Notes from an empty office

So, what a changed world we are currently living in! For many of us things have changed immeasurably since this time last month, for others the changes have been less dramatic. But wherever you are amongst all this, things have changed.

It is now one month since my last face-to-face client meeting and that got me thinking about what has changed for us at Grande Cuisine since lockdown began. For the first week there were no major changes: work that was already booked in – be that finishing off an install, delivering a new suite to site, or fulfilling service and maintenance commitments – all got done, albeit with a bit of ‘social distancing’ as required. At the end of the week, we called the team together and explained to them just how hard this whole ‘thing’ might be for us as individuals, for Grande Cuisine as a business, and for our industry. We were, perhaps, more fortunate than some other businesses because we had an idea of what might lie ahead from our supply partners in Italy and France, countries which we know are somewhat further down this difficult path.

Week two saw a significant drop in enquiries across all areas of the business – sales, service, and installation. One site closed (we have yet to be given a date for when it will re-open), another implemented a one ‘trade’ per day policy for access, and most service work got postponed as the hospitality sector shut up shop, by order of the government. The transport supply chain gradually slowed down, and goods in-transit took that little bit longer to arrive at the warehouse. At the end of week two we took the decision to furlough half of the team on the basis that the phones were not ringing and the normal deluge of incoming emails had become little more than a trickle – work was drying up. The next fortnight was very much the same and, with only one service call in week four, and after discussion with the team, we took the decision to furlough the remaining 50%, for the following three-week period.

Whilst you would not wish the current crisis on anybody you do find out a lot about your team when situations like this arise. My staff have been amazing and unbelievably supportive of the company and each other. I knew I had people in the business who were great at their job, but I have also discovered that they are great people, happy to turn their hand to anything to make sure that we (all) get through this.

So where does that leave me, the Managing Director of a company which, on the face of it, has no on-going business? I am obviously concerned for my immediate work colleagues – I make sure that they are up to speed at the end of each week with what is happening – and this has inspired me to start thinking about the best way to get the business up and running again once we are through this. As part of the furlough initiative, we have enrolled some of the team onto online training courses and sent others home with copies of the CFSP guide to give them better knowledge and understanding of the industry in which we operate. Essentially, we are using the time to do a bit of personal development – something that none of us ever seem to have found the time to do before!

Personally, I am trying to stick to a routine, even if it is markedly different to the one that I am used to. I am lucky enough to live just a short distance from the office and can therefore travel in each day, something that has numerous benefits. Firstly, it means I can cycle to work, on pleasantly quiet roads, and get my daily exercise into the bargain. Secondly, I can leave the dining room table free for my 17-year-old daughter to do her sixth form work, instead of fighting her for the space. And thirdly, I get to appreciate how lucky I am to live in a relatively rural location – I cannot begin to imagine how hard it must be for those who live in apartments with no outside space. Every day I begin to appreciate the little things in life that much more.

My typical day currently revolves around emails, keeping in contact with industry colleagues, friends, associates, suppliers, clients, and following up on any calls or emails that come in. There is still some activity out there and I am encouraged by this, as well as the fact that people are already looking to the future. When this is over, I believe that we will see a bounce back, perhaps limited at first, but in time things will return to normal. I am an eternal optimist – you need to be when you work in sales!

Until then the highlight of my (working) week will be getting invited to a facetime call/conference call/zoom meeting – just to see industry colleagues is great. If you had asked me for a video meeting three or four months ago I would have found any excuse not to be on it so I could travel to see the client or supplier instead for a face-to-face meeting. Not anymore, and I suspect I am not alone.

So, look on this time as one to make a change, be it to video conferencing, cycling or something else. Take the time to appreciate the things around you, be appreciative of all that you have, and remember those who are worse off than you. Stay safe, stay well, and stay home. But most of all, stay sane!