Matthew Clarke, head of our Teesside office, shares his thoughts with Tees Business on how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting business and the region.
How are you dealing with the current Covid crisis and how much has it impacted on your business?
Personally, I found the lockdown really tough at the start. I’m used to being out and about, whether that’s doing site inspections with work or going out for a day of cycling, so it was a big adjustment. As was suddenly having two children to teach and entertain! But after a bit of a wobble at the start, I’ve settled into a new routine and am now quite enjoying having some extra time at home.
As with so many, if not all businesses, we’ve felt the impact of Covid-19 at Sanderson Weatherall. We’re lucky in that closing our offices didn’t mean we had to stop working. We’ve invested a lot in technology over recent years which has paid off massively by allowing us to effectively work from home without any issues. Obviously, the lockdown restrictions stopped property inspections and viewings, but we’re working on how we can resume those again safely.
At the start of the outbreak in the UK we felt a real pause in the property market across all sectors, but we’re actually seeing things pick up quite steadily as people settle into a ‘new normal’ and realise that there is still a necessity to do business.
What is morale like within your organisation and among staff?
We’re incredibly proud of our team at Sanderson Weatherall. Every member of the workforce has adapted well to working remotely and really embraced keeping in touch. We’re very conscious that the pandemic has an impact on every aspect of life, and that impact differs from person to person and every person’s circumstances are different. Naturally people are worried about their health, their families, the economy, etc, so as an employer we’re working hard on regular communication and doing as much as we can to support our team and keep them safe.
How much has government intervention helped you and how do you think the government has handled the crisis?
For us at Sanderson Weatherall, government support has allowed us to provide job security to those people in areas of the business which temporarily aren’t able to operate.
The government intervention is a lifeline for so many businesses, especially in the retail and leisure sector. I think it’s easy to criticise the government but we’re living through a rapidly developing situation which no one has experienced before or has the exact answers at the moment.
How much do you think it will affect the Tees region, in terms of job losses and a recession?
The Tees region will unfortunately not be spared some form of ‘pain’, as will businesses throughout the UK. I think it is inevitable that there will be, if there is not already, a recession which will undoubtably lead to job losses. That said, the region has a history of resilience and an ability to bounce back from such setbacks.
The extent of any such recession is extremely difficult to predict and as would the level of any job losses. Much will depend upon the speed in which levels of business across all sectors return to some form of pre COVID-19 level.
What do you think we need to do to as a region to bounce back as quickly as possible?
Much will depend on the region’s ability to ‘weather the storm’ and where possible retain staffing levels so that when business picks back-up we can take full advantage of improvements to business levels.
Another key factor will be for businesses within the region helping each other out and, where possible, ensuring work within the region stays with businesses within the region.
And for your business, how do you plan to bounce back?
We’re already starting to see things pick up steadily, so we’re confident things will continue that way, assuming we can avoid a second peak of the virus. We’ve reacted quickly during the UK outbreak to analyse areas of our business that would suffer and put plans in place to protect those, so I’m sure that will pay off as lockdown restrictions continue to ease and the economy starts to move again.
We have sought out what opportunities there are as a result of COVID-19 and we have been providing proactive advice on rate demands and rent payment options to both landlords and tenants at this difficult time. We have also witnessed an increase in public sector opportunities following the recent relaxation of tender requirements by the Crown Commercial service due to COVID 19.
SW remain committed to maintaining our obligation to clients whist at the same time ensuring the safety of our staff.
If there was one positive message you could share, what would it be?
It would be to embrace the change! We’ve all had our lives put on hold, which gives you some time to think. I’m sure everyone has some parts of their old routine that they didn’t really enjoy that much, and also some part of lockdown life that they really love, be it a new hobby or spending more time with family. Now is your opportunity to work out what you want your new routine to be like and make some positive long-term changes to your life.
How will your business work differently after the crisis is over?
Social distancing will obviously change how we occupy our offices and carry out site inspections and viewings. I think we’ll see a real positive change in how and where people work, with more flexible attitudes towards working from home, which will give our team some additional flexibility in their work-life balance, especially those who have larger commutes.