OPINION3 June 2020

Bringing businesses back together

Covid-19 Opinion Trends UK

As the industry plans for recovery, Sinead Hasson shares some advice for research businesses who have furloughed staff and people who have been furloughed. 

Empty board room

Up until a few months ago there were words that many of us had never heard or at least never used – lockdown, Zoom, pandemic, social distancing and PPE. Now, for most people, these words are part of our daily vocabulary.

Its exhausting, and I know from many of the people that I talk to that we are all keen to get life back to normal. We want a world of drinks after work, beer gardens and occasionally shopping without queuing. It seems that’s still a way off.

Working life for many has been totally altered and it looks like for the medium term that’s set to stay. The days of tiny desks crammed into chic warehouse conversions may well be over for now.

Furloughs – another of our new words – have been introduced via the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme and widely taken up across all industries. It has allowed the market research industry to take action quickly to reduce overheads while protecting jobs.

If used properly, furloughing can really support a business and simultaneously give employees some security in uncertain times. It also allows companies to retain the talent they need to continue to provide services to their clients.

We have seen from our conversations with research businesses and researchers that there are mixed feelings about furloughing.

Many of the people we speak to who are on furlough are concerned about their futures, frustrated not to be working and feeling isolated from their colleagues. Others are enjoying the time out from work, but with one eye on the future they remain concerned.

It is estimated that 25% of the workforce are on furlough and now that the government has extended the scheme, businesses are now making decisions on how to proceed. The increased flexibility around part-time returns to work is particularly useful for many small- to medium- enterprises (SMEs) as we try to get back to business. 

Furloughing has not been limited to middle management or junior staff. Individuals up to and including managing directors have found themselves in furlough. Firms have used it as a way of protecting business and securing a long-term future, but now that we look ahead, it’s important to think about how to bring your full team back together.

Communication is key and we have all seen the power of videoconferencing tools to keep your team together and connected. If you have managed to do that hopefully you will have a successful transition back to a full team.

Keep all team members informed of what’s happening within the business – the good and the bad. Take time to speak to those people on furlough – over-communication is OK in this case – and encourage your team to speak to their colleagues.

Additionally, make sure that you are keeping those furloughed staff informed of their status as and when you know it.

The worst thing you can do is say nothing. It will create fear and suspicion, and at the moment people don’t need any further stress. A good leader will be open, honest and transparent – available to talk to all their staff and there to welcome them back.

If, on the other hand, you have found yourself furloughed, the key thing is to make sure that you are ready and motivated to step back into work as soon as that is possible. You can do this by:

  • Staying connected with your colleagues and your manager – offer support even if you can't directly contribute to the work
  • Joining on any team virtual activities
  • Taking advantage of free training online and using the time to refresh your skills or learn new ones
  • Keeping up with industry news.

The transition back to work in its normal sense will be a challenge for us all, and by considering all of these factors it should hopefully be smooth.

Sinead Hasson is founder of Hasson Associates