Video interview? Here are some tips to bear in mind

Video interviews have become common practice, now that meeting face-to-face seems a thing of the past and as more and more employers (but also recruitment firms) cut travel costs and are looking for more efficient ways to manage their time. Although our video conferencing experience has grown exponentially in the last 4 months, an interview is not a regular meeting with colleagues, so we ought to bear that in mind. After all, this is often the final filter to decide whether you are invited for an in-person meeting, so it is important to prepare well.

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Ready for your telephone interview?

After a very quiet period in retail recruitment, we’re now seeing a flurry of activity. However most recruiters and their clients are still reluctant to meet every candidate face-to-face, meeting only the person they’re hoping to make an offer to at the end of the process.

Equally, most of us are ‘Zoomed out’, and I think therefore we’re seeing a real surge in telephone based interviewing.

My advice is to give a phone interview a bit of thought and preparation. Particularly if you bear in mind that in a face-to-face conversation, 75% of effective communication is non-verbal. So here are some tips that will help you prepare for a successful call:

Try to find out who will be interviewing you. Will there be multiple people on the call? If possible get their names and titles. Become familiar with these beforehand and you will have one less thing to worry about during the call. Try and get some background on the interviewer. Any insight you can gain about them will allow you to tailor your responses to make the best possible impression.

Make a list of your accomplishments, goals and strengths. On another list write out your weaknesses (or better still, your development needs) and what you are doing to overcome them. On a third sheet write down why you are interested in the company. Think carefully about all of these items as they often come up in interviews.

Never forget that a telephone interview is still an interview. Take time to practice interview questions with friends or family. Ask them to provide honest feedback so you can improve your responses. Mock interview questions can easily be found on the internet. If you get stuck on a question, sample answers to these questions are often provided as well.

During the mock interview, have your friend ask you questions both over the phone and in person. Make sure that they listen not only for content, but also tone, rate and clarity of your speech. If possible, record yourself speaking. Are you speaking slowly and clearly? Can you easily be heard? Is your voice portraying you as a confident and enthusiastic candidate? If not continue to practice until you are comfortable.

Find a quiet space to occupy during your interview. Ideally, there should be a comfortable place to sit as well as a table to lay out your papers. Try and find a low-traffic spot where members of the household are unlikely to disturb you.

Have a copy of your resume and cover letter close at hand. Take out those lists you made while organising your thoughts. In addition keep any notes related to the company that you feel may be helpful during the call. Spread these items out across your table so they are easy to access. Only keep what is truly necessary. Too much paper can be a distraction.

Have paper and pens handy for writing down notes, questions and most importantly, your interviewer’s names.

As the appointed hour draws near, make sure that the television and the radio are turned off. Exit your email and turn off your computer screen. If possible, disable your call-waiting. Let your family know about the timing of the interview so they do not accidentally disturb you.

The main rules are:

  • Think about how you normally answer the phone at home. When you answer the phone, do so by announcing your name, in an enthusiastic style: ‘John Pickles, Good Morning!’ If this is not your natural style, change it!
  • Sound interesting/interested, energetic and enthusiastic
  • Be succinct (don’t waffle)
  • Ask open-ended questions (beginning with who, what, when, why, where, how: these all ask for information, and keep the ball in the other person’s court). Be prepared that they will do exactly the same!
  • Don’t use jargon
  • Don’t swear or use colloquialisms (local phrases: ‘I covered the whole of London on Shanks’ pony’)
  • Be polite: Don’t use their first name unless invited to. Use their title if you know they are for example, a doctor.
  • Use the other person’s name regularly throughout the conversation (but not all the time). Also, use the company name a few times.
  • During the telephone interview, talk calmly, and with warmth. Standing can make you sound more confident and helps project a positive and professional image and smiling creates a friendly and enthusiastic impression. Do not forget to use gestures and facial expressions as you would normally do. They are translated and transmitted down the phone line. Smiling, and taking deep breaths help improve blood flow and improve your articulation.
  • To help you in establishing rapport on the phone, try to match your speaking rate and pitch to that of the interviewer.
  • Be a good listener. Your listening skills will be put to the test here, as your answers will reflect if you have been listening well or not. If you do not hear or understand what was said, do not hesitate to ask that it be repeated. Do not confabulate or make up questions.
  • Answer questions straight to the point, using short sentences. Do not say more than is expected of you. Use facts and figures, and show achievements. Let your interviewer see why you are priceless… do not overdo it of course.

