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The main subject of today's webinar was reopening – and the CBI’s Director-General, Dame Carolyn Fairbairn, was joined by two guests who are in the process of doing just that with their businesses. Surinder Arora is the CEO of Arora Group, which runs a number of hotels. Andy Wood is the CEO of Adnams, a brewing company that manages a series of pubs, shops and other locations. Here’s what they discussed:
- Another big moment for the restart
- Doing things differently
- Training staff…
- …and tracking customers
- Relaxing the quarantine.
Another big moment for the restart
Carolyn began her remarks by observing that this is a “huge week” in the recovery effort. From this weekend, various other types of business – including pubs, restaurants and hairdressers – will be able to reopen. Many of the CBI’s members are, she added, “looking forward to reopening with real enthusiasm”.
This next stage in the recovery has been underpinned by various government initiatives – from the publication of new sector-by-sector guidance to, perhaps most significantly, the relaxation of the two-metre social distancing rules. Carolyn said that she was “very, very pleased” to see the careful shift to one metre. And she described what it means for some businesses: “One major retailer told us that they can now re-open all of their checkout points…”
And there could be more to come. Tomorrow, Boris Johnson is due to give a speech on the recovery. The CBI is looking for “real, significant announcements on infrastructure and digital and sustainability” – as well as shorter-term measures, such as rates relief, that will help businesses through the weeks ahead.
However, Carolyn emphasised that there is still “some confusion” around the current arrangements. One of the problems she mentioned concerns the relaxation of the social distancing guidelines to one metre: “Some firms aren’t sure how quickly they should move to it, nor how they should communicate it to their employees and union reps.”
Carolyn also mentioned the continuing challenges around protective personal equipment (PPE): “79% of businesses are anticipating additional PPE use. That could mean an extra 3 million masks a week.” The CBI is going to keep on running its working group in this area, to help meet that demand.
Doing things differently
Both of our guests agreed that, for the foreseeable future, their sectors and businesses will have to operate very differently from how they have in the past.
In Surinder’s case, Arora has already had some experience of this different future. It kept a couple of hotels operating during lockdown, but only for use by key workers. This led to a series of measures – including “having limited grab-and-go menus, rather than full menus” – that may be continued as normal customers return.
Andy said that, similarly, the “customer experience will be different” in Adnams’ pubs. “But we need to celebrate that difference in some way.”
He went on to describe the crucial role that customers themselves will play in this process – and have been playing already, in Adnams’ retail stores which have been open for two weeks. “I’ve been astounded by the levels of compliance that we’ve seen from British customers…. We’ve had no problems at all. People understand that they need to queue, that the product range might not be as extensive as it was.”
Surinder supported this line of thought: “What we’ve found is that the customer is so understanding.”
It’s not just customers who will have to adapt; employees have to, too. Andy described the key element of this process: “Communicate, communicate and communicate again.” This communication is to help returning staff with the changes that are being implemented, but also to help furloughed staff to keep “engaged” with the business.
It is also important, he added, to listen to different employees’ views and to accommodate them: “Some want to be back at work, to see friends and colleagues… Others might be in a vulnerable household.”
Some of the communication will be of a specific variety: training. Surinder said that “we’re retraining all of our staff, from management down”. This is because so much will have to be done differently after the lockdown: “[If we had to resuscitate a customer,] we can’t give the ‘kiss of life’ in the new landscape…. So we’ve had to bring in hand-pump equipment for resuscitation. Staff are being trained on that.”
…and tracking customers
Carolyn mentioned the challenges of Test and Trace at the beginning of the webinar: “There’s some confusion around how that works for business.”
And it was a subject that kept on resurfacing, particularly in the context of how businesses can help with Test and Trace efforts by tracking their customers. Surinder pointed out how this is easier for some customers than for others: “For most people [staying in a hotel], we do have their contact details… But you do have people coming into our hotels, into our restaurants and bars, who aren’t residents, so we’re working to keep track of contact there.”
And what about in pubs? Carolyn observed that it might be particularly difficult to ask for someone’s contact details – or to tell them that they’re breaking Covid-secure guidelines – “when they’ve had a few”.
Andy added that many of Adnams’ pubs are “small and micro businesses,” and that Test and Trace may be a difficult burden for them to manage. “We need to step forward and help them in that regard… help them with record-keeping and GDPR compliance.”
Relaxing the quarantine
The 14-day quarantine rules also came up several times, not least because the government’s review is expected to announce its findings – and any changes – today. Judging by the coverage in the weekend papers, it’s likely that various relaxations will be implemented, including “air bridges” to safer countries such as France and Spain.
