Managing Partner Andrew Bridge looks at how Fisher German has reacted in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. He is currently on lockdown at home in Leicestershire!
The reason we expanded Fisher German into the multi-disciplinary property consultancy it is today, was not for any public health emergency like the one we are currently going through. Instead, it was for the simple reason that it would insulate our business and protect our clients against any market fluctuations.
If one area of the economy is taking a hit, then other areas of the market might be growing. Over the years this approach has stood us in good stead, allowing us to continually invest and expand, and in doing so offer a wider range of property solutions to our clients.
Right now, across the industry, the transactional side of property business is impacted. People aren’t easily able to sell or buy properties and the rental market is being affected by the knock-on effect of reduced business and personal income. However, in other areas of our business, for example the management and maintenance of utilities & infrastructure assets, projects are continuing.
We have key workers within our business who are supporting major utilities suppliers across the UK to inspect and repair pipelines and assets. We are immensely proud of the role we play in supporting the UK’s infrastructure and our clients rely on us to ensure this work is uninterrupted.
When lockdown first hit it took businesses time to adjust and realise what was achievable within these new limitations and at Fisher German we were no different.
We were told that you could go to work if it was not possible to do your job at home but the over-riding message was ‘Stay Home, Save Lives’. This has been our priority, to protect not only our own employees but also our clients and the partner companies we work with, by taking projects online wherever possible and adapting our approaches.
But there are ways in which onsite work can continue safely providing the individuals involved are happy to go ahead. For our surveyors and planners, that might be inspecting a property unaccompanied which has been empty for a period of time, so there is no human contact involved. For our pipeline teams, we have been able to carry out single-person audits by utilising the technology available to us to screenshot evidence via digital feed, with our health and safety experts watching live from their homes. While the current circumstances are no time to celebrate, it is exciting to see the ways we adapt when under pressure, and the new methods we adopt which may become the norm for our industry in the future.
We are able to go out on to rural estates, where we are not going into occupied premises, to check property has not been damaged and that everything is running according to plan. Now is a pivotal time for our farm and agribusiness clients to submit applications for vital grants they need to run their businesses, and our teams continue to process these from their home working stations, only going out on site when absolutely necessary and safe to do so. Our clients really do appreciate whatever we can do to maintain our commitments to them.
In the residential market we are finding that while much has ground to a halt, clients are putting sales and purchases on ice, rather than permanently halting them. Some limited activity has continued where some of our clients have, for example, undertaken their own photography. But, of course, this pandemic impacts all businesses and we have found that with many of our peers at professional services firms furloughed, things are taking longer to process. On the other hand, we have also seen that solicitors and financial advisors have adapted to working from home much like we have and with parents working hours around childcare, late night deals are not a rarity as work takes place once small children are asleep!
Prior to the outbreak, we had started to give colleagues far more flexibility around the hours and locations they worked because they wanted to be more agile and therefore more efficient, and technology was allowing that to happen in a way which did not impact our client delivery.
Flexibility was becoming the new norm for our teams, so it was a relatively straightforward process (but not without its challenges and maximum effort from our IT teams) to move to a home working environment for the majority of our colleagues. I have to say that every single person has reacted positively and embraced the new ways we are communicating with each other.
One of my biggest concerns at the moment is for the wellbeing of our colleagues and helping them to find the right balance in their routines. For some, their home working space might be a desk in their bedroom or living room, or the kitchen table, where it becomes harder to step away and separate work commitments from home life. Some people may live in flats or smaller properties in towns with restrictions on what they can do and only virtual links to friends and loved ones. Also, their social life was very much tied into the people they saw at work, and that was very suddenly removed.
We are very much a people business, so looking after our colleagues is top of our agenda, and we have been promoting tips and ideas each day to help our people to find some solace and calm in their current circumstances wherever that is possible. A crisis does foster a sense of camaraderie and certainly there has also been a great deal of virtual banter flying around our digital channels. We have a daily “Water Cooler” email sent from our central team which combines news, tips and quizzes in a way that somewhat recreates the experience colleagues would have while brewing a tea with their team mates, or catching up on gossip at the water cooler. It doesn’t replace the social interaction we crave within our offices, but it goes a long way in bringing our people together and has been well received across the board. Seeing our Partners compete to be first to answer the daily riddle is certainly a side to them I haven’t seen before.
People have responded brilliantly, taking part in virtual pub quizzes, tackling charity challenges in aid of CLIC Sargent, our charity of the year, and joining in on social media.
We know full well that our people are our greatest asset, and while we certainly would not have wanted to have proved it through these circumstances, that attitude and commitment has shone through very brightly indeed.