Contact me if you’re not certain or would like more advice.

Good luck!

Maarten Jonckers

Made redundant? What to do next…

Now that stores, pubs and restaurants are open again, life does start to resemble a familiar shape, albeit that most of us are still working from home for at least part of the week.

However, it also means that businesses now have to deal with the reality of the aftermath of the lockdown. Those businesses in financially precarious positions in the beginning of this year mostly find themselves in a situation now, where survival is the order of the day. Resulting in deep cost cutting and redundancies galore.

On 01 July alone, thousands of people were made redundant in the retail and leisure sectors and my guess is that we’ll see more of it over the summer.

So, if you have been made redundant, what do you do?

No matter how hard it this is, you must not take this personally. Your position was made redundant, not you. That said, don’t start hitting the phones and scramble around for a new job straightaway. Give yourself some time to mourn the loss, compose yourself and draw up a battle plan.

Make sure to have a short, medium and long term outlook.

Short term

  • What is my cash position, to how many months without an income can I stretch?
  • What monthly costs can I reduce or cut?
  • Do I qualify for any government support, mortgage holiday, tax relief or such like?
  • Is there any part time job I can do that brings in some cash, without the time spent there impeding on my job search?

Medium term

  • Do I have any skills that are in high demand? If so, which (type of) companies will be interested in them?
  • Make a list of all the people you have worked with in the past, re-connect, explain what type of role you are in the market for and ask who they can introduce you to. All this of course in a socially acceptable manner – a bit of small talk and a (virtual) coffee…
  • Speak to all the recruiters you know and to those whom your contacts have highly recommended.
  • Be absolutely clear about the role you’re after, give no more than two specific descriptions to anyone you network with. If you just want ‘something in marketing’ then the likelihood of someone remembering that is far less than when you have told them, that with your background in optimising CRM programmes, you are aiming for a Head of CRM role.
  • Are your skills and experience suitable for interim work or short term contracts?

Long term

  • It is a good idea to have a plan B, in case you’re without work for longer than you had anticipated. Is switching sectors a possibility? Are your skills transferable to a more buoyant sector? The only thing to consider here though, is that I have observed over the years that for some reason it is difficult to return to the sector you came from if things don’t quite turn out as expected.
  • Can you re-train and have a second (or third) career in a completely different line of work?
  • Should you be more flexible on your salary expectation? A note of caution here! Even if you’re prepared to drop by more than 20%, companies tend not to see that as an attraction but a threat. As in, if a better paid position comes along you’ll be off again.

Finding yourself a job whilst unemployed in a downturn can be a horrible experience and to hear that you’re not alone in this, may not be particularly comforting. However, stay focused, try to stay positive and optimistic, and remember, very few people remain unemployed for the rest of their life. This time will pass.

Let me know if I can help.

Maarten Jonckers

Are you worried about having a difficult conversation?

Never mind the fact that after having been ‘locked up’ with our families for the best part of 3 months, emotions and stress can run high, there will be times in your career too when you know that in order to overcome a situation, you will need to have a tough conversation.

Right now there are so many topics that can provoke arguments within families and between friends – tensions over current racial issues, the Covid-19 pandemic (do we socially distance from our elderly parents or not?), money issues and, of course, politics. When people are stressed already, then conversations can easily escalate to becoming heated discussions very quickly.

So how do you navigate a conversation where you and the other party are either worked up or entrenched in your points of view (or both!).

How to prepare for a difficult conversation?

It is likely that you already prepare for such discussions, but don’t realise it. Sometimes, in thinking about the conversation, we feel our blood pressure rise, steam coming out of our ears and getting angry. Now that is preparation alright! However, if that is all you prepared for, then it is likely that this is what you’ll get.

So, here’s a tip. Why not visualise a positive outcome (much like athletes do before a race), visualise a calm conversation, you using a calm tone of voice, because this will actually calm you down. Next, you want to be in a positive frame of mind. You can achieve this by thinking about things to be grateful for. Maybe remind yourself to be happy to have the other person in your life, or lucky to be even having this conversation, or remind yourself of all the blessings you have.  You’ll find that this will take the sting out of the importance of this debate.

Set yourself a goal.

