As 2020 comes to its conclusion, who would have thought back in March that the disruption to business and society due to Covid would have been so dramatic and invasive?
We started the first Covid lockdown period with several projects either on the go or about to start in central London and as we completed them, we were travelling up and down on near empty streets and public transport, with no parking restrictions and no congestion charges.
The ability to get on with the works on-site with no ‘out-of-hours’ working requirements, no noise restrictions, easy access to floors above street level, helpful or no building management. The ability to organise deliveries to suit us and the removal of rubbish as we needed was completely new to us.
To have completed the projects with such little disruption and interference was a wonderful experience and as the projects progressed, I remember speaking with one of the clients and commenting that the lockdown and restrictions could all be over by the end of Easter; they weren’t!
Two of our clients were recruitment companies and the project scope was to design, space plan and fit out new offices for them to accommodate up to 150 staff and then relocate the businesses into their new offices.
Their business sector gave us a real insight into how the London jobs market was operating, or not, over the summer period and, not just their clients and how many new positions they filled, but also how they were managing to get their own staff back to work as restrictions were lifted.
Over this period we also had client projects in the finance industry and in IT marketing and although smaller projects, again we were able to have a front row seat on the effects of the pandemic on some of London’s main business sectors.
Once projects are completed, we usually undertake a handover period of planned maintenance programmes and establishing new safety and fire management processes with the client’s office management team. This process was extended as were asked to help them on how they needed to reconfigure their new space and operating procedures to suit Covid working restrictions.
It was a real learning process for us as a projects company working with contractors and trying to implement safe working practices almost as they were being written. Timescales for works were increased as we needed the various teams to now work independently of each other.
Educating ourselves and our contractors to recognise symptoms as they were still being identified and working out how to work safely as well sourcing and providing face masks and hand gels, signage and cleaning processes at a time of high global demand was certainly challenging.
We also needed to understand our own employees needs and requirements, were they shielding, did they have underlying health issues or mental health issues? Could they work from home and did they have everything they needed to do so safely?
It certainly was not an easy summer! And now as we approach the end of the year how will businesses continue to operate?
At the start of the disruption, the majority of our staff worked from home and operated via Teams and Zoom with the two directors going into the office each day to manage and continue to run the business with our project manager going to site to supervise and oversee works as needed.
It was eye-opening how many of those in-house projects we had always wanted to undertake but never found the time were put onto the front burner and with plenty of time and no disruptions had no excuse but to tackle head on!
I think managing our staff’s expectations and anxieties during lockdown has enabled us to smoothly transition back into the office and operate more normally. It has also meant that we have been able to spend time talking to existing clients, look for new clients and reinvigorate marketing material and website ready for the return to the workplace when it arrives.
Possibly business will not be the same as it was before the lockdown, certainly not in the short-term but it will return and as employers start to discuss the workplace with their staff including how they want to work? Do they want to come in the office full time or just a couple of days a week, what facilities do they want in the office such as bigger break out space or Zoom Rooms?
Employers will also need to consider the hard realities of whether the business is viable, do they need smaller or larger spaces, will landlords reduce the rent or allow them out of leases?
One of our clients has already implemented a novel solution for their newly refurbished central London offices of bringing his staff in on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and then sub-letting the office space on Monday and Friday to another company, it is definitely a time for new solutions and ways of working.
There are many conversations to be completed over the next few of months as we navigate the daunting prospect of possibly managing future lockdowns or not!
But with luck and a lot of hard work it may be that after Christmas the various Covid vaccines will rolled out and administered and we will be able to return to more normal working practices and at Christmas 2021 we will be able to look back and wonder what happened!