Coronavirus: Firms ready to restart within three weeks

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PA Media

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Are employees prepared for the return to work?

Most firms believe they could be ready to restart business with just three weeks’ notice.

That’s according to the latest British Chambers of Commerce Coronavirus weekly survey of firms.

BBC News talked to companies in five different sectors to find out how prepared they are to return work and their new ways of doing business.

Some are rotating staff. Others have introduced remote services or plan to shut the office altogether.

“Businesses’ ability to restart quickly varies by company size and by sector,” said BCC director general Dr Adam Marshall.

The survey suggests that businesses that offer services to other business are the most ready, with two-thirds saying they would need less than one week or no notice at all to restart operations.

Fewer than half of firms serving consumers said they were confident of being ready that quickly.

“It will be crucial for the government to maintain and evolve support for businesses, to give as many firms as possible the chance to navigate a phased return to work,” said Dr Marshall.

Here, we talk to five different types of firms – office, construction, restaurant, factory and shop – to see what changes they’re making.

The marketing agency that’s shutting its office

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Reboot Digital Marketing

“We’re not going to return to office working. We will close it as soon as the lease runs out,” says Shai Aharony, chief executive of Reboot Digital Marketing.

“It will save us around 10% of our turnover and means we’ll cut down on fuel, pollution and all the other surrounding costs associated with having an office.”

The Hertfordshire-based business, which employs 20 people, has found that working from home suits its workers.

“It’s a major change for us. But I don’t think that things are going to go back to normal. A lot of companies are going to have to evolve rapidly if they want to survive.”

However, they’ll still need to get together regularly, says Mr Aharony.

“We have a brainstorming session every two weeks that is key to our business.

“In future, we’ll do it at a local hotel. We’ll brainstorm and do all the other tasks that are more efficiently done face-to-face and then go out as a company.”

The building firm that’s moved to all-digital

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Bewley Homes

“All our site workers will have to do their health and safety inductions at home,” says Andrew Brooks, boss of housebuilder Bewley Homes.

Inductions are normally done on site in groups, which is not possible right now.

“Importantly, it makes sure they know everything to follow the new regulations. The old way of inducting 10 people in a small room has long gone.”

Signing into a site has also had to go digital. “Sharing a pen, punching into a tablet or fingerprint scans are no longer options,” Mr Brooks says. The builder is adopting digital sign-ins.

Nearly every aspect of construction site life has changed, if not forever, then certainly for the next few months, he says.

“There’s a huge logistical challenge to get 400 workers back on site at once and it needs methodical planning,” he says.

“It’s not just getting subcontractors to respect the two-metre rule plot-by-plot and to navigate around the entire site, there are also all the new on-site safety measures to put in place.”

The restaurant that’s become a takeaway

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Manu Palomeque

“I’ve had to develop new dishes that travel,” says Dev Biswal, owner of the Ambrette, three fine dining Indian restaurants in Canterbury and Margate.

“I’ve never offered takeaways, because my style of cooking and presentation could never survive transportation.”

But like many other businesses, he’s had to adapt to survive.

He’s now planning to open a “dark kitchen”, which will offer multi-cuisine, takeaway gourmet dishes, such as slow goat stroganoff or coconut and saffron cheesecake, through Deliveroo.

He’s also moving his cookery classes online and set up an ingredient delivery service.

He says the crisis has forced him to accelerate plans to introduce deliveries.

“I’ve read industry reports which all predict significant growth for the delivery market, so it’s something I’d been giving serious thought to for some time,” says Mr Biswal.

“The crash in footfall surrounding the media panic around Covid-19 means I’ve had to bring those plans forward.”

The factory that’s rotating staff

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“We’ve moved our on-site laboratories to operate in completely separated shifts,” says Lee Sheppard, director at Wiltshire-based caterer Apetito.

The company – which supplies food to the health and social care sector – has introduced a number of social distancing measures to ensure the safety of workers at its Trowbridge factory.

These include glass partitions in its production kitchen and individual tables, placed two metres apart in its team canteen, while the numbers of those that can enter have been reduced.

Its offices remain closed, with team members now working from home, but the company is considering a rotation scheme which would limit numbers of people in the office at one time.

“We already had a flexible policy with working from home, but we’re exploring the idea of staff working one week in the office and one week from home.”

Meanwhile, its delivery teams are following a default no-contact delivery policy.

The High Street chain that’s introduced remote services

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“We’ve been exploring remote alternatives to our traditional in-person appointments,” says Giles Edmonds, clinical services director at Specsavers.

“Our stores are currently only able to offer urgent and essential care to a limited number of customers.”

The new way of doing business is to allow customers to get advice and care from optometrists and audiologists via video and telephone link.

“It removes a number of barriers, especially with health services already under immense pressure,” says Mr Edmonds.

They also have an Ask The Expert service on Facebook, while in branches, “frontline” teams provide urgent  and  essential eye care to other key workers and people who  could come to harm.

“However, we have modified our processes to minimise the time that optometrists or audiologists and their patients are in proximity to each other.”

That’s on top of a range of social distancing measures and the provision of hand sanitisers, which all retailers have adopted.

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