If you can make the other person feel good, without flattering them, then you are more likely to succeed. You can achieve this by ‘active listening’ – you listen to what they have to say, you then summarise their point of view and you describe how it makes them feel. You’re aiming for them to say ‘that is exactly right!’ Make sure, however, not to use the word ‘but’! As it will negate everything you have just stated…

Once you have done this, they will feel really understood and will feel a level of bonding with you – whether a bit or a lot, either way it is to your advantage.

This ought to be your goal. Once they feel heard (not hurt!) you’ll have a much calmer conversation, as people raise their voices, because they do not feel heard. Just think of a time when you felt acknowledged during a disagreement. Chances are that you do not remember what happened after that, I’ll tell you, the argument probably did not continue!

You might think that by acknowledging how the other person is upset, they will just dig in more. You’ll be surprised it is actually the opposite. The moment you para-phrase their point of view and how it makes them feel, they will be surprised and they will be curious to hear what you are going to say next. They will feel that you are in this together.

So, how would you start the conversation?

Once you have acknowledged their point of view and feelings, acknowledge what they are probably thinking about you right now. So, if you believe they think you’re being a prat, then say it: ‘you probably think I’m a prat right now’. This takes a bit of guts, however it is mightily effective and once you have done it, you will want to use that tactic every time. It just like a short cut to a positive outcome. It is linked with how our brains are wired. Every time you identify and call out a negative emotion, that negative emotion diminishes or even disappears, hence defusing the tension. Then, finally, you can start to talk.

So, how to deal with a normal conversation that turns heated?

If someone raises their voice (they feel they aren’t heard), acknowledge by saying ‘I’m being a prat’ or something stronger if you wish! It doesn’t really matter whether you think their point of view is accurate or fair, you just want to ‘inoculate’ their negative perception of the situation. If they have become angry, then making them feel heard will keep you calm and in control so that you don’t become angry too.

Be careful!

Explaining, or worse still, ‘mansplaining’ stuff will be a short cut to fast derailment. If you explain stuff when things get heated it will feel to the other person that you’re telling them that they do not understand (and are stupid).

The next step

Once the other person feels heard, you can ask them ‘so, how can we move forward?’. Usually this will make them take a much wider view and actually their answer is not as important as the process you have just forced them to go through. The ‘how’ question makes them assess all the negative consequences. And, you are maintaining your position by moving the problems back to the other person, without being seen as argumentative or combative.

The power of apologising

An apology ought to precede something negative. The apology acts as a warning that bad news is following, so it gives the person time to prepare for it. It is astounding what people can handle with a little bit of forewarning, rather than just being presented with the facts.

What to do if the other person becomes irate?

Surprisingly, if you use a calm, supportive tone of voice, this will usually calm them down (it is a chemical reaction in the brain). It is amazing how your tone of voice has an impact on the other person’s thinking even before you finish your sentence.

In case of an impasse or stalemate

Don’t forget that the last impression is a lasting impression. Should you be struggling to get the final word in, chances are that the last word is a cheap shot. However, if your last word is something positive then it is more likely for the other person to think about what you said and come back to propose a solution.

The bottom line is, do not get sucked into an argument before having thought about how you are going to handle it. The one who is prepared is more likely to get what they want. And if all fails, you can always resume to throwing things at each other!

Are you clear about your purpose?

Ikigai – what?

No, this is not me ordering off menu in the latest sushi restaurant or discovering a new origami shape. Now that the world is slowly arriving at a ‘new normal’, is this a good time to reflect on what you actually would like to do and achieve in this next phase of your life?

Ikigai is a Japanese concept meaning – a reason for being.

So what? I hear you say.

Whereas the accompanying graphic really is self-explanatory, it would be worthwhile to take some time to reflect on your career, your life outside of work and your plans for the future. Are you the stereotypical victim of the rat race or have you achieved the ultimate inner calm? Or, like most people, I suspect, are you somewhere in between?

2018 02 Ikigai image


I can almost hear you thinking “So why is this guy, who writes about recruitment becoming all philosophical?”
I promise, I haven’t touched the funny tobacco …

Over the last 20 years we have prided ourselves in matching people to people (rather than jobs), really looking for the perfect fit for both candidate and client. Surely everyone wants to work in an environment and with people and on projects that stimulate and excite us, for whatever reason?

It has just struck me that for all these years we have been trying to find Ikigai for our candidates and mostly we have been pretty close to achieving that. Just saying…

Please use the diagram to review where you are in your life’s journey, are there areas that you can change in order to get closer to Ikigai. Can you make (small) changes that may have a big impact on your happiness and fulfilment? If you feel that your career could be ripe for a new direction then talk to me.

