There are plenty of opportunities for SMEs working in the right sectors, says Claritas’ Simon Wilkinson
On the day that Boris Johnson announced lockdown, we took the keys to our brand-new office in Bromley that had just been fitted out. Rather than move in, we had to lock the front door and walk away.
All our sites shut too. We felt we had to do that for safety reasons but, within three weeks, we started back up on site, with only a few people working in the office.
We furloughed about 20 staff in the beginning but, as sites reopened, we took them off incrementally, with all off by the end of July. The furlough scheme has been really helpful to us but there does not seem to be a strong enough case for it to be extended past October for construction. For other sectors, that is a much harder call.
Tier ones are having to make some big changes that could be a benefit to SMEs
Working from home has been more successful than we could ever have imagined, so there was not a big rush to get back – and that allowed us a bit of time to plan for a structured return. We have capacity for 60 desks with only 25 people allowed in at any one time.
There is a booking system, so different teams by function have access on rotation. It is working well, though for some people things might change when the schools go back – which could make it easier for some, or it could be more of a challenge. We are trying not to be too rigid and to see how things go.
Productivity on sites has inevitably suffered, but not everywhere. It really depends on the stage of the project. If it is at groundworks stage, then productivity levels are pretty good. It is not like it was pre-covid but, on the 13 sites we currently have, people are getting used to the new measures in place and working efficiently.
I have been amazed at the potential new work coming through, particularly for residential and our modern methods of construction business. Inquiry levels almost feel higher than before lockdown.
But the challenge is getting clients to commit – to get to the contract signing stage. Projects are stacking up, which is good, but it is also because decision-making is being delayed. It is something we have to watch because, if confidence suddenly comes back, we could have a sudden rush to market.
Our turnover ambitions will have been slightly dented by delays on projects and completions, but we will still see growth for 2021 and I am even more optimistic about the year after. I think we can see a sufficient pipeline of work to sustain our aspirations.
We are also aware that not all firms are as fortunate as us in terms of the sectors they work in, and that tier ones are having to make some big changes that could be a benefit to SMEs like ourselves that are looking to grow and recruit talent. There are opportunities out there, without a shadow of a doubt.
Simon Wilkinson, business director at Claritas