom user

  • There are the Zoom clickers who click on a link and generally know how to mute/hide video and not much else. 
  • The second level is the Zoom enthusiast that certainly has a good knowledge of the standard user interface (these are the ones that mess around with the different backgrounds).  
  • I am firmly in the third and highest level – the Zoom Master – who not only can manage all the standard functionality, but can also work with some of the backend functionality, such as breakout rooms, recording and polling (Meeting Admin essentially). 

Which kind of Zoom user are you?

Home wins 

Alcohol free for 1.5 months – I decided that after spending April trying to drink and eat myself to death (rather than succumb to Covid-19) that it would be good to have a period of abstinence to alcohol. One month is for losers, so I decided to go dry for May and June but unfortunately a mid June birthday meant that I fell off the wagon with c15 days to go. I certainly felt better in those months – A dry period is currently being lined up for September and October (have to avoid any celebratory dates).

Just some of my vinyl collection…

Found time to listen to my vinyl – My wife bought me a vinyl player nearly 2 years ago and I have been making a real effort to grow my vinyl collection. The challenge has been in finding time to listen. Vinyl is not really like Spotify, where it’s so much easier to dip in and out. Vinyl, particularly LPs, are designed to be savoured and real time invested in listening. Click here to read, “The Vinyl Countdown”, which discusses the success of vinyl, despite the digital age of music.

Cooked restaurant quality food at home – I like to think that I am a reasonable cook when I have the time so when I heard about what Elite Bistros have done with their at Home offer I had to give it a try. Check out Elite at Home for more information. 

Elite Bistros At Home – All the Starters!

I shamelessly plug these guys at any opportunity – because they are local (to me), they are great, and I also have some vouchers tied up with them so I need to ensure they survive so I can spend them in their restaurants when they open.  The concept is simple – order from the menu from 9am on a Friday (be quick as they usually sell out) and you will have it delivered the following Friday (to anywhere in the UK) in a chilled container.  The recipes are pre-prepared in the Elite kitchens – all you have to do is add the finishing touches and generally cock up the plating up.   On the success of my meal I also order a meal for one for my Dad which he successfully cooked at home. 

Garage as it’s meant to be used (nearly) – How many of you who have garages actually use them for the principal purpose they were design for i.e. housing motor vehicles?   I have owned three houses to date with garages and it’s fair to say that a car has never set foot (tyre) inside it on my watch!  Our current garage was piled high with the usual debris associated with the combining of two households: boxes of household spares (pots, pans, toasters etc), garden implements (can’t think of a better collective word for all that stuff), and other debris that neither of us wanted to part with.  Lockdown brought the arrival of a large skip (which also took down our broadband for a few days after the driver sheared through the cable) and with the help of a ruthless weekend where we filled the skip I can now see the garage floor. 

My wife’s car… not mine!

There is still some way to go before I can get a ‘real’ car in, but lockdown has resulted in enough space to house a mini gym in there. No more excuses!

I am certainly interested in hearing all your lockdown achievements. Given that it’s likely we will be continuing with this way of life for the foreseeable future, I am interested in hearing other ideas – please add any of your achievements to the comments below. 

Feature image: Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

A workplace paradigm shift?

Many companies are now planning to bring staff back off furlough (at its peak there were 9.3 million people furloughed) and start to open up their offices, albeit with a reduced capacity. The question still remains about where staff will be expected to conduct their work. This blog outlines some of the observations I’ve had over the last few months and speculates as to how this virus will enable a significant shift in where we work and our work commute patterns.

I do think it is unlikely that there will be a return to the commuting patterns pre-covid. This has numerous implications for businesses that accommodate staff in offices, businesses that are located to service historic worker populations, support the journey to and from work, and also how we utilise our home space.

Our 2020 Location Planning and Customer Insight Practitioners’ Salary Survey (collected pre-covid in January 2020) indicated that flexible working is on the increase, from 68% in 2018 to 71% in 2020. Working from home has significantly increased, from 58% in 2018 to 69% of respondents in 2020. It is very likely that these percentages, in our focus industry of Insight and Analytics, will increase when we carry out the survey again in 2022.