If you want to go the whole hog, then please read Ikigai: The Japanese Secret to a Long and Happy Life, which is co-authored by Hector Garcia.

Right, I’m off to do some yoga..!

Is that light at the end of the tunnel?

Well folks, after 2 months in lock up (…), it looks like the shackles might be coming off in a couple of weeks, right in the middle of June. It’s been a crazy time, frustrating for some, relaxing for others, however I think we all share a sense of foreboding for the ‘new’ new!

Looking back, what have we learned?

  • Home made bread each day is brilliant, but it seems to pile on the pounds…
  • Make sure that you’re well stocked up on wine at all times, so you won’t get caught out in the next pandemic.
  • Working from home, although easier than expected, doesn’t stack up to being in the office from time to time.
  • Zoom is great! Zoom is awful! Refrain from doing 6 or more calls back-to-back in one day.
  • Organising people and setting up new procedures takes twice as long over the phone, compared to walking into a few people’s offices.
  • Exercise does aid mental wellbeing.
  • Generally, retailer’s digital channels need more investment, particularly in UX, in order to cope with a surge in demand like what we have just experienced.
  • Necessity is the mother of invention, judging by the entrepeneurship of local companies, who morphed their businesses into delivering a service or product in an entirely new way.

What needs to be done in the next 3 weeks?

  • Sell the bread machine on eBay …!
  • New store procedures for customers need to be tested, honed and fine tuned.
  • Store staff need to be divided into shift teams, so that the same people always work on the same shift to avoid spreading infection.
  • Store staff need to be trained in the new ‘rules of engagement’, is there enough protective equipment to go around, what rules need to be invented for staff rest rooms?
  • New store replenishment schedules need to be drawn up.
  • How do we ramp up staffing levels in distribution centres?
  • Bearing in mind the restrictions that will be in place for the foreseeable future, how do we make in-store shopping a great experience for those customers who dare to venture out? How do we get them to shout about it to their friends, family and neighbours?
  • How, as leaders, do you stay empathetic to those on the front line risking infection?

And, thinking about it, what are our expectations for the future?

  • There is no doubt that we’ll see a more widespread flexible working pattern across most jobs and positions.
  • This ought to lead to a less frantic commute for most, which unfortunately will lead to subdued demand for all those travel retailers, coffee shops and lunch providers.
  • Demand planning will be largely based on gut feel for the next 15 months, as it’ll be foolish to use last years’ figures. After all we don’t know to what extent demand bounces back and for what product – have shopping habits changed?
  • More store closures, as digital channel sales will be higher than pre-lockdown, and more stores will prove to be unprofitable.
  • Traditional retailers will see heightened competition from wholesalers and brands, both of whom will continue to grow their direct-to-consumer proposition.

And from a recruitment perspective?

In a downturn companies need to have key personnel in place, who have experience of managing through a recession. These individuals will therefore be in high demand. Whilst supply of these managers should be static, in reality supply will be restricted, as people generally are less inclined to change jobs in a downturn if they don’t have to. On that happy note, we’re open for business!

Keeping your team engaged and motivated : banana bread, monkey brains and boundaries

A guest post from Zena Everett, Executive Coach and Productivity expert.

Keeping your team motivated and close: what people say about panic-working, banana bread, monkey brains and boundaries.

Now that we are in the groove of remote working, our challenge is to maintain motivation, focus and connection. What’s working? Here’s a list of home truths from people I’ve canvassed: take a breather to skim through it and share it with your managers:

Zoom Zombies – virtual meeting management:
Virtual work is exhausting because we have to concentrate much harder to pick up all the non-verbal cues. Reassess the meeting schedule that you put into place at the start of the lockdown and cut back if you can.  Ask people what they prefer now, what more they need from you and what can you stop doing. Cap meeting lengths to keep them pacey. Separate the well-being meetings from the business ones, otherwise people feel that you are just paying lip-service to the emotional aspects, waiting to get on to the real agenda. Zoom socials feel hollow to some of us.  Double check if people really want to do them now.  When we keep inviting work into home it means the boundaries between the two get fuzzy.  It might be kinder to give introverts a break from their screens, or at least make your socials optional. One team I work with agree that all videos are on, or all videos are off, at the start of each meeting.  Don’t expect to have any influence in a meeting if you are the only person staying hidden.

