Our Financial Director Tom Squire reveals how businesses, such as City Pantry, are adapting their offerings and work environments in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed all of our lives drastically and it has redefined how we work. I head up the financial team at City Pantry, and the effects of Coronavirus have hit our B2B office food delivery business hard, but we’re quickly adapting and getting our heads around what the ‘new normal’ might look like when employees start returning to the office.
City Pantry during the Coronavirus pandemic
City Pantry is Europe’s largest online platform for B2B food delivery, and prior to the crisis, we delivered over 50,000 meals per week to 600 companies on behalf of hundreds of restaurants and caterers around the UK.
But when the full force of the Coronavirus pandemic hit the UK in early March, shortly before Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lockdown announcement on 23rd, we experienced a 95% drop in orders as companies began encouraging and enforcing home-working for many, if not all, of their employees.
However, we didn’t let the blow affect us for too long, and quickly learned how to adapt our offering and our working style to fit the ‘new normal’.
Once all of our employees were safe and settled into their work-from-home routines, with much support from our People Team, we launched our new teams@home Pantry Packages and gift card services, two convenient ways for companies to continue providing food perks for their employees working remotely.
While our order rates aren’t back to pre-Coronavirus levels, we’ve already seen a steady increase in revenue as a result of these new offerings.
We continue to put a strong emphasis on company culture and employee wellbeing, which is paramount during a time where feelings of loneliness and isolation are sky-high.
We have perfected virtual all-hands meetings, engaged in plenty of socially distant team activities, and we encourage our employees to take regular breaks and paid leave to avoid the dreaded work-from-home burnout.
One of our twice weekly company all-hands meetings
You can read more about our employee engagement efforts in this article written by our Head of Talent Alex.
The ‘new normal’: a glimpse into the future of business
Coronavirus has forced us all to rethink the way we work, and for many it has slowed or even stopped the corporate cogs from turning.
As of the end of April, 70% of firms had furloughed staff, with 30% of those having sent home between 75% and 100% of their workforce.
But on Sunday 10th May, PM Boris Johnson announced his ‘roadmap’ for coming out of lockdown, stating that non-essential retail could open no earlier than June 1st, while restaurants, pubs, cafes, and other hospitality businesses may open from July 4th if they meet certain standards.
Shortly after, the government published a 50-page ‘Plan to Rebuild’ document with more details about the roadmap, stating that this is “not a short-term crisis”. The central aim of the plan is to “return life to as close to normal as possible, for as many people as possible, as fast and fairly as possible . . . in a way that avoids a new epidemic, minimises lives lost and maximises health, economic and social outcomes”.
So, what does this mean for businesses and workplaces?
For the time being, the government has asked employees to continue working from home if they can, and those that can’t should only go into work once their employers follow the “Covid-19 Secure” guidelines to make workplaces safe.
Social distancing rules should stay in place within offices and on public transport, which the government is urging commuters to avoid if possible, and higher levels of cleanliness are advised.
Other steps include staggering the arrival and departure times of staff, providing additional parking facilities, providing more storage for workers’ clothes and bags, using a one-way system, reviewing office layouts, and avoiding the use of hot desks.
That’s what’s advised right now, but what might the future of the business look like in the long term?
Remote working may be here to stay
Currently, 90% of our customer’s offices remain closed due to government restrictions, but some have already communicated that they are planning to keep their doors shut throughout the summer even if restrictions are eased.
Facebook and Google announced that employees can work from home until the end of the year, while Twitter went one step further and said they could work remotely “forever” if they wanted to.
While many had never regularly worked from home before the pandemic - only 5% of the UK’s workforce had - companies quickly became accustomed to video calls rather than face-to-face meetings and an eclectic array of online social activities rather than an after-work trip to the pub.
And there are suggestions that many want to continue working from home, even if in part, after things get a little more ‘normal’. According to a UK survey, 68% of employees who are not usually allowed to work remotely or do so no more than once a week have said that they feel more productive or equally productive working from home, while 31% said their work-life balance had become easier.
For those who do eventually return to the workplace we expect phased returns with a much lower daily capacity to begin with.
We may require smaller and more flexible office spaces
In the short term, hot desking and shared spaces are out of the question, but as social distancing rules ease with more people continuing to work from home, it raises the question of whether we need such large office spaces.
Antti Tuomela, cofounder of Finnish prop-tech startup TRACTR, told Sifted: “The idea of having a big head office in the middle of a city that everyone travels to — and which sits half empty most of the time — will disappear . . . There is growing pressure to use space differently and more effectively. People are looking for places to work closer to home.”
And perhaps this is not a bad thing, since big businesses in England and Wales reportedly waste £10 billion a year on under-used office space.
