10 Minutes with Peter Bates, MD of Scantec - Reflecting on a Year Since the Start of the National Lockdown

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At the start of 2020, no one could have predicted the extent of what lay ahead and the impact the Coronavirus pandemic was to have on business and each and every one of us as individuals.   A lot has changed over the last 12 months so exactly 1 year on since the first UK National Lockdown was announced, we spend 10 minutes with Peter Bates, Managing Director of Scantec, reflecting on the last year and how it’s changed the way we operate business.

Q. When news first started to circulate about the new Coronavirus at the start of January 2020, I’m sure very few people anticipated the scale and impact of what was to come but as Managing Director of Scantec, what were your first thoughts on how the business may be impacted and how you would address it?

A. Going back to January 2020, the virus still very much seemed a distant issue. We knew that it may arrive in the UK but perhaps not the scale of what was to come and how disruptive it would be.  However, as time went on and into February / March we recognised that we would need to plan ahead and start putting strategies and measures in place. 

Q. On 23rd March 2020 when the government announced the 1st national lockdown, what immediate actions did you take?

A. When the announcement happened on 23rd, we had anticipated it, so we’d already put things in place in terms of IT.  We already had the infrastructure to allow our teams to go and work remotely as we’d been on the cusp of trialling remote working for our employees anyway. We had made the decision for employees to work from home even before the Government announcement as we saw things were developing and so from the outset, everyone in the business had the technology to enable working remotely.

Q. How has the business been most impacted over the last year?

A. Just before 23rd March, we saw clients starting to cancel jobs, offers getting retracted, start dates being postponed so there was an immediate dip in business. In the weeks after, most companies who we work with were making sure their people could work remotely so a lot of business was on hold and it was quite tough but bit by bit over the weeks, new work trickled back. We saw demand for more temporary roles in particular as companies worked out their response and re-aligned their strategies.  

Within 4 weeks of being into the national lockdown we realised the situation was likely to go on much longer so we put things in place internally to support our team and make sure they didn’t feel isolated. One of the things we implemented was a weekly company-wide Zoom call to update on what was going on, enable our teams to be able to still see each other and hear what was happening across the business and not feel isolated. Some staff went on furlough so it was also important to keep in touch with them and make sure there was a good level of communication. 

I think it’s important to acknowledge that unfortunately we did have to make some redundancies.  This is never a nice decision and particularly as some were colleagues we’d worked with for quite some time but we had to respond to the level of business in the market place at the time. We must remember that whatever effect the pandemic had on the business though, it has also had a human impact. The business is the people so how we handled this, being transparent and supporting our people and their wellbeing is important to us.

Q. How has the market you operate in changed over the last year?

A. Initially our Trades team was most impacted as construction sites shut down and this type of work obviously can’t be done from home but after 6-8 weeks sites started re-opening with social distancing and additional measures in place, so work began to pick up again. However, we predominantly work in professional sectors where workers have the capability to work from home so although there was an initial dip in business while the country was in crisis response mode, as weeks went by, companies seemed to recognise they needed to find ways to carry on so each month the amount of business built back up. Our busiest month last year was actually December which is unusual in recruitment and from there we’ve continued on, growing month on month into this year.

Q. While it has been an incredibly challenging year in many respects, have there been new opportunities you’ve been able to identify as a result?

A. There are 2 parts to this. Firstly, just before the pandemic we brought in a new Operations Director whose focus is on driving performance and secondly, due to things going quieter we were naturally doing more strategic and business development work. The period of time at the start of the pandemic was very much about relationship building and supporting our candidates and clients so as a result of both of these factors, we’ve secured a number of new successful contracts. 

There is a saying that the way you run a business during a recession is the way you should run your business all the time – focus on those key drivers and activities and delivering a quality service to your clients.  That’s what we’ve done, and we are seeing the benefits now.

Q. In what ways have the business, and you personally as an experienced MD, had to adapt over the last year?

A. In terms of working remotely, we had the technology to do that so luckily that wasn’t an issue and due to the nature of our business, we were able to adapt quickly.  But we also have to be conscious that not everyone has got the best working environment at home, they may not have the space, they may have young children, we’ve all had those zoom calls when the kids or dogs make an appearance, so we’ve learnt to be flexible and adaptable but it’s also making sure everyone is ok.  Some people live on their own so while remote working does work, as humans we also need interaction with others and to feel part of a team so it’s being mindful of employee wellbeing and adapting our communications accordingly. 

I personally miss the human interaction so can’t wait to get back in the office now!

Q. On reflection, is there anything looking back that you would have done differently?

A. There are not many things I would change about what we’ve done. Some of the things we’ve implemented such as more flexible working, we were about to trial and implement prior to COVID-19 so it has been an opportunity to take stock, reflect and drive change more quickly. It’s almost been a catalyst for that change and looking at things differently.

Q. What changes do you think you will implement for the long term as a result of the events of the last year?

A. The main one is remote working.  We’ll never go back to the office 5 days a week now.  When we’re past COVID-19, we’ll be bringing in a split between office and remote working to make work/life balance better for our employees but also to make sure we still retain a sense of togetherness. Flexibility, work/life balance and wellbeing of employees is a priority.  We’ll be continuing to utilise new technology as much as possible moving forward.  And also to continue to prioritise the level of service and relationships we offer to our clients all the time as that’s at the heart of what we do as a business.

Q. What key learns have you personally taken from the last year of running a business through a crisis?

A. Unfortunately due to age and Scantec having been going for over 30 years, I’ve been through 2 or 3 recessions before the effects of COVID-19! So we were very aware as time went on, what the impact on our business could be and making sure that we kept the team focussed on the day job and delivery was important. Focus on doing the basics well.  Working permanently from home has been tricky but definitely a reminder of how much we value human interaction.

Q. Looking ahead to the next 12 months, what do you anticipate will be your main challenges and also your key priorities?

A. My main priority is to continue to grow the business. We’re back on track in that respect, but the trickiest thing will be as we grow the team and bring new hires into the business, how we continue to deliver the right level of training and support to those with less experience.  I believe though that our hybrid model of office/remote will allow us to do this.

While it’s been a challenging 12 months for everyone, there is plenty to feel positive about in the year ahead.  As business continues to flourish and we continue to grow, we have opportunities for experienced Recruiters within our teams so get in touch with our Talent Acquisition Manager, Clare Lawrence at clarel@scantec.co.uk to find out more about the careers we can offer at Scantec.