Train your frazzled monkey brain to work more quickly:
Don’t beat yourself up if you struggle to concentrate.  The best use I’ve found for Hilary Mantel’s new book is for raising my laptop when the camera is on. Our monkey, limbic, brain is working overtime trying to protect us.  That’s why we are recalling vivid dreams.  You can’t fight this, but you can distract your brain. Work in intense bursts of time, say 45 minutes, setting alarms to start and a timer to stop. Avoid procrastination by breaking tasks down into mini-deadlines. Monitor your team’s activity and ensure they are having proper breaks.  Encourage them to work through their core tasks more efficiently so they get through them in less time and then switch off. That should be the goal here, not pointless presenteeism. Lead by example on this. Lunchbreaks are a necessity: make everyone block them out in their calendars.  I don’t care if people are working across time-zones: they have to have a proper break to re-energise. I’m printing off documents to read them quickly (I know, I know) as paper has less distractions. Explain to your team how their performance will be measured during this period, e.g.  quality of output, not quantity of emails.

Closer teams are more productive:
If you want your team to stay engaged and motivated give them engaging and motivating work to do. What’s the game – changing problems no one ever has had time to fix before – can you start it now? Get people collaborating to build team relationships and trust. Set them problems to solve. ‘What can we do to make the greatest impact on our customers during this time?’ Keep checking in with the progress of the work, not checking up on the workers. Practice your coaching and feed-back skills: how’s it going, what are you learning, how did you make that happen, what’s working well for you now? Seeing an end result gives us a sense of achievement. That’s why baking is so popular now – people want to see an end result and something they can control. Can you translate that drive into work instead: impactful projects, with clear output?

Build your boundaries and don’t panic-work:
Be wary of your own need to add value or justify your salary. You might be less busy than usual, particularly if you have an externally-focused role. Don’t start projects for the sake of it; that creates more work for other people who are still just as busy as before but now with additional responsibilities at home. Either help out your colleagues, write your post-C plan, use this time for personal development or enjoy the strategic thinking time you’ve been fantasising about. Do one thing at once.  You are either working or supervising home schooling. You can’t do both, that’s guaranteed burnout right there. Finally, get those hard boundaries between work and home in whatever way works for you. Put your work clothes on in the morning and get changed into home gear later. One of my client leaves through his front door at the end of the day and comes straight back in through the kitchen door. Makes him feel he’s psychologically finished for the day. I could go on, but I’ll stop there!

Zena Everett is an Executive Coach and Productivity expert

Under house arrest – week 6

So, here’s an update in follow up to my missive a few weeks ago:

Nearly 6 weeks under the belt and it looks like we have at least another couple of weeks to go – are you crawling up the walls yet? Are you still on speaking terms with your other half? Are the kids pining to return to school?

Over recent weeks, I have spoken with a fair few of you over the phone and, although all our circumstances are different, it seems that most of us have created a new daily routine that includes spending more time with family and spending time most days on our personal fitness levels.

It is no different in Jonckers Towers, although all I can do is stay in touch with people as all our search assignments are on hold, awaiting instructions once ‘the coast is clear’. So I guess our garden has received a bit more attention than most and I’m running out of DIY projects…

Overall, in a strange sort of way, I have enjoyed the slowdown, having time to reflect on what actually matters in life and enjoying the small things – a daily sunrise or sunset walk in the fields, a 22yr old daughter who likes baking, cycle rides without encountering traffic, a heightened community spirit and catching up with work acquaintances (both clients and candidates) without the pressure of ‘a deal to be done’.

And of course it has been a time to be thankful for what we have. I don’t envy those confined to an apartment with no outside space and small children to entertain. I am blessed that all of my family have been lucky enough to escape any effects of the Covid virus (so far!). We have food to eat and wine to drink, so things could definitely be worse. There is of course some financial uncertainty, but I’m sure that will work itself out.

After the lock down

I have been debating with some of you about how the retail sector returns after the lock down. Should stores be opened with a big fanfare, celebrating (re-)opening events, all shop staff keyed up to give the very best customer experience? Or should it be a low-key affair in a ‘business as usual’ sort of way?

