Last week, micebook held a second summit for event industry leaders, following on from our first meeting at The Biltmore Mayfair on 11 March, though this time it was a virtual meeting due to the UK being on lockdown as the coronavirus crisis continues to escalate.
Around 45 agency leaders came together to discuss the ongoing challenges they are facing, with experts from Ellman Wall, Travlaw and Tranquilico, on hand to offer advice. Here are just a few of the key takeaways…
*The biggest topic discussed was furlough, what it means and who is eligible, after the government announced a support package that will enable private companies to claim for up to 80% of their employee’s wages to a set limit through the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme.
*Some agencies said they have already made redundancies in a bid to cut costs immediately out of the business, while others have asked staff to work reduced hours. Several agencies sent out a survey to all employees asking what they could do to help the business through this crisis, from reducing hours to agreeing to furlough.
*The majority of agencies are looking at furlough options in the hope that they can hold jobs open for staff. One agency head described the government announcement as very timely, so much more than expected, and the difference between making redundancies and not making redundancies.
*The biggest headache for agency leaders is how to decide who to furlough and who to keep working from a business planning perspective when there is so much uncertainty. Agencies with film, production and editing teams obviously need to keep those in place, because they are busiest right now. But how do you decide what other team members are essential, from client facing account management staff to ops teams, in these unprecedented times? It’s about getting the right blend of different skills needed to run the business on a skeleton staff.
*Lots of questions were asked about who qualifies for furlough and what the responsibilities and expectations are when staff are on furlough – both from an employer and employee perspective. While details are still scarce and there are questions remain around whether furlough will just include wages, or if NI and pension contributions are also covered, our experts did their best to answer as many questions as possible
– Company directors, even if it’s a company of two, won’t be able to furlough themselves.
-Staff who are on furlough will not be allowed to work and you can’t ask them to, however one agency said it will give employees the opportunity to take part in self-development, which will be totally optional.
-There is no maximum number of workers than can be put in furlough. It totally depends on the size of company and your situation is.
– Can you rotate workers on furlough? Technically you can – once someone has been furloughed, you can take them off whenever you want, but you can’t put them back on furlough.
-You can top up the 20% (or some of it) to take employees up to full salary but there is no obligation to.
-Furlough is voluntary and you can’t force someone to take it. You have to have their consent. If they refuse, you would have to go through the usual consultation process for redundancy.
-Will the government be ready to process furlough payments in April? The consensus was that they might not have things up and running in time, so businesses need to be prepared to step in and cover April salaries or take a bridging loan if necessary.
Check out more info from Travlaw here on the furlough scheme: http://www.travlaw.co.uk/blog_posts/furloughed-employees-more-details/
Morale and mental health
Another key area of discussion was keeping people engaged and motivated – both those working and those on furlough – during these challenging times. With everyone working from home, there is the potential for lots of isolation and anxiety issues so protecting wellbeing is paramount.
*How do you prevent issues within the team – it seems unfair that some still have to work for what is likely to be a reduced salary, while others don’t and are being paid anyway? Can you offer incentives either to those that continue to work or those that volunteer to take furlough?
*Working as opposed to being on furlough is likely to be better for mental health. People who are on furlough have an additional worry about whether they will still have a job to go back to.
*It’s important to stay in regular contact with all staff – have work-related WhatsApp and Zoom groups, and then social groups for all staff. Many agencies have already started regular Zoom meetings for those working from home, while others are running virtual social events from quizzes to team drinks
*Directors need to look after and take care of themselves. This extended duty of care you have for your staff can become quite an intense thing and having difficult conversations about furlough and keeping people motivated can be incredible stressful.
*One agency head said she has reduced its working hours from 9-5.30 to 9-4. This gives team members extra time to help a vulnerable person, or to spend time on exercise and wellbeing, and also gives her time to focus on self-care and going for a walk.
*The following resources were shared:
-Check out www.liggywebb.com for resources on resilience and mental health.
-Laura Capell-Abra and her team from Stress Matters run a programme solely for the event industry. The helpline is here https://www.stressmatters.org.uk/support-line . Also they have a buddies network that people can sign up to – perhaps a useful tool for team members furloughed or freelancers https://www.stressmatters.org.uk/buddies-matter.
-Another alternative EventWell is another scheme within the industry – https://eventwell.org/
Timeline for recovery
The final topic discussed was when and what will recovery look like?
*The biggest worry is that business is not going to come back as quickly as it went away as clients will be nervous about spending and they will also have got more used to virtual events so may opt for more of those in future.
*What will happen with normal cycles of procurement – review and reappointment – will they go on hold?
*One agency has already had conversations with some clients saying there may not be the same interest in doing global conferences and will look for more regional solutions.
*Other said that clients are talking about new travel policies. Will they allow non-essential travel in future? Will people travel as globally as they used to, or will it be more regional? Even before coronavirus, there was more pressure around sustainability, and certain companies may find it more difficult to justify travel in future. There’s also the question over what the airline industry will look like after this – and which airlines will actually survive?
*One agency is concerned about how this crisis might impact the company infrastructure – the skillset and shape of the company might be completely different at the end of this than it was at the start.
*We have to accept that some clients may not have finances or inclination to spend on events once we come out of it. We don’t know what conversations or internal battles are currently taking place between event planners and their CFOs on marketing budgets – it would be good to have some insight from corporates on this.
*One agency said we need to offer innovative ideas on virtual events and reward schemes, so we don’t lose those budgets going into next year.
*What recovery looks like will depend on how long this lasts and at the moment no-one can say with any certainty. If its 2-3 months, we can just about survive. If this carries on for 6 months – it’s going to be really scary, and all of our businesses will be in a bad place. Hopefully we recover sooner rather than later. The big challenge is that it’s almost impossible to do any planning with so much uncertainty.