Date: 23rd March 2021
Today marks the 1st anniversary since the nation went into lockdown. One year on, JBH Refurbishments’s Director, Babs Hubbard, explains how they overcame the initial shock, as well as how they diversified the business to create Covid safe office space solutions for themselves and fellow businesses.
This time last year
What was your initial reaction to lockdown?
When we cast our minds back to this time last year, we would never have imagined the year ahead. the time, we believed lockdown would last up to six weeks. This in itself felt catastrophic. Yet, as a business, we were strong, with an amazing team, so were confident that we could cope with what was considered a short-term set-back
Did you have to make any difficult decisions or sacrifices?
I recall it was around mid-April, just after Easter that we realised this wasn’t going to end anytime soon. We had to take control of the situation and turn it around to our advantage. As an interior design and office fit out company, we’re used to having think outside the box. We asked ourselves; what could we do to help other businesses like us reopen their workspaces safely?
Before lockdown, we had already offered advice to our existing customers about maintaining a hygienic workplace with minimal cross contamination, but we needed to do more if we were going to survive this without having to make redundancies. We also wanted to help other businesses like us, safely hit the ground running when lockdown measures were eased.
Turning a negative into a positive
Was there a turning point that made you change tac or diversify to save your business?
Social distancing was a major consideration for business owners and their office staff. If the workplace wasn’t safe, it was simple, they couldn’t come back. With furlough due to end in May, we could already see that working-from-home was not a long-term solution for every business.
We therefore devised a plan to offer Covid safe office solutions, including safety screens.
At first, we developed our own range of screens and secured manufacturing. Our design meant that clear acrylic screens could be clipped on to an existing desk divider. We offered larger return screens too, so that each workstation could be was completely isolated. The clear acrylic was easy to clean and meant you could see your colleagues and still have a conversation
Our competitive prices meant this was a genuine solution for creating a Covid safe office environment.
We marketed the screens nationwide and because our prices were so competitive, we were beginning to get enquiries for large orders.
Dealing with Supply and Demand
Were there any setbacks in your plan?
As successful as the acrylic screens were, demand for clear acrylic soon became a big issue. The prices were increasing because of major supply issues caused by factories closing throughout Europe. This impacted on the lead times too.
Like so many ‘in-demand’ products throughout lockdown, the supply was getting harder to manage, so it was time to return to the drawing board.
We found alternative materials for the screens in the form of poly carbonate and PET clear plastic.
As hairdressers and hospitality began to emerge from lockdown in July, we also introduced full height glass and PET screens with an aluminium frame and the option of wheels or manoeuvrability.
Returning Staff from Furlough
How did you manage returning your staff from furlough?
One of our biggest concerns was furlough ending and not having sufficient projects that they could return to because of Covid-19 restrictions relating to construction. The screens were certainly a game changer for us. It meant we could slowly bring back our office staff from furlough.
When construction returned, we were adamant that the safety of our staff and our clients must come first. The prospect of experiencing a positive Covid-case in our organisation would have been difficult to manage among our close-knit team.
We made sure that everyone was equipped with sufficient PPE, masks, hand sanitiser and wipes. On site crew worked in construction bubbles to prevent the spread of the virus, and we implemented a phased fit out so as not to overlap any construction bubbles. In the office, we had the safety screens installed, and the staff wear masks or visors at all times.
As soon as the symptom-free testing became available, we ensured all of our staff were test weekly. So far, our methods have been effective, but we will never make the assumption that we are home free. There is still an awfully long way to go.
Long Term Effects of Lockdown
How did you plan for the long-term effects of lockdown?
The screens gave us the platform to develop some long-term solutions for businesses, who needed to provide a safe space for their staff to return to the workplace.
We turned our attentions to the wider effects of how covid has and will continue to alter the way we work.
Instead of clients coming to us for general fit outs, they wanted social distancing solutions, layout improvements and hygiene optimisation.
With so many vacant offices, lockdown in fact became the ideal situation for undertaking an office refurbishment. Of course, there were also companies that were moving away from London to make big savings on rent and rates. These offices needed fit outs too.
Predicting the Future
What are your predictions for JBH Refurbishment over the next 12 months?
I can’t predict a definite outcome for where we will be 12 months from now. I can’t imagine there is a business owner out there that can. However, we are currently in a strong position and I am confident that we will increase our client base this year. The office landscape is changing, and we want to help businesses thrive in their environments.
Working-from-home will continue to be a big element of our work culture in the future, but the need for office space is still very apparent.
Office layout, desks and office furniture are undergoing a period of change to facilitate blended working
There will also be a bigger focus on ventilation and air quality in offices to prevent the spread of all germs and allergens. Air conditioning with UVC air purifiers – that kill 99% of bacteria – will no doubt become an ‘in-demand’ product for offices in 2021.
Office layout, desks and office furniture are undergoing a period of change to facilitate blended working (working-from-home and in the office).
There will also be a bigger focus on ventilation and air quality in offices to prevent spread of all germs and allergens. Air conditioning with UVC air purifiers that kill 99% of bacteria will no doubt become an ‘in-demand’ product for offices in 2021.
We have devised many options for businesses returning their staff to the office and we’re excited to see these come to fruition over the next 12 months
Advice for surviving the next 12 months and creating a Covid safe office space
What is your advice to fellow business owners?
My advice to any business during a period of uncertainty is to revisit your business strategy. Ensure you are competitive and ahead of the trends by exploring new possibilities. It worked for us and we will continue to do this on a month-by-month basis until normality returns.
Of course, providing a safe workspace for your staff is going to be essential this year. We will need to live with Covid-19 beyond the vaccine roll-out, but there are preventions we can all take.
As I have explained, working-from-home will still be a large part of our lives, so we need to accommodate that by increasing meeting rooms and dividing teams using office design, layout and furniture. There are affordable ways of doing this, including leasing, which is 100% tax deductible and keeps cashflow within the business.
Time will tell who can survive this catastrophic turn of events but keeping your eyes wide open will be crucial.
The JBH Refurbishments team are offering advice and free consultations for creating a Covid safe workplace. Contact is today!