A transcript of the podcast “CoVID-19 – Implications and BCP Guidance for Businesses”!
Our guest for this podcast is Ian Knowlson! You may know him as ‘a Global Influencer’, ‘a Growth-Coach’, ‘a Business-Mentor’, or ‘an Employment Futurist’ in the global business landscape, especially the recruitment landscape.
Ian, would you like to provide a bit of an introduction to your background and expertise?
I’m in the UK, I’m well known as a growth coach, as you rightly pointed out, in the recruitment sector. I’ve been working in recruitment for the past 35 years, and most of my commentaries and my introductions are about the future of employment, the future of work. And it’s through this work I’ve gained recognition as a global influencer and a business expert by several brands including Cisco, IBM, Sage, and Salesforce. I’ve been named one of the top 10 global influencers on the future of work and future of talent by Onalytica. So that’s a bit of background about me.
Thank you for taking the time out to speak with me, Ian!
It’s been three months since we last connected and talked about skills shortages and future workplace.
However, a lot has changed in these three months. This global COVID-19 pandemic is hurting people; it’s hurting their health and hurting their ability to earn their bread and butter.
So many industries globally are taking a serious hit as well! Do you see them coming back from this?
It’s a global tragedy, the likes of which most people haven’t experienced, since, I suspect, the Second World War. On a global mortality scale, I recall the 1918 Spanish flu virus which spread across the world and had a fatal impact on human lives.
To answer your question, I’m optimistic. I think the world will bounce back, but I don’t think it will be the same world. Most industrialised nations around the globe are in lockdown. Most countries in Europe, and the US, most probably, are moving into lockdown, many countries in Asia, including you guys (India), are in lockdown andChina is still healing from their initial experience with COVID-19.
I believe that being forced into lockdown is causing people to reflect and think about their life, their business, how they do business. And I think when we all emerge from this, maybe in 12-18 months, the world will be different.
But I am positive. I do think civilisation will bounce back from this. But will it be same? No, I don’t think it will.
Photo by Edwin Hooper
Currently, the Travel and Hospitality industry is suffering the most. What about the IT and healthcare sector? Any thoughts there?
Let’s leave healthcare to one side for a minute, and talk about IT.
I think IT is a business that’s probably not been impacted as much as others. From what I hear, IT has got a very high percentage of people that are already working from home. Global businesses like Cisco operate using their WebEx platform, and I know from talking to people within Cisco that they’ve rolled down that facility for many customers. I had a demonstration in January, which was fascinating, absolutely fascinating, about how their platform can be used. It’s not the only platform; there are four or five others that are used by Cisco and various other IT businesses. So, from a tech point of view where people can work independently, where they are not in data centres, where they’re working on projects, software development can carry on.
I’m sure that there are major issues in the data centres and the service centres, and also where people need to come together physically to share information. Even in terms of actually building technology, the manufacturing sites will be impacted as well.
So that’s the tech world.
In terms of health care,
Where do I even start? Everyone has moved into, what you and I would call, emergency mode. There is a massive effort worldwide to add capacity to the healthcare system. The focus is rightly on providing ventilators for patients, personal protective equipment for doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals who are on the frontline combating this pandemic. These increased efforts are critical to saving the healthcare systems from being overwhelmed.
We may see more real-time surveillance for contact tracing, antibody tests, and targeted quarantine to isolate potential cases. I believe there would be a focus on developing and implementing new healthcare systems and protocols that prevent the resurgence of the disease once we pass the peak.
In this difficult time, if your recruitment and staffing agency needs assistance, then get in touch with the QX COVID Support team. QX RPO is offering COVID support for recruitment companies, intending to facilitate the rebuild process of your business amidst this crisis.
So as you said that industries are at a new low at present, some have been hampered severely, some have not been hampered so severely, and you see them coming back in 12 to 18 months. How does this impact the global economy?
It’s impossible to tell how much the growth rate of the global economy will drop by. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) has come out and said that it expects the coronavirus spread to impact the local economy as well as the global economy. There’s no question about that!
What I’ve seen in the UK is that whenever we’ve suffered downturns, after the end of it, there’s always a re-ignition of businesses, of growth. For example, in the building trade in the UK, we have major capital projects. We have major construction projects that aim to build 200,000 new houses every year. Those will be stopping or grinding to halt now. But, you know, in six months, once life regains normalcy, these projects will restart, those properties will be built. The people moving into those properties will need furniture; they will need household appliances.
You see, a return to normalcy will restart the economy. Increased pent-up demand will begin to repair the economy.
The biggest question is liquidity and how much money will be around. In the UK we’ve been very fortunate. The UK government has invested a fairly major support package for workers. I think the USA government passed a US$2 trillion economic package as well. I’m hopeful that similar support is offered by governments of other parts of the world.
