My Column

Firms rallying round those who need aid

  • Date: Monday 23rd March 2020
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In the week since my last column, life as we know it has changed beyond measure.

 

Only seven days ago, many were still unconvinced by the danger that the Coronavirus posed not just to our health, but businesses, economy and actual way of life. The messages coming out of Downing Street were all relatively low-key, all about herd immunity, keeping calm and carrying on, with some vague advice on maybe not going to the pub.

 

Now, we are living in a completely different world and this is only the beginning. Tens of thousands of hospitality workers were looking like they were going to lose their jobs as their industry has fallen off a cliff. Thanks to the chancellors unprecedented intervention on Friday businesses  may be able to minimize  some of the damage. Notwithstanding this many businesses across the board are going to be in serious trouble and some will be lucky to still be here once we are over the worst of this pandemic

 

What has been heartening though, is seeing how some businesses and the people who run them have responded to the crisis.

 

With the schools closed now, children who are normally provided a free breakfast will be missing out, but the Prestoungrange Gothenburg pub in East Lothian has stepped up to fill the void promising to feed every child that is brought to their door. Similarly, Glasgow’s 1051 GWR are giving away soups, pizza and pasta to anyone who needs it. The restaurant have set no limits on what can be taken away, with the intention people use it to feed the elderly, vulnerable or isolated, as well as children and essential staff such as NHS workers, of which there is sure to be plenty at the next-door Gartnavel Hospital.

 

Responding to a global shortage of hand sanitizer, and I’m sure a rapid downturn in their own output, some smart Scottish drinks companies have pivoted to start making a different kind of alcohol-based product. Following requests from caregivers in Dundee, Verdant Spirits have now started making their own hand sanitizer instead of gin and are giving it away free to local care homes. Beer company Brewdog quickly followed their lead, switching from Punk IPAs to “Punk Sanitizer” and are also pledging to give them away to those most in need.

 

Glasgow-based PR company Electric Shores normally work in the music and club industry, but while there are no shows to promote, they have come up with a brilliant plan to try and get iPads and other devices into the hands of the elderly in care homes and the likes, so they can video chat with their families while in enforced isolation. It’s a wonderful idea and one I know the Scottish Care authorities are keen to get behind.

 

My favourite has to be the great bunch of lads over at Partick Thistle Football Club, or as they’ve renamed themselves, Partick Thistle Family Club. With no games on the horizon (possibly not a bad thing for the poor Jags fans at the moment), the club are calling all their elderly and vulnerable fans to offer help with shopping, collecting prescriptions and more. Even better, but it’s the actual players who are getting stuck into this worthy task too, not just the regular staff.

 

These are just a small example of the way Scottish businesses are reacting to the worst crisis the country has seen in generations and it’s heartening to see. Obviously the main reason is that people are helping each other, that goes without saying. But, without being cynical, these businesses are doing themselves no harm in showing the public who they really are and how they have responded when needed. Consumers have long memories, so when all this is over and done with, we’ll all know who was there for us when we needed them and who weren’t.

 

Weep

 

When businesses left, right and centre are going out of their way to help not just their staff, but the general public in these awful times, it's disheartening to see others doing anything but. The Coylumbridge Hotel in Aviemore responded to the crisis by not only immediately sacking their staff, but evicting said staff from their live-in accommodation, with one unfortunate reduced to living in a tent in freezing conditions.

 

Yes, things are difficult to say the least for businesses at the moment, and hotels are some of the worst hit, but such a lack of humanity beggars belief. Naturally they’ve been hammered for it across the media, with reviews and on social media, but looking ahead, this is a decision that will have long-reaching repercussions for their brand and hotel, none of them good.

 

 

Laugh

 

There’s not much to laugh about at the moment, but I am enjoying seeing the entire country adapt to working from home all of a sudden. Imagine a rainy, windswept easter bank holiday when the entire family is stuck in the house. It’s always mayhem. Well, now we have that every day, so seeing a parent trying to work when their toddler was painting the floor, the walls and themselves had me in stitches.

 

Husbands and wives will be trying not to kill each other in between work calls, entire teams will be video-conferencing looking like they’ve been dragged through a hedge backwards and dogs and cats will be sounding boards for new ideas, purely for someone to talk to. It’s a brave new world, but at least we can see the funny side to some of it.

 

Side

With businesses in freefall and panic on how we are all going to cope if we can’t get into the office, I was pleased to see some level-headed and informed thinking on the matter from an expert. Tom Sime, the CEO of digital transformation specialists Exchange Communications, who operates his business across more than 100 countries, was pressing the importance of utilising the technology available to us to prevent huge losses to the economy and long term damage. As he sees it, from a technology and connectivity perspective, we might just be in the strongest situation we’ve ever been in to counter a potential pandemic hitting the country.

 

We are already living in a society where working from home is commonplace, with an estimated four million of us taking advantage of the flexibility it offers. That’s 14% of the population. By comparison, in a tech savvy nation like Japan the number is more like 4%. The systems and technology are already in place to minimise the effects of any shutdowns in the workplace and have been for some time. Preparations have been made, even if we weren’t aware we were making them.

 

Telecom providers will be essential links in the chain if such a situation arises, enabling teams to continue working, maximising the technology or implementing temporary measures to support staff working from home. Doomsday warnings and forecasts of huge disruption may or may not be accurate when it comes to the physical impact of Coronavirus on us all, but as far as business telecoms and connectivity is concerned, we only have to use what we already have at our fingertips to keep the country up and running, but the time is now to ensure it is all in place.

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