The commuter commotion 

I have done this myself and know of hundreds of people who have followed a similar path. As people move through their life-stages there is often a desire to move from renting to getting on the housing ladder and purchasing a property. There tends to be an affordability gap between homes in close proximity to peoples’ work (which are typically city based) forcing first time buyers to look further afield, which results in a longer, more expensive, commute.

Before coronavirus, my Facebook timeline was occasionally littered with complaints from friends’ commuting experiences. They followed a common thread; their commute was a necessary chore, fraught with overcrowded, inconsiderate (and sometimes smelly) people the ‘pleasure’ of which often comes at no small price (which only increases every January!). I read in the Sunday papers the other week that our trains are currently operating with better punctuality than German trains, granted services have been severely curtailed and are operating at less than 50% of capacity, but is it economically viable? This pandemic will change commuter patterns long term and it has the attention of Whitehall officials both from a financial support perspective, where billions are being spent to ensure the transport system remains in operation, to pressure on the transport providers to find new ways of incentivising ‘regular’ passengers.

Pre-lockdown behaviour for those who typically did a 4 or 5 day commute was influenced by company culture and expectation but it was also influenced by the use of rail or tube season tickets. In terms of culture one person I spoke to described it as being made to feel guilty for working from home – this was obviously pre-Covid and I would imagine that this guilt may dissipate to a certain degree post-Covid. On the commute there is normally a cut off (usually between 3-4 commutes a week) that means it’s economically beneficial to switch from individual day passes to weekly, monthly or yearly season tickets. Once you have bought that longer-term ticket you are likely to feel even more compelled to make sure you are using it above the magic number of trips. No one likes to pay for trips that they don’t use.

The train operators will have to (and some have already) introduce more flexible options, such as 3 or 4 day season tickets, and the option for ‘carnet’ style tickets which allow you to bulk buy a set number of journeys per month, quarter or year. Like with many businesses this pandemic may significantly change the business model of the transport providers – which currently ‘penalises’ peak time commuters with high ticket prices for a (largely) poor experience to subsidise the provision of services at off peak times. Regular commuters may be concerned about the price increases that are likely to be implemented in January 2021 given the volumes of passengers will unlikely return to previous numbers.

Redress the balance for working mums 

It has been a well-documented frustration of mine that our industry has not been very good at retaining working mums. Some mothers find it hard to justify continuing in their employment if they are expected to do a full commute, particularly if that commute is lengthy as they have moved to a place in the suburbs that is more affordable and offers better schooling options. I know it is getting easier in terms of parents sharing the parental burden and the traditional role of the male as the ‘main breadwinner’ is thankfully changing. Businesses can also help by being more flexible in their expectations and to show willing and more understanding of the impact a commute has on young mothers who have to often juggle two full time roles.

The Head/Support office

This pandemic has certainly challenged thinking about the future role of offices as a place to work.

Offices should be a place to promote corporate values, provide a meeting place for clients and suppliers and somewhere to foster collaboration between colleagues.

Covid-compliance for offices contains some fairly stringent guidance which will certainly impact offices in terms of occupancy, cleaning and layout.

 Working Safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres

Download Working Safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres

Companies have always had an obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees.  The above guidance states that “no-one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment” particularly in relation to a potentially fatal virus.  This will mean that there will be a shift in emphasis to an individual assessment of whether working in an office poses an acceptable level of risk, coupled with the individual’s role/function and their ability to perform to the expected level in either an office or home environment.  Other changes are at force which are driven by technology.  The main driver is the increase in broadband speeds to residential areas (granted there is still great variability depending on how near you are to a switch or exchange) meaning that the office is no longer the only place to find fast connectivity speeds.  Most households that have teenage children (including mine) will see an immediate increase in their bandwidth when schools are able to open at capacity.  Mobile computing means that most office tasks can be carried out securely and efficiently from home. Connectivity software such as Zoom, Skype, and Teams etc. means that we can connect with distributed colleagues in a variety of manners. 

