Adapting to Covid-19 has brought out the best in business – and the Best Employers are using people power to survive.

From social distancing to remote working, the coronavirus means even businesses that haven’t furloughed some or most of their employees are operating in ways that would have been almost unimaginable 12 months ago.

Recruitment specialists Pure is one of the many firms now working remotely. “Productivity has grown and our sense of team is stronger than ever,” says director Lynn Walters. “We have video calls, WhatsApp groups and other tools to keep us connected.”

The adoption of video calls has been the revelation of the lockdown: not just that they works, but that they work really well. Zoom or Teams meetings are generally shorter and more focused than face-to-face meetings.

“Do you remember when you thought it had been a productive day if you fitted in three meetings?” asks Lynn. “Now you can do five video meetings in a day, have time to write a report, catch up on admin and still not feel that you’ve been overworked.” As well as the brevity and clarity of meetings, the time saved by not travelling to them is a huge benefit.

“We’re already making sure we don’t slip back into expecting everyone to come to Southwold for a meeting,” said Sadie Lofthouse of brewing giant Adnams. “Whenever someone arranges a meeting, it must include a dial-in option.”

Innovating working practice

Not every job can be done by video conference, though. Bespoke joinery and fit-out firm TMJ Interiors introduced a split shift, with half the staff working 5:30am to 1:30pm and the other half from 2:30pm to 10:30pm – with the hour change over for cleaning. “It is a different way of working for us but the reaction we’ve had is positive and we’ve seen productivity increase,” says chairman Tim Jones.

Adnams also rapidly reconfigured its workforce, to meet a 20-fold increase in online orders. “In 36 hours we changed the operation of our warehouse, to make it a pack-and-despatch centre,” Sadie explains. “We had to adopt new software and bring staff back from furlough, working in a new socially distanced way.”

It’s not only working patterns that have had to change: in some businesses, processes have had to adapt to the Covid crisis as well. “Social distancing has required us to innovate,” says Tim “For instance, hanging a door is not a one-person job – but we’ve had to come up with a way to do it.”

Seizing opportunities

Global Chair Components is one of the local firms able to help with the NHS response to the pandemic. “One customer needed 2,500 table bases to build ventilators,” CEO Justin Adams explains. “We also supplied 2,800 bases to make drips for the Nightingale hospitals.”

The firm began finding screens, masks, hand sanitizer and other products to provide a safe work environment for its staff. “We began offering them to our clients as well,” Justin says. “This has turned into a potential product range for us.

“It’s important for an entrepreneurial business to look for fresh revenue streams,” he adds. “For instance, with so much remote working, we foresee a rise in the need for furniture suitable for working from home. You have to recognise that you may try some things that don’t work, or others that have only a limited life span.”

The wellbeing culture

Best Employers have always placed a premium on the way they look after their staff. However, with the huge upsurge in remote working it seems that the importance of staff wellbeing – especially mental health – has become more important at every responsible firm.

“There is a noticeable increase in the number of employers using the Best Employers’ online resources about creating a workplace culture that is good for mental health,” said Lynn Walters of Pure. “Best Employer companies know how important this is to ensure their recovery is sustainable. This had gained momentum in the past 18 months, but the pandemic has given it a boost and it’s here to stay.”

Firms that have looked after their staff well will be in the best position to continue to innovate and find fresh opportunities. “The majority of our innovations have come from the people at the coal face,” says Tim Jones of TMJ Interiors.

To find out how the Best Employers Eastern Region can help your business get through the coronavirus crisis, click here.