The sixth in the series of PM+M’s ‘Navigating the Now and Next’ events took place earlier today, aimed at helping businesses manage the ongoing challenges of the present and understand what support is available as we look forwards.
Today’s session, hosted by PM+M’s Neil Welsh and The Landmark, welcomed panellists Miranda Barker (East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce), Ian Liddle (Farleys Solicitors) and Jane Parry (PM+M) to guide people-focused discussions around the collaborative approach both employers and employees have taken to successfully navigate the past twelve months and the importance of adapting to change and turning challenge into opportunity. Panellists recalled the day when their offices were forced to close at the start of the pandemic and, how as business leaders they led the team through the ‘unknown’. Panellists also discussed the future, with hopes that office working, and social interaction will return soon (when safe to do so), as this can have such a positive effect on employees’ mental health and the knowledge and development benefits to junior team members. Additionally, the panellists noted that it has been extraordinary seeing the level of innovation and diversification that local business has shown during the pandemic, with a hope that this will continue in future.
A recurring theme of the event was looking back to the start of the pandemic and discussing how business leaders reacted to change and altered their business, either by creating value online, remote working, or even being forced to furlough employees. Miranda Barker (East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce) discussed how the Chamber had to accelerate numerous programmes to ensure they were ready to be delivered online. This included ChamberLIVE events, (East Lancashire Chamber of Commerce were the first Chamber in the country to have this up and running), which began at the start of the pandemic, as a way to bring the business community together, and forge personal interaction online, when most people were lacking this due to working from home. Neil Welsh, (PM+M), described how attending ChamberLIVE events inspired him to create the ‘Navigating the Now and Next’ events, to give business leaders a platform to share their stories and ask for support where required.
Ian Liddle (Farleys Solicitors) spoke about the challenges the pandemic had brought to his and his clients businesses. However, Ian noted that businesses face challenges all of the time from external sources, but it is how business leaders react to them which affects the outcome. It was stressed that looking for the positives in a negative situation, adapting to change and being proactive are paramount when navigating challenges. Jane Parry (PM+M) illustrated Ian’s point in her recollection of the 17 March 2020, when the Government announced offices were to close, which she described as ‘absolutely terrifying’. Jane explained a vivid recollection driving home after hearing the Government announcement whereby she was worrying about the team’s jobs, if the business would survive, but she chose to react positively – successfully leading the team through the pandemic, ensuring she provided employees with a sense of security, which came with a huge sense of responsibility.
Remote working was discussed frequently throughout the event, with business leaders discussing the changes they have made to make this work for their business, and their employees. Promoting a good work life balance, increasing communication with employees and ensuring there is a focus on mental wellbeing were all points which the panellists agreed were paramount when navigating remote working. Furthermore, Jane discussed the variation in how people work from home, some people thrive in a home-working environment, enjoying working flexibly with no commute. However, there are also people who really struggle with it and need social interaction, so striking a balance is key. Ian added that many people rely on social interaction, and this can promote camaraderie, team building and improved learning, as well as promote brand values and culture – it is hard to create this through a screen.
David Scholes, (Mindsight Connect), added how his business has spent 18 months reflecting on, and delivering, mental health support to those who have been affected by lockdown, supporting those who have been furloughed, as well as business leaders who have had to make those decisions. Over the past 12 months, Mindsight Connect’s Roast and Toast sessions have helped over 263 businesses in Lancashire with mental wellbeing support.
Looking forward, the panel agreed that they don’t see a full-time return to the office happening in the future, instead, they see their businesses having a hybrid mix of remote and office working, hopefully catering to employees individual needs whilst ensuring the business demands are met. The importance of continuing to promote a good work/life balance, and ensuring there are boundaries between work and home, was also stressed when looking to the future.
Miranda commented on the effect the pandemic has had on various sectors in East Lancashire, with manufacturing and import/export growing considerably, whilst hospitality/health and tourism has been suffering. It was questioned whether Government funding should be extended beyond September to ensure those sectors that are struggling get back on their feet.
Commercial property is another area which has been booming during the pandemic, with an increase in online sales causing businesses to increase their warehouse/distribution space to cater for the high demand. Ian stated that demand was exceeding supply. Michael Garbutt (Handelsbanken) echoed Ian’s comments with his experiences of industrial and warehousing being a very attractive sector. Rachel Bayley (Burnley.co.uk) echoed this with her experience of demand for property in the town.
The event also shone a light on local procurement and supply chains, urging business leaders to ‘support local’ when deliberating new contracts, to ensure we get the local economy thriving as soon possible. Due to Brexit, it seems many businesses are starting to look at the UK to source their manufacturing needs as surcharges etc. are causing instability in European markets. This could be good news for the UK and local economy, as well as help towards reducing carbon footprints.
Jane also commented on possible tax rises, which seem to be a given at some point in the future, with the question being when rather than if. It is predicted that we are likely to see a new inheritance tax system looking forward, as there have been many consultations over the past two years, so that is a prediction for the future and that nothing is likely to be as generous as it is at present.
All in all, as with our previous ‘Navigating the Now and Next’ events, the theme of remaining positive and looking towards brighter days shone through in this event, with the main focus on people, mental wellbeing, ‘shopping local’ and collaboration.
Should you wish to discuss your own situation, or seek advice for your business, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Neil Welsh, who will happily point you in the right direction.