All right. Speaking of the UK economy, what support are the businesses, especially the small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), receiving from authorities?
Okay. So, the UK government has introduced a package to support the furloughed staff. As companies are making people redundant, albeit temporarily, because of lack of income, the UK government has agreed to pay the wages of staff that are laid off whose salary is around 30,000 a year; they will pay 80% of the salary. So two and a half thousand pounds a month, certainly for the next two to three months. And maybe beyond that if that is what is needed.
That means most employees in the UK companies will be receiving their wages through the support of the UK government for the foreseeable future. So that takes care of the average employee. In addition to that, we have about 5 million people in the UK who are self-employed. They may include people like freelance designers, carpenters, builders, bricklayers, scaffolders, tradespeople etc. The government has agreed to give them two and a half thousand pounds. Obviously, there are conditions to be met around this as well. Different authorities have also come out and offered support through the banks, building societies and financial institutions loans.
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I am aware of some of the businesses that I’m supporting have been given a hundred thousand pound overdraft at meagre interest rates. One figure, I heard quoted the other day, was at 0.1% interest, and that’s for 12 months, that’s £100,000, no strings attached!
There is provision for the support of up to million pounds, but the banks are looking for some guarantees; the government will also guarantee to underwrite 80% of that money. And for the bigger businesses, there is additional capital support available. So the liquidity in the UK economy is being underwritten by the UK government.
For more information about the UK Government support to employers and businesses, click here.
And how are businesses responding to this support?
Even with this support, a lot of businesses are having to lay-off staff; many are furloughing their employees or putting them on work from home.
Work from home to stay safe from CoVID-19. Photo by engin akyurt
The businesses that I’m working with, where their staff can work from home, they’re using WebEx, Zoom and other conference call facilities. They are using virtual project management tools and another tech that’s helping them through this pandemic.
The staff that are effectively redundant and have no work are still getting paid are being supported.
My youngest son has just finished school, and he’s working for McDonald’s at the moment before he starts a new job. McDonald’s has closed all their sites in the UK, so he is now furloughed from work, and he’s getting 80% of the wages that he would have got paid for the last three months.
This support is critical to help people. They shouldn’t have to panic and worry about paying for food and essential stuff.
Coming back again to your question, some businesses are in a full-scale recruitment mode.
Most of the supermarkets in the United Kingdom have announced recruitment exercises to recruit more staff. Aster, Lidl, Tesco, Sainsbury’s, Morrisons; they’ve all announced close to 4,000 jobs. New recruitment drives are in place to recruit more drivers, people to pack shelves, people to help deliver food. While many people are being laid off, there’s a new opportunity for people to join in new capacities. And maybe it’s a temporary thing, and it’s not perfect, but it’s something.
We’ve also had half a million people volunteering to support the NHS, to support the doctors and nurses. Recently retired doctors are returning to the workplace. So, there’s lots of movement, and it’s quite a dynamic world we live in. It literally changes by the day. At the moment there’s a significant demand for ventilators across the globe. Companies that manufacture motorcars such as Jaguar and Land Rover, and Dyson that makes vacuum cleaners are all now focused on building ventilators.
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All of them are coming together to support healthcare. They do need all the help they can get.
The Mercedes formula one team, working with University College London has developed a new breathing device for coronavirus patients, which was announced recently. These devices could be exported or mass-produced across the world. So yes, people are coming together. And I can’t imagine it’s any different in India, in the US, in South America, Germany, France, Netherlands and other geographies.
You know, as a society, we’re all coming together. But the one thing I would say is that there are gaps in the support. It’s not perfect. But you know what? I think the overwhelmingly vast majority of people in the United Kingdom, certainly from the government’s measures, are being supported and helped.
What is the situation of labourers in the UK?
Well, they are self-employed, and they can claim through the benefits system, what we call universal credit. Now. It’s not without its critics. It’s not perfect. Just a few weeks back, there were up to a hundred thousand people trying to access the department of working pensions which gives out universal credit. Their website and their helpline were jammed with queries and inquiries too.
So, you know, this crisis isn’t without significant capacity issues in a lot of areas. But you know, I think most of the governments around the world have responded in a phenomenally positive way. I guess the US government is lacking in providing support to the labourers; what’s happening in New York at the moment seems to be a huge concern.
It is. And in fact, we will have this discussion again on another day. But I’ll go back to the businesses again, as you pointed it’s been a challenging time for all the industries, all the companies. So, what should be the priorities of these businesses during this pandemic?
So I’ll share what I’ve been advising business owners in the last three weeks, and I’ve done a lot of it.
The first thing every business owner has a responsibility to do is to ensure the longevity of the organisation.
