As 2020 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the extraordinary resilience and imagination I’ve encountered in the course of business during this wild and turbulent year. At the moment, the whole country is in uncharted waters due to the pandemic and geopolitical uncertainty around issues such as Brexit and the US elections.
Many business sectors have faced extraordinary challenges. Some business models have been completely turned upside down, and may never be the same again.
Other industries have seen a benefit as consumer and corporate habits have changed and new ways of living and working have been rapidly adopted. How quickly the wider economy recovers will be largely dependent on how long lockdown measures last, and at what level, in various countries.
No-one can predict the future, as we’ve all learned beyond doubt over the past 12 months.
Technology has been a vital tool during lockdown for all of us. We all long for in-person encounters again, but prioritising virtual interactions for both business and pleasure has allowed us to continue to invest in important relationships.
I’ve been constantly inspired by the amazing creativity and resilience that colleagues and clients have shown through the crisis. So many people have gone out of the way to help others. They’ve been kind, cut people slack and been understanding of the different strains everyone is under.
Amid all the really challenging situations there have been so many glimmers of genuine kindness.
It’s been a clear illustration of why doing the right thing shouldn’t just be for Christmas or the festive season. Striving to choose the right path, not just the easy or convenient or most profitable one, is increasingly essential if you want to be successful in business.
The rise to prominence of environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria as an increasingly popular way for investors to evaluate companies in which they might want to invest is driving change in, what I believe, is a very positive way.
These days people really do want to know what kind of company they will be putting their money into, working for or buying products and services from.When they weigh up their options their perception of the culture in a company can often be a much bigger factor than money.
A positive and productive culture also hugely helps with recruitment and retention by allowing talent to thrive.
That’s why, from the outset of the pandemic at Burness Paull, we promoted to colleagues how important it was to be kind to yourself and others.
We focused on communication and ensuring teams were keeping in touch with each other, particularly for managers to be individually checking in and not making assumptions about people’s circumstances.
We also launched a health and wellbeing survey to find out how everyone was coping. Managers then used the results to create action plans to address any issues.
Like very many businesses up and down the country, we accessed the essential support offered by the Chancellor to protect jobs as uncertainty took a grip and initially utilised the furlough scheme.
Unlike other very hard hit companies and sectors of the economy, we were able to respond and weather the storm better than anticipated despite the wider economic turmoil, and in October we repaid all the money received from the UK government’s Job Retention Scheme.
The Burness Paull Foundation also brought forward payments to charity partners and we encouraged staff to use time during lockdown to fundraise for good causes by offering increased match funding.
We're definitely not perfect, but we did these things because we genuinely believe in always trying to do the right thing - and that it pays off in the long run.
Nothing good ever came easy after all.
This year, our traditions may well feel different in terms of what we do and who we see.
Life will continue to be tricky, but hopefulness I trust will prevail.
Peter Lawson is Chair, Burness Paull