For those of us used to working in collaborative office environments the lockdown has certainly been a challenge and most people miss (and crave) that face-to-face engagement with colleagues.  Humans are naturally social animals and despite the fantastic features with these connectivity tools, it’s never quite the same as being in the same room as someone. As confidence improves and measures are eased it is all about finding a balance that works for both the company and the individual. 

Businesses with central offices, reliant in the main on public transport for staff to get in, will need to be more flexible about office staffing levels and acceptable hours of work.  This will allow staff to decide on the most appropriate times to commute in order to avoid peak congestion times.  This will help alleviate some of the peak pressure that has been faced by the transport companies and help spread demand to times where there is more capacity. As well as reducing the risk of virus exposure there will also be the benefits of a nicer commute.  It could also result in offices, which will have to operate at reduced capacity, being utilised for more hours of a day.  I could envisage there being two office shifts – one for those who come in early and leave early and one for those who travel later and leave later. Alternatively, people may wish to extend their office hours for the limited days they are in i.e. come in early and leave late. 

Some business are moving completely to remote – given that the second biggest cost after staff costs is usually office rent, I can see why some businesses are doing this.  A close friend of mine who works for a tech business in central London was in the process of moving to a new office as the virus impact took hold.  They have now decided to go completely remote as this significant cost saving could help turn the business around as revenues have been hit by the pandemic.  They will be looking at flexible, cost effective ways to get everyone together at periodic times through the year once it is safe to do so.  One potential challenge with a move to more flexible working is that of clarity in an employment contract and definition of their usual place of work. 

The new town centre use

This section was inspired by an excellent panel discussion a few months ago hosted by Said Business School.  The discussion centred on some of the issues highlighted above in terms of changing commuting patterns, the future role of the office and the opportunity that presents itself as a result for our town centres. The panel talked of a ‘third’ workplace (first being the office, second being home) which is likely to be within a short distance of home, based in some of our smaller towns and cities.  This third space is likely to be flexible, affordable co-working space.  A place where people have a safe and secure working environment with good wi-fi connectivity, private rooms and good drink making facilities! A good example of such facility would be Perch in Bicester (https://www.perchcoworking.co.uk/pioneer-square/).  The major cities often have a range of co-working facilities and there are a number of national providers in this space.  My sense of smaller locations is that these are often local run initiatives.  Perhaps there is a franchise opportunity for a chain of co-working spaces in smaller locations that could leverage the abundance of (retail) space that a lot of our town centres can offer? 

These spaces provide an opportunity to have a break from the home office environment or an alternative to going into the central office for those people that are unable to work from home.  It’s not the same as working with colleagues in an office, unless by chance there is a local cluster of colleagues living near each other, but there are still opportunities for networking and collaboration.  The other benefit would be that it would give a vital footfall boost to some of the smaller towns and cities which could be important to help national and independent retail, service and F&B chains survive this crisis caused by the pandemic.  

There is little doubt that this pandemic will change the way we (workers and companies) evaluate our commuting choices and our workplace locations in the light of pandemic risk.   

I do think there has been a significant psychological impact of the pandemic and a lot of people, myself included, are now caught in two minds.  We crave for some of the freedoms to return but we are also fearful of potential exposure to the virus (regardless of the extremely low probabilities) from doing certain ‘unnecessary’ activities.  This fear will dissipate as we slowly take back some of those lost liberties and gain confidence in our diminishing chances of catching the disease. For me, I’d rather not share a cramped enclosed space with a host of strangers on a tube (regardless of whether they have got masks or not) but still crave going to support my favourite football team in the stadium or going to watch an indoor gig.  

I do think that individuals will want to have greater flexibility in their commuting patterns and caring, trusting organisations will support that to the benefit of all in the move to recovery. 

What are your thoughts? Are you planning and hoping to return to your normal commute and working environment? Think you’ll end up with a blended working structure or would you actually prefer to work from home? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo by Visual Tag Mx from Pexels

Cash is King

Is it just me or does anyone else feel like we’re in limbo at the moment? We are slowly adjusting to a post (high levels of..) COVID world where the shackles of lockdown are gradually being released (unless you live in Leicestershire).