What we’ve done is we’ve run a scenario. We’ve looked at the cost of the business. The first thing every business owner has a responsibility to do is to ensure the longevity of the organisation. Because when we come out on the other side of this crisis, we want businesses to reemploy people who were laid off. We want the right wealth across the globe because it helps feed our societies and feed our communities. So the preservation of the business has to take precedent if you’re a business owner. And that includes protecting your workers, your workforce. That may mean stopping work where social distancing isn’t possible in the workplace. If people can’t work from home, you potentially have to close down your business, but you have to do it in such a way that it can be restarted.
You will have customers that need service and support. If you are providing essential goods like food or materials necessary for everyday living, then you need to operate, taking adequate precautions to protect yourself and your workforce.
Most businesses are disengaging from the clients where they’re not providing essential services.
However, the software is one of those businesses that can continue safely and trade. Your data centres, provided your staff are socially distancing in the workplace and taking all the adequate precautions; maybe they can continue to operate. Broadband and the internet is quite crucial at this point. And maintaining that also helps maintain social cohesion. I think that’s very important.
Another critical step for preservation of the business is cutting down on costs. In my case, I have suspended software licenses for things I’m not using. Like my marketing software, I’ve cut that down, and I’m not spending on marketing at the moment. I don’t think it’s appropriate. I suspect other businesses are doing the same.
Businesses must do what they must to sustain, but they must do it with empathy and morality. We had an unfortunate situation in the UK where Mike Ashley, who owns SportsDirect, an outlet which sells sports and leisurewear, tried to claim that his businesses were essential for the maintenance of modern life. It didn’t go down too well with the public. So, yeah, not impressive at all. Not impressive.
Business longevity should be one of the priorities of businesses. To achieve this, you mentioned protecting the workforce and cutting down costs. Anything else they should add to their Business Continuity Plan (BCP). Anything else they need to add to their agenda?
Well, there are a few things I’d like to add:
The first thing I would say is that the organisations should, if they could, pivot their resources to support their nations. Now there are businesses we just talked about like Jaguar and formula one Mercedes car who can turn their manufacturing business from making motor cars into making ventilators. So businesses across the world that can do that must do that. That’s key and quite important. I heard last week that Louis Vuitton is making hand sanitizers. My daughter is involved in the fashion industry; she’s working for a brand that’s been making bags and materials for the NHS. This is where resources and businesses can pivot and support.
This isn’t about profiteering; this is about practically coming to the support of our society that needs it.
This is a test of humanity.
The human race is being tested here, and it’s about working together to support each other.
I know of businesses that are recruitment companies in South Wales; their staff spent the weekend going down the streets knocking on people’s doors to make sure that if people needed food, they could help them get food. Showing compassion and consideration to people around us is the least we can do. As a business, we can pivot our resources, our organisational structures to help support the communities in which we operate and in which we are living. I see local businesses that can no longer open as restaurants working as takeaways. I see shops that can’t open like a proper shop but will offer home deliveries.
So our small butchers, our greengrocers, these people are the ones who are supporting the community. And I see locals who are laid off work offering to use their cars to drive and deliver these resources around. Businesses, by doing this, they are supporting the communities they are a part of. This is a community responsibility; this is a social responsibility. That’s what we’re doing here, that’s what we must aspire to do everywhere. It’s helping our communities. And the same must be driven in India; I know hotels that are opening their doors to the homeless, other hotels which are offering their rooms for people to recuperate from the hospital. These things are all possible, aren’t they?
Yes. You are right. These things are possible. Very well put, Ian!
I don’t have any more questions. First of all, I’d like to thank you for sharing your insights here. They were quite valuable, quite incisive. And, to conclude, is there any final message that you’d like to share with the audience?
Yeah, there are two things, Aron.
Firstly, going back to one of my global influencer topics, the future of work, I think we’ve just had a massive global experiment in work-from-home exercise. I know a lot of business owners in the UK who resisted homeworking for their staff, and now it’s being forced upon them. And so I think one of the critical things that will happen is that this will transform the workplace. For businesses in some cases, it will work in their favour, other cases, if they don’t manage it well might not succeed. That will be a key thing.
The second thing I would like to say to everybody is that this is a test for humanity. This is a test for the human race, and it’s time we should come together to support each other and, and help each other wherever we are, wherever people are. And I sincerely wish everybody the best, and I hope they stay in good health and stay indoors and keep themselves safe.
A great concluding message, Ian. Well, thank you again for participating in this podcast. I wish you good health, and I hope we get to catch up again soon, and I hope that next time we connect this CoVID-19 pandemic has passed.
Yeah, let’s do that. Let’s make a date to do that, Aron and I love and best wishes to all of you over in India, and I look forward to seeing you all very soon.