Community matters

Remote working', 'home-based', 'working from the kitchen table' - these are phrases we've all heard frequently over recent months

Community matters

‘Remote working’, ‘home-based’, ‘working from the kitchen table’ – these are phrases we’ve all heard frequently over recent months, as companies across the globe adapted to their respective country lockdown periods and strived to maintain a new kind of ‘business as usual’.

As we look towards the light at the end of the tunnel, we’re reminded of all the things we’ve missed that are now slowly coming back into our lives, and we’ll remember and continue to appreciate what this crisis has enabled or forced us to do and learn. With many people working from home for the first time, a shift towards a more flexible way of working will no doubt form one of these lessons for many businesses.

For Travel Counsellors, the transition for our central support team, based in seven offices across the globe, to work from their home offices was more seamless than it may have been for some. We already support nearly 2000 professional, talented people to run corporate or leisure travel franchises from home or shared offices, taking care of their customers by delivering a highly personalised experience, and offering the flexibility to always be there for their travellers. So smarter, flexible, working, and ‘working from home’, was our ‘normal’ before Covid-19.

As borders closed across the globe, the latter point – to simply care and ‘be there’ – has been more pertinent than ever before, as has the role of a trusted advisor in navigating what travel will look and feel like as restrictions begin to ease on movement. The situation is constantly changing, but what will remain the same is the need to keep people’s health, safety and wellbeing at the forefront of everything.

Keeping a remote, global community connected and a culture of always being there for each other was the lifeblood of our business before the pandemic, and critical to the success of the individual business owners within it, but as many businesses within a wealth of different industries can now testify, the platforms of support we provide for our people – our customers, franchisees and colleagues – have been continuously enhanced and leaned upon to meet the challenges of a planet on pause.

For us, these initiatives have ranged from making visible all financial support initiatives for self-employed franchisees – both Government-funded and our own benevolent scheme – to an unwavering focus on the wellbeing of people during what has been a very concerning time for many franchise business owners. The feeling of belonging to something ‘bigger’, never feeling alone and knowing that you are part of a supportive community, I would argue, has been as business critical as cashflow. For many though it will be informal, spontaneous acts of support and empathy that people have shown each other throughout this time that will have meant the most and made the biggest difference. To put it more succinctly, being kind to ourselves and each other will outlive this virus. 

It’s safe to say that many businesses have found themselves in unchartered territory over recent months, and the scale of the challenge has forced through some tough decisions. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the impact the pandemic has had on business across the globe, with companies in all industries having to take some unfortunate yet necessary steps to ensure their survival for the greater good.

No matter your position within a company, whether franchisee or member of an employed support team, it’s important to be able to look back at this time and know that you did the very best you could and feel proud of how you, and the people around you, conducted themselves under pressure. Above all, you will want to feel confident that external events didn’t undermine your core values, both as an individual, a leader or as a business community.

We often say that you can’t over communicate in a crisis – along with many other businesses this is a mantra we’ve truly taken to heart, and I would urge all businesses, no matter your size and scope, to provide clear, constant and continuous communication. Encourage these conversations to be two-way, offering opportunities for people to be open and honest about their feedback and feelings at any one time, nurturing a culture of care and ‘safe spaces’ to discuss the concerns of the day, both personally and professionally.

Afterall, they say happy people make happy customers, and the most important people in any business are those closest to the customer, giving them every opportunity and supported by the tools and technology platform to enable them to do the job they do best – take care of their customers.

Even in days of adversity there is opportunity.  Some businesses have ‘pivoted’ their models to either adapt and survive and others to take advantage of opportunities. For individuals, opportunities can range from  learning something new, upskill, re-train, boost your profile, enhance your reputation, increase market share, reaffirm your business goals, strengthen relationships with key partners, cement your core values and continue to nurture loyalty and repeat custom with customers.

As a franchise-based business this period has reaffirmed the need to always be agile, asset light, flexible, react calmly and act quickly, plus we’ve learnt to expect the unexpected. Each and every one of us will have learned a lot and now also be aware of things we could have done better, but those businesses based on showing care, nurturing trust and who strive to look after their customers and people through thick and thin will bounce back quicker and stronger.

For many of us, dealing with the pandemic will have reminded us of the importance of building trust within our business and with our customers, which takes multiple interactions and consistent behaviours, often over several years. Long-lasting customer loyalty can never be taken for granted, and will help determine those businesses that bounce back quicker than others.

So, when this time comes to pass – and it will – and as slowly we head back to our office spaces observing social distancing measures, or we continue to work flexibly from home, people will always remember the companies who strived to support them throughout this difficult time, and it’s those businesses that can look forward to the future, and whatever the ‘new normal’ has in store for us, with optimism.

Steve Byrne
Steve Byrne