It’s an ever changing situation; only yesterday I completed a consumer survey where I stated that I didn’t intend to go comparison goods shopping anytime soon. Then today I am planning on taking my kids up to Cheshire Oaks for the afternoon. It was originally going to be a trip to Chester city centre but a few shops that my kids wish to go to are temporarily closed. The same shop is open out of town, presumably an indication that some brands are staggering their opening strategy depending on in town/out of town stores. It could be a space determinant or it could be to see how traditional city centres, with a greater reliance on public transport as a means for people to get in and out play out in terms of (footfall) recovery.

Depeche Mode Enjoy
Depeche Mode Enjoy

The chart below is a recent snapshot from Red Tiger Talent’s accounting system. It makes for stark viewing and is likely to be reflective of other consumer led and consulting businesses. The blue bars are cash in, and the grey bars are cash out. January 2020 showed a spike in our costs where the business paid out Dividends to the directors, a move typical of smaller limited companies where monthly, quarterly or six monthly payments are seen as a more flexible and tax efficient means with which to reward business profitability. Late February was looking pretty good: we had cash coming in from placements made over the previous 3 months and we were actively working on a healthy number of recruitment roles. Events in early March reminded me of the voting in Paddy McGuiness’s dating show Take Me Out – we had a number of lights on (assignments) and in the space of a few days all of our lights had gone out with recruitment being put on hold – the only thing missing was the comedy noise of all our lights being switched off at once!

On the cost side, we at Red Tiger run a very tight ship, with fairly minimal overheads and no extra costs associated with expensive city centre offices or headcount. In fact, COVID-19 forced us to temporarily pause our search for an Apprentice (more on that later).

Our second biggest business expense is usually travel and entertainment which dropped right down since mid-March as we, like a lot of people, have been fulfilling all of our business obligations from home. There must be so many larger businesses with significant office and headcount costs which could not be immediately switched off when lockdown happened. These businesses have been carrying these costs and eating into their cash reserves while income is still waiting to recover. In all my businesses we have worked on the basis of a ‘going bust’ date that is subject to various scenarios on income and costs. This was one of the first exercises we did post COVID-19 and it was useful as it gave us comfort that as a direct result of retaining some of our profits within the business we would have enough (if we controlled our costs) to see us through to beyond a pessimistic economic recovery in early 2021.

The peak of cash in May 2020 was not some unexpected recruitment income, but a cash injection courtesy of the Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme (CBILS). We decided to get this loan just in case and will start to pay back in 12 months’ time with the hope that we will never need to use it. That said, it has given us the confidence to once again push ahead with finding an apprentice, the thinking being that we should have a good pick of quality candidates (with less competition from other hirers) and if the successful candidate joins in September we expect them to hit the ground running in the new year. I would just urge as many businesses as possible to follow our lead and try to be bullish in switching on your recruitment – you could steal a march on your competitors and there are going to be plenty of quality candidates available. It is certainly turning from a sellers’ market (candidate) to a buyer’s market (company) in recruitment.

July 2020 is looking a little better for Red Tiger Talent, and whilst it certainly isn’t back to former glories, we are due some extra income from successful placements in lockdown, as well as payment of outstanding invoices on COVID-19 extended credit terms. We will not be getting overly excited though as we are used to the recruitment lag. A lot of the work is done in the run up to placement, then a delay of 1-3 months when notice periods are typically served,. We then receive our fees 30 days (if we are lucky) after the successful candidate starts, which means we have a good view on (lack of) recruitment income 2-3 months out. Where we stand today we know that we are not currently in line to bill any clients for placements in July or August.

I am sure that this is a similar situation to a lot of other businesses. My call to action is for everyone to get out and spend. Spend like there is another lockdown imminent around the corner. Support all local businesses because we won’t appreciate them when they are gone! I feel we all have a collective responsibility to get the economy moving again, and I appreciate that the natural inclination where there is an extended period of uncertainty, redundancy and global recession on the horizon is to reign in our spending behaviour.

The quicker the recovery, the quicker we can get back to the ‘new normal’.

Seize the moment and savour our ‘freedom’ for as long as it lasts. But please remember to obey the 2 metre 1 metre rule and stay alert.

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on Unsplash