I have just read the outcome of a survey by Jefferies, the investment bank, of 5,500 people across 11 countries (so not a huge sample of the population). Of the British segment only 20% thought they’d be shopping in the High Street as soon as quarantine restrictions end. Only just over half expected to be back shopping two weeks after lockdown. That said, 33% of people expected to be back in bars and restaurants, as soon as they’d be allowed. Interesting priorities…

Of course time will tell, however at this precise moment we do not know how financial and economic uncertainty, as well as a different perspective on consumerism and sustainability, has changed consumer behaviour.

So bearing in mind that unknown, what is your business planning to do and what is the communication strategy with both existing and potential new customers? I’d be very keen to hear from you as I cannot possibly do more gardening!

Wishing you all well. May you stay safe, healthy and sane!

Covid-19 will bring about a retail apocalypse

A guest blog by retail futurist, Howard Saunders

Currently we all speak from a position of absolute ignorance. No one can truly know what the outcome of this pandemic will be, nor when the virus will pass or if it will ever be defeated. Even if a vaccine is developed in the next few months it’s clear that we will forever mark this moment as one of seismic significance. From now on we will talk of pre- or post-C19.

If there’s anything positive to be wished from this, it’s that perhaps this is the socio-economic reboot we’ve all been yearning for. It’s almost biblical. The developed world has become increasingly guilt-ridden, hysterical even, over its impact on the planet, and steeped in doubt as to mankind’s purpose upon it.

In short, we grew to despise humanity and believed humans were responsible for all the planet’s ills. We became fully signed up Malthusians! Our new gods utterly despised us (Greta, Attenborough) and believed robots would do our jobs better than us.

Pre-C19 we grew hysterical over every social injustice, inherited privilege or innate bias we could hunt down or dig up. Put simply, we now have something more urgent to fret about, namely survival.

In the long term, we will learn to pull together more and it may well set our ship on a clearer course. In the short term, however, we must not underestimate the catastrophic effects it will have on twenty-first century life. Thousands of shops, pubs, restaurants, bars, cinemas, galleries and venues will close down for good.

There’s no question the retail apocalypse has arrived. Unemployment will soar as fast as our incomes decline. Nations will focus on feeding their own, rather than exports, meaning we’ll become accustomed to buying locally produced, seasonal food. Yes, globalisation died in 2020.

We’ll learn how to cook again, bake bread and home-brew. We’ll take on more DIY, learn to knit, sew and play instruments. Our renewed sense of mortality will see many of us writing diaries and journals again. In short, we’ll live simpler, dare I say more austere, lives.

As social animals the restrictions on social activity will be our greatest challenge. Months on end without family gatherings, nights out, holidays, celebrations, parties, festivals and sporting events will hit us harder than we can imagine.

But when, finally, we do emerge from this storm, consider how much we will cherish those ordinary, yet beautiful, social interactions we took for granted only a couple of weeks ago. It’s the hugs and the handshakes that give humans their humanity.

Very soon we will understand that retail and hospitality were never really about buying more stuff or filling our bellies. Our industry is all about human engagement and post-C19 I expect shops and restaurants to welcome us more warmly and sincerely than at any time since the festive period.

Sadly, as C19 proliferates, we are unlikely to be dancing and hugging in the streets as in 1945. Masks and visors will become standard dress, and restaurant staff will be obliged to wear protective gear for insurance purposes. Tables will be widely spaced and prices will have to rise accordingly. But with unemployment at 30% very few will be able to afford the luxury of dining out, so it will feel like a return to the 1960s.

The coming months will teach us a lot about ourselves. We will learn how to work remotely, how to replenish essentials online, how to write, read and entertain ourselves (We’ll also learn that bulk buying makes no sense.) Social media will undergo a much-needed reset as we become more sensitive to the vacuousness of posts and tweets that scream little more than fatuous mundanity or misplaced self-puffery. Our media will mature to reflect the age.

The global move into cities will reverse. We will have learned how to work remotely and, more importantly, what we really want from work. Cities will lose much of the thriving lunchtime market along with most of the fast-casual brands. Cities will become less about work and much more about play as we head back to the city in the evening for the choice of restaurants and the entertainment.

Celebrity culture will undergo a much-needed correction too as our moral and social hierarchies turn upside down. Hollywood will be humbled enough to stop its finger-wagging and lecturing. The BBC will follow too, if it survives.

These next few months are a period of contemplation not just for us but also for brands. Any brand waiting to bounce back to market post-C19, revved up like bloody tiger will have got it wrong. Advertising, as we currently understand it, finally died in 2020. Brands, like humans, must rethink their roles and their purpose. Legacy brands will either die or back out quietly.

