Today marks the first anniversary since the nation went into lockdown. One year on, JBH Refurbishments’ Director explains how they overcame the initial shock and how they diversified their office fit out company to support fellow business owners.
“When we cast our minds back to this time last year, we would never have imagined the year ahead,” begins Babs Hubbard, Director of JBH Refurbishments. “At the time, we believed lockdown would last up to six weeks. This in itself felt catastrophic. Yet, as a business, we were strong, with an amazing team, so were confident that we could cope with what was considered a short-term set-back.”
“I recall it was around mid-April, just after Easter that we realised this wasn’t going to end anytime soon. We had to take control of the situation and turn it around to our advantage. As an interior design and fit out company, we’re used to having think outside the box. We asked ourselves; what could we do to help other businesses like us reopen their workspaces quickly and safely?
“Social distancing was a major consideration for business owners and their office staff. If the workplace wasn’t safe, it was simple, they couldn’t come back. With furlough due to end in May, we could already see that working-from-home was not a long-term solution for every business.
“We therefore devised a plan to offer Covid-safe office solutions, including safety screens. At first, we developed our own range of screens and secured manufacturing. Our design meant that clear acrylic screens could be clipped on to an existing desk divider. We offered larger return screens too, so that each workstation could be was completely isolated. The clear acrylic was easy to clean and meant you could see your colleagues and still have a conversation.”
JBH Refurbishments marketed their product at a competitive price outside of their usual Kent and London service area. Soon they were getting enquiries from the likes of insurance companies and call centres, as well as smaller offices. The screens were proving successful yet like so many other ‘in-demand’ products throughout lockdown, worldwide demand for acrylic soon exceeded the manufacturing output.
“A major production backlog meant that prices for clear acrylic were significantly increasing. So, it was back to the drawing board. We sourced alternative products to kept the prices low and the lead-times short,” explains Hubbard.
“As hairdressers and hospitality began to emerge from Lockdown in July, we also introduced full height glass and PET plastic screens with an aluminium frame and the option of wheels for manoeuvrability. This meant that we could support a broader range of sectors as they began to emerge from the first lockdown.”
While the screens offered a great short-term solution for JBH Refurbishments, it did replace the construction side of the business that was necessary for their employed tradesmen, who had been furloughed.
“When construction could return, we were adamant that the safety of our staff and our clients must come first. So we turned our attentions to how Covid has – and will continue – to alter the way we work.”
“Instead of clients coming to us for general fit outs, they wanted social distancing solutions, layout improvements and hygiene optimisation. We had already implemented a lot of these solutions for ourselves, so we were in a good place to offer some great advice and genuine solutions on how design, layout and finishes could provide a Covid-safe workplace.
“With so many vacant offices, lockdown has in fact provided the ideal situation for undertaking an office refurbishment. We’ve been able to complete works in record time and we’ve been able to help our clients prepare for welcoming their staff back to the office.
Asked what will the next 12 months look like for JBH Refurbishments? Hubbard explains, “I can’t predict a definite outcome for where we will be 12 months from now. I can’t imagine there are many business owners out there that can. However, we are currently in a strong position and I am confident that we will increase our client base this year. The office landscape is changing, and we want to help businesses thrive in their environments.
“Working-from-home will continue to be a big element of our work culture in the future, but the need for office space is still very apparent.
“We are already seeing some big trends for office design in 2021, including increased meeting spaces and breakout areas with video conferencing. This will allow teams to gather face-to-face when necessary and still communicate with remote workers.
“Office layout, desks and office furniture are undergoing a period of change to facilitate blended working (working-from-home and in the office). There will also be a bigger focus on ventilation and air quality in offices to prevent the spread of all germs and allergens. Air conditioning with UVC air purifiers – that kill 99% of bacteria – will no doubt become an ‘in-demand’ product for offices in 2021.
“We have devised many options for businesses returning their staff to the office and we’re excited to see these come to fruition over the next 12 months.”
Finally, Hubbard offers some parting words of advice to fellow business owners for surviving the next 12 months.
“My advice to any business during a period of uncertainty is to revisit your business strategy. Ensure you are competitive and ahead of the trends by exploring new possibilities. It worked for us and we will continue to do this on a month-by-month basis until normality returns.
“Of course, providing a safe workspace for your staff is going to be essential this year. We will need to live with Covid-19 beyond the vaccine roll-out. But there are preventions we can all take.
“Time will tell who can survive this catastrophic turn of events but keeping your eyes wide open will be crucial,” concludes Hubbard
The JBH Refurbishments team are offering advice and free consultations for creating a Covid-safe workplace. Visit www.jbhrefurbishments or call 0333 207 0339.