Collaborative Creations Co-Founder Tom Wilkes discusses the reasoning behind the company’s ‘three weeks off, one week on’ approach to working during lockdown.
There has been a lot of discussion around furloughing in recent weeks, mainly focusing on the question of "should we or shouldn't we?", with little consideration of the nuances. We decided to share our approach, which employs what seems to be a little-considered route, and discuss how we approached furloughing our team.
After a lot of thought and soul-searching, we decided to furlough the majority of our business for the three week period month during the worst of the coronavirus disruption. For one week each month we will be returning to work, carrying out essential tasks and maintaining our presence in the events and entertainment industries.
I wanted to talk through some of the reasoning behind this decision, as it seems to be the road less travelled by when it comes to furlough, with some industry colleagues we’ve spoken to unaware it was even a possibility for their business. It’s important during this time to understand the flexibility of the furlough system and how best it can be organised to benefit each individual business.
Collaborative Creations has been running for 10 months now, and we are very much still in our infancy as a company. We had a strong start to 2020 and made it through to February seeing steady growth month-on-month. Then, as we stared into the unknown, we took a deep breath as coronavirus made its presence felt in the UK.
By that stage we'd employed eight staff and created a team of knowledgeable, enthusiastic and – most importantly right now – flexible people. Everyone in the company loves their particular discipline. It's become an expensive beast to feed, but with the passion and flexibility of the team we're confident we'll make it out in one piece, albeit crawling.
Other than the furlough system, none of the government's lifelines have applied to us so far. I hope others have had more joy. As such we are here to focus on the parts that have worked for us.
The details to consider. We have four departments all working in sync: PR, Digital Marketing, Business Development and Internal Business. Each feeds the other information to publish or follow up on. Three are outward facing and one keeps the company itself running.
Working across these departments we have eight staff, four full-time and four part-time. Can one operate on its own successfully? Maybe with limited success, but certainly not enough to support the company. Instead of an aeroplane with a single engine failure, which is manageable, we have four engines running in limp mode. At the end of February we had twenty four clients. At the end of March, and at the time of writing this, we are at six active clients who I take this opportunity to thank unreservedly.
Our industry is one of relationships and intense networking. To shut down completely for three to four months would have been suicide for us and our clients. Staying active in our markets means we maintain the relationships that we’ve worked hard to create. We’re also one of very few out there actively creating new relationships during lockdown, which puts us and our clients ahead of the curve. Being seen as proactive keeps us in the forefront of decision-makers' minds when it comes to returning to work (and also means our competitors don’t get a look in).
While we’re talking with clients and prospects, our position to make sales (ethically, I should add) is much stronger than most, but that’s a whole other subject, and I’ll be writing about ethical sales and negotiating in the current climate very soon.
Finding a furlough balance
We can't furlough everyone, because we know the business has to maintain its industry presence and relationships. We can't just slash our working hours (from an ethical perspective, even if there weren't legal implications) and pass on that financial strain to our team. So, when the three-week minimum for furlough was mentioned my ears pricked up (those of you who know me can probably picture it!).
I did some digging and discussed the implications with Tim Lindfield, our accountant at Simpson Wreford and partners. As a senior partner we impart a lot of trust in Tim's thought process and knowledge (I only mention them as Tim and his team have been absolutely invaluable during these times).
Tim told me: “The option that Collaborative Creations has opted for is a less trodden path but is a really useful tool that companies of their size should be considering. It offers a smart way of business continuation.”
The government states that the minimum furlough period is 3 weeks and that you can come on and off of furlough as many times as you need.(1)
This opens up a world of opportunities. You could split your company into 4 teams, with each team working a different week each month. This way quarter of your staff are always on, contactable, able to react, and most importantly keep your company alive and moving.
Another option, (the one we opted for,) is to keep a small full-time team and a furloughed majority. The core team is the point of contact for clients and incoming queries, then in the last week of each month the furloughed team comes in to carry out any sales calls and outstanding work for that month. Some of our clients have weighted this slightly differently according to their requirements as a business i.e. 28 days furlough, 2 days working.
It's by no means perfect, but it solves a lot of otherwise dangerous problems. You're no longer forced to furlough long term and completely close down (or illegally sneak in work, as some have been), and equally not forced to keep people on and borrow money to keep them twiddling their thumbs for half the time they are working.
The ‘3 off, 1 on’ approach has some pros and some challenges. It gives us the ability to carry on, it means all our team stays in the loop, it’s a much better balance for employee wellbeing and it means we can legitimately continue to work.
On the flip side it does require: some continuing outlay on staffing costs, a lot more organisation to pre-plan and more welfare planning as keeping in touch with everyone is vitally important. The last point should equally apply to long-term furlough.
I know we are lucky to be in the position to consider this option and not everyone will be. I hope this insight will open up new options for some of you. As a new company still in its sapling stage, partial furlough has helped us create a sustainable future for the company for which I thank the UK government. We’re confident that we can make it through this. Without the Furlough scheme we wouldn’t have stood a chance.
If you’d like a little more information please feel free to drop us a line. We’ll happily discuss what we’ve done although cannot offer any legal advice.
If your employer chooses to place you on furlough, you will need to remain on furlough for a minimum of 3 consecutive weeks. However, your employer can place you on furlough more than once, and one period can follow straight after an existing furlough period, while the scheme is open. The scheme will be open for at least 4 months. https://www.gov.uk/guidance/check-if-you-could-be-covered-by-the-coronavirus-job-retention-scheme