Post-C19, we will expect our brands to be philanthropic, sponsoring, partnering, teaching and incubating on behalf of the local community. Brand values will shift away from self-indulgence, luxury, celebrity and narcissism towards more fundamentals such as family, home, friends and wellbeing.

Cultures don’t usually adhere to the tidy chronology of the decades. The 60s didn’t properly begin until 1964, for example. But the new age that lies ahead really did begin in early 2020. Expect everything to get a reboot, from our lacklustre music, inane superhero movies and even our egotistical urban ‘starchitecture’.

2020 is a mighty test for us all. When we do come out the other side we are sure to be more appreciative of simple pleasures, and a little more content with life on Planet Earth. Perhaps 2020 is the year of vision after all?


Under house arrest

Under house arrest – week 3

So, two weeks under the belt, not sure how many more to go but likely to be at least another 3 weeks, probably more…

If you’re anything like me, then you have managed to stay sane, but probably have eaten a little too much and have been drinking a little more frequently, whilst making sure to go out once a day to get some exercise. On all accounts, you will have settled into a new routine albeit one that may not necessarily agree with your other half…

Spending more time in solitude and given the new economic circumstances, I have had more time to reflect and here are some of my thoughts and observations:

As a retail business for non-essential products or services, so with stores firmly in lockdown, do you keep your online business open (technical and commercial colleagues can work from home, however anyone in logistics or distribution is potentially exposed) or do you shut everything?

  • Shutting down from a health and safety perspective will probably be welcomed, however will staff be happy to be furloughed?
  • Will your customers understand your decision?
  • Are your competitors following suit? If not, will you lose your customers in the long run?
  • Do you make this a PR opportunity (be that for staying open or shut down) or would that be too callous?

Not knowing how long businesses will have to be closed it would be difficult not to furlough at least some of the workforce. Not doing so would have a huge financial impact on the business, yet doing so will have a huge impact on those who earn more than £3125 per month, whose pay cut will increase beyond 20% the more they earn. Equally, those on much lower wages probably cannot afford a 20% cut, as they may already struggle to make ends meet.

  • So, does the business pay 100% of salaries and claim 80% (with a maximum of £2500 per month) back from the government? The financial impact is impossible to calculate as we do not know how long before we return to business as usual.
  • Whichever way you turn, people will be out of pocket, if not by means of a reduced salary, then by a diminished future bonus, reduced performance of share save schemes or cancelled dividend payments. By my reckoning, this must have a huge impact on consumer spending once we’re back to normal, therefore this whole situation will have a prolonged impact on the retail sector.

Whilst on the subject of furloughing staff, for a small business (and we’re no exception) we are grateful for the government to give us some support. That said, even though I understand all the reasons for it, it is disheartening that it is unlikely that we’ll see any money before June, as apparently it won’t be until at least the end of April (maybe later) before there will be a mechanism to claim for support.

We have seen a few companies making a valiant effort to make the best out of a bad situation (think Leon selling groceries and ready meals, the Body Shop delivering care packages to local hospitals and H&M using their supply chain to manufacture face masks), however we have seen small, local businesses really stepping up to the plate, changing their business model almost overnight. Locally to me, we have seen two small delicatessen taking their business online, where they only had a low-key presence previously, now selling groceries and complete meal plans delivered to your door the next day. I have also witnessed my wife, who runs a small business that delivers ante-natal and first aid classes, re-write her lesson plans and she now delivers highly personalised classes via Zoom, with the result that clients sign up from well-beyond her usual catchment area (one from the States!).

There are two points to make here

  1. Some of us will see opportunities for our businesses in this misery and
  2. I actually think that once we’re on the other side our sense of normal will have changed.

Which brings me nicely to the next point. Is anyone else making themselves paranoid by wondering what the competition is doing? What are they thinking of? Am, I missing a trick? Should I be doing more? But, in these times, who wants to talk about recruitment? Should I run a forum for candidates looking for the next opportunity? Should I run a forum for business leaders? Answers on a post card please.

And finally, what are your thoughts on those who are choosing this time to start playing the stock market via FTSE tracker funds? Is this clever entrepeneurship? Making hay whilst the sun shines? Or, insensitive ‘$%&@’s for making money out of someone else’s misfortune? Looking forward to receiving your comments…

Wishing you all well. May you stay safe, healthy and sane!