What’s more, downsizing is a cost-saving option that many businesses may need to take in order to recoup money lost due to the crisis.
While this will certainly impact corporate real estate, it may lean positively towards more flexible, temporary offices like co-working spaces that companies can book as and when they need it.
Canteens may become a thing of the past
If social distancing measures are set to continue for months to come, what does this mean for office communal spaces like breakout areas and canteens?
The government’s current “COVID-19 Secure” guidelines advise us not to use them.
Instead, we should encourage workers to bring their own food or provide them with packaged meals to avoid opening staff canteens.
With canteens closed or part-closed, this will lead to a rise in the need for delivered-in meals, individually packaged and labelled for employees to grab and go. Contact-free delivery will become a necessity.
A clear focus on company culture and employee wellbeing will be necessary
By the nature of our business, we’re fortunate to work with corporate customers who really care about and invest in employee wellbeing and engagement, so how are they adapting company culture to accommodate for remote working?
Beth, Wellbeing and Events Lead from Badoo Trading Ltd, told us that supporting employees during the UK lockdown is “super important” and helps individuals “feel like they are cared for by the company and connected to others in the team”. Beth said that companies can support their remote teams through “hints and tips, entertainment, articles to read, and food deliveries”.
Badoo has introduced several activities to help colleagues feel engaged and positive while working from home, including online workout timetables, yoga, meditation, cookery classes, and friendly competitions, in addition to providing them with Pantry Packages food boxes.
“I had so many people saying how thoughtful the idea of sending a Pantry Package was, how it ‘really cheered them up’, ‘made their week’,” Beth told us.
Khoros is another of our customers that treated its employees to food boxes at home recently, citing that “it is so important to keep staff engaged and motivated . . . and to thank them for their hard work, discipline and dedication during a time which has brought challenges to everyone”.
And it’s not just Badoo and Khoros that are bringing office food perks to remote workers. In fact, we’ve seen a 379% growth in demand for our teams@home services, which include our Pantry Packages at-home food box delivery service and gift cards redeemable through Just Eat.
Customers have replaced in-office lunches and catering with simple and convenient at-home solutions that keep teams together while apart. The cultural benefit gleaned through food has not gone away, it has evolved.
Will office life ever be the same?
Ultimately we don’t know what’s going to happen, and there are currently more questions than answers, but it’s likely that office life will look very different in the short term, and some of its effects will perhaps extend into the long term too.
Nevertheless, there are things we can do to increase our agility and resilience during these challenging times as discussed above, and there are also reasons to stay hopeful for the future of business.
Reasons to remain positive
Tech innovation will be part of the solution
“The major shift to working remotely for many businesses has highlighted the true value of robust modern technologies that enable us to communicate efficiently, rapidly and flexibly”, says Giles Fuchs of Enterprise Times.
But the need for technological advances and innovation isn’t limited to video conferencing software, corporate VPNs, and instant messenger services. It includes a wide array of sectors.
At City Pantry, we have pivoted our business-as-usual offering to one that incorporates flexible working solutions - contact-free in-office and at-home corporate food deliveries.
The Coronavirus has changed how we all live, and with that comes new opportunities to innovate and fulfil needs that we didn’t have before.
We’re all in this together
We may not all be in the same boat but we are passing through the same storm.
By partnering with other businesses and organizations, including our competitors, we can solve the challenges we are facing as an industry and come out of this stronger.
We’re powerful when we care
Throughout the COVID-19 crisis, we - as individuals and as businesses - have stepped up to care for and protect each other in a way that demonstrates true resilience in the face of an unprecedented challenge.
At City Pantry, we have partnered with charities, NHS hospitals, shelters, restaurants, and logistics companies to deliver over 30,000 meals through our #FeedYourCommunity initiative since mid-March.
We’ve experienced a sharp rise in donations from our corporate customers, some of whom are continuing their usual ordering cadence but are allowing us to deliver their regular meals to our charitable partners and frontline institutions rather than to their offices.
Hospitality and catering sectors will be needed more than ever
The hospitality sector has been one of the hardest hit with around 80% of staff furloughed in mid-April.
But the sector is quickly adapting and changing in line with what is needed - restaurants are bringing out recipe books containing the secrets to their most popular dishes, bakeries are delivering goods across the country to those in need of an at-home pick-me-up, and catering companies are helping to feed the most vulnerable.
As more and more restaurants open for takeaway orders - and later for some level of dine-in service - we’ll see an increase in the number of furloughed staff return to work.
Ultimately, in a world starved of human interaction, hospitality and catering sectors are essential means of release.
I hope you enjoyed reading about our predictions for the future of business and hospitality in a post-lockdown world. If you have any questions please feel free to contact me via LinkedIn.
Tom Squire, Financial Director at City Pantry
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