Carolyn described this as a “positive move”. Surinder, whose business is dependent on the free-flow of tourists, said that the bridges are “a very sensible thing”. He added that “I hope the government will keep reviewing these, opening up more and more countries and more and more destinations”.
Surinder also touched on a more internal restriction: the possibility of “local lockdowns” in areas of Britain, such as Leicester, where coronavirus cases may be rising. “I don’t have an issue [with that]… a short lockdown is better than things getting out of control again.”
Key questions we answered:
- Surinder, how transformational has changing the rules on social distancing from two metres to ‘one metre plus’ been?
- This announcement was needed for all business across the country. We can now open our businesses and have more hope. Two metres would not have been viable.
- Our teams have been re-writing our risk assessments and assessing what needs to be done on PPE, perspex screens etc.
- We will have to work in a different way, but it is a positive step. This is something we are going to have to live with for a long time.
- Our biggest priority is keeping our people and our guests safe.
- Andy, how have you adapted to this?
- We set ourselves guiding principles throughout the crisis to ensure the safety of our customers, staff, and communities we operate in. Our pubs are often in small communities and we don’t want them being a centre for disease transmission.
- So, the move by government to reduce social distancing to one metre plus has been a significant development. It is the difference between 50% of our businesses being able to reopen and 90% of our businesses being able to reopen (with reduced capacity).
- Pubs are about conviviality and conversation. That is not compatible with social distancing. When we surveyed customers on what matters to them, we found that customers want to feel safe but also want to feel normal. Feeling normal was slightly more important than feeling safe to them.
- The phrase we are using to reassure people is that ‘we have to have the theatre of clean as opposed to just being clean’. So, what this means in practice is that our staff attend tables with hand sanitisers as a demonstration to reassure customers, for example.
- Andy, how have you gone about training people in your establishments?
- Technology has been very important throughout the lockdown period. It has enabled us to communicate with our staff.
- Even with staff on furlough, communicating with them to keep them engaged was important as well. We didn’t communicate to talk about the business as they cannot work, but to keep them informed of what was going on.
- Some of our staff are bursting to get back and see customers, friends and colleagues, whereas others may be shielding or looking after vulnerable relatives.
- We have to recognise that different people within our workforce are in different emotional states. So, we had to ensure our communications are tailored to different characters within our workforce.
- Carolyn, what is the latest on the different approaches taken across the devolved nations?
- We have been working on the differences in approach between the devolved nations throughout the crisis, and it has improved. The broad direction of travel in all the nations is getting more consistent.
- An example of the issue is one street in North Wales that straddles both England and Wales. On one side of the border car dealerships are open, but on the other side they are closed. This is very confusing for people and businesses.
- Different parts of the country will operate at different paces, but part of a confidence-led recovery means a consistent message.
- Nicola Sturgeon will join us later this week on one of these webinars to talk to businesses about her approach.
- Andy, there’s been talk of pubs being asked to retain customer records. How are you approaching this?
- Pubs are part of the social fabric of communities. But people will be visiting pubs from other towns and cities near and far, and we have to be sympathetic to those audiences.
- Track and Trace is essential, and businesses need to cooperate with the government on this.
- Several our pubs are small and micro businesses. We need to help them with their GDPR compliance and record-keeping.
- Not only is this a dangerous period as a parent business, but it is really dangerous for small tenement pubs too – many of whom would have 18 months without a high season. So, we must step in and help them throughout this.
- Surinder and Andy, customers may not realise that product ranges are not as they were before. Do you think they’ll be disappointed?
- Surinder – We have had to adapt so our product ranges have adapted. But we have found that the public and consumers are so understanding of the times we are in. We must exaggerate the hygiene practices we are implementing. This will bring confidence.
- Andy – It will be different, and we will need to celebrate that difference in some ways. People understand they have to queue, and that the product range isn’t as extensive as it was. But it is about equipping our staff to have an adult conversation with our customers on these issues. I am a great believer that the British public understand that businesses have had to adapt and are operating with the customer’s best interest in mind.
- Surinder, what is your view on the quarantine policy?
- The whole nation and business world need some flexibility on the quarantine policy.
- I wish we would have gone into the quarantine policy back in March as opposed to now – but we are where we are. The government have done the sensible thing in coming up with the concept of air bridges.
- I hope that the government will keep reviewing this policy and continue to open more countries and destinations.