- The pace of change has been vital to ride the waves of the crisis and has eliminated many blockers: the best elements of this should continue to be adopted;
- Transparency with stakeholders and partners will pay a trust dividend in the coming years;
- Communications around diversity and inclusion should be authentic and show genuine intention for change: this could include the use of questionnaires to test individuals’ awareness of the power of their privilege.
More than 160 business leaders joined our fifteenth Enterprise & Market Resilience During COVID-19 virtual roundtable at 8.00 am on Thursday 25 June. The aim is to have an hour-long meeting each week on Thursdays and build a community of people from different industries who can share relevant materials and experiences of operating in ‘the new normal’.
The UK recruitment market is following trends in recovery by different sectors, with spikes in demand for temporary staff in particular being seen in industries such as retail, warehousing, financial services and food manufacturing, said Leyla Tindall, Managing Director, Robert Half Executive Search.
Research from the Recruitment and Employment Confederation also showed that more employers intend to expand than reduce their permanent workforces in the coming months. The trend for redeploying staff between different sectors or roles will continue as furlough schemes end.
Alan Dingwall CFO, UK & Europe, Serco Group, explained how his company has geared up to support the government with initiatives such as the track and trace scheme, spikes in claims for Universal Credit and NHS 111 telephone lines.
Serco had to source thousands of new employees to work remotely on track and trace, as well as redeploying staff from other parts of the business such as leisure centres and equip home workers with technology.
It has sourced new employees by collaborating with other companies, building a pool of 24 partners to provide the people needed to staff virtual contact centres. Ensuring transparency in pricing for people who may already be being paid for as part of other contracts has been key, as has delivering demonstrable value to the government during the crisis.
Serco deliberately devised a set of special principles for trading through the pandemic, including transparency with suppliers and customers and ensuring that the internal audit team checked proceedings that were operating at a much higher speed than normal.
Pace and agility have been watchwords throughout, with the time taken to onboard new employees being reduced by 90% and some qualitative checks made post-hire.
The necessary pace inspired by the focus on having to get progress made quickly has knocked many blockers out of the way, and this mindset will continue in the future. Trust built with suppliers and partners will also pay dividends.
Many of Serco’s clients who would not have considered remote and flexible working pre-crisis now have proof that productivity can improve when people work from home and that peoples’ work patterns can be monitored effectively. However, virtual meetings on video platforms can be draining and intense, and many people are looking forward to returning to the office.
Purpose and trust
Bod Buckby, Head of UK Primary Markets for the London Stock Exchange Group in the North, gave an overview of how listed companies have reacted through the crisis. At the beginning of the lockdown there was a huge amount of uncertainty. In the face of these extreme conditions, London’s public equity markets remained open and were able to mobilise capital rapidly and at scale.
As listed companies came forward and asked for additional investment from stakeholders to address liquidity challenges, it became clear that closing markets would not be necessary. Around 80 listed companies have requested additional capital representing a total of £14 billion, more than twice the amount normally seen at this time of year.
Investors are now beginning to see the benefit of stock prices recovering. Again, the levels of trust that have been established as a result of the capital raising programme will benefit both listed companies and their investors moving forward.
When asked how the LSE will change as a result of COVID-19, Buckby said that the lockdown has presented an opportunity to think about the exchange’s purpose. Looking back to its inception in the 1700s, the LSE was a vehicle to enable people to invest in stock taken on board ships for trading. Instead of being sole investors in individual ships, people could spread their risk by buying shares in multiple ventures.
The model has been tested and proven to work in the past few weeks, as the LSE has been shown to be a safe place to invest and take capital – even in a global storm. Recovery will continue but it will be asymmetrical across sectors and will not follow a neat V shape: there will be more bumps in the road to come.
More frequent communications
Fiona Laffan, Managing Director of PR and marketing consultancy Prosek Partners, said that lockdown has led to more frequent communications between leaders and their teams, as well as a shift to digital and video channels.
There is growing demand for high quality content that people can consume online, but the media is suffering from a fall in advertising revenue in line with companies’ concerns about how appropriate their messages look when displayed next to current news.
Some changes adopted during the crisis may continue as normal life returns, such as video/audio content in the investment industry replacing face to face meetings.
The race and equality agenda will continue to be one of the biggest topics in the UK and USA, with leaders having to take the initiative to change their approaches to diversity and inclusivity. However, these efforts must be authentic.
Companies that have been quick to comment and respond to the Black Lives Matter movement but have nothing of substance to show under the surface will be called out. Talking about genuine intentions and where companies want to be in the near future is preferable to making empty statements for PR value.
The next two forums will focus on the world of sport; and how to embrace the diversity and inclusion agenda.