How businesses act in the face of adversity will shape their future
29 March 2020
Jane Rexworthy, Executive Director, People 1st International
Despite being hit hard with the coronavirus fall-out, businesses both large and small in hospitality, retail and travel sectors are stepping up to the mark and demonstrating true leadership, customer excellence and solidarity at this challenging time. How organisations behave towards their stakeholders – their staff, their customers and the communities within which they operate - will not be forgotten after the pandemic is over.
And, as we look back at this period in time, it will be the businesses putting people and local communities before profits that will come out on top. Their actions, words and deeds are already creating a narrative that will help to shape their brands as corporate citizens and good employers.
In food and drink, we are seeing examples of out-of-the box thinking and creative collaboration from restaurants using ingredients that would otherwise have gone to waste to help feed the elderly, vulnerable people and key workers, to distilleries switching production to help combat the shortage of ethanol-based hand sanitiser products.
Typical of the sector’s response is Michelin-starred chef Simon Rogan and his team, based in the Lake District, who are using surplus ingredients to produce frozen dishes as well as providing produce from their own farm. In London, the Yummy Pub Co, has launched a donation scheme to enable it to cook and deliver meals for vulnerable elderly people from its four pubs – both initiatives are being taken up by pub and restaurants across the country.
Suppliers are also doing their bit - one Cumbrian catering supplier has launched a ‘click and collect’ service to the public to help vulnerable people to obtain essential goods. And catering charities are also working flat out, such as Chefs in Schools organising a large-scale effort to help London schools feed the children of key workers and distribute hot meals to those out of school as well as vulnerable adults.
In the retail sector, the tabloid headlines have focused on empty shelves and fights over toilet paper. But the real story is about ordinary staff doing an extraordinary job in the face of an unprecedented situation, with supermarkets becoming a frontline essential service overnight. Such businesses are helping to support their teams by implementing measures to keep them as safe as possible and putting financial packages in place to help those struggling to work whilst caring for others or those in self isolation.
At Morrisons, a staff hardship fund has been set up to help those who are in financial difficulty. They have also made arrangements to pay suppliers immediately to help boost their cashflow. Discount store chain Home Bargains has announced similar measures, launching a £30 million employee assistance fund to support staff through the outbreak. It has also said it will pay employees who have to self-isolate and will offer two weeks extra pay to those who don't need to.
The retail sector is being creative when it comes to using all available resources. John Lewis is exploring ways to combat loneliness and isolation by offering its partner-led services remotely, including advice, online craft & cookery classes and even 1-to-1 calls with isolated people.
Last but not least, organisations in one of the hardest hit sectors, travel, are also doing what they can to help. Carnival Corp has offered the use of its giant cruise ships as temporary hospitals for non-coronavirus patients, with some able to accommodate up to 1,000 patients and offer well-equipped medical and monitoring facilities. Hotels and booking agents are proactively offering customers full refunds on bookings, including non flexible purchases. And various hotel chains and independent businesses are offering rooms to homeless people or NHS staff trying to self isolate.
Concise and effective communication is an important tool at this time of uncertainty, even when it’s not good news. This means clear lines of communication between management decision makers and their comms teams. By investing in all available communication channels to explain the implications for customers, employees and the business as a whole, companies are at the very least demonstrating they are a responsible organisation taking prudent steps to look after and consider their people.
When this crisis comes to an end, the companies making decisions without considering the impact on their staff, supply chains or communities will risk reputational damage, alienating their own people, customers and other key stakeholders. Conversely, the positive narratives also unfolding during this time, will create lasting goodwill and those that played their part in a time of adversity will not be forgotten.