Stephen Zouch, Managing Director at Intergas Boilers, reflects on the new reality we find ourselves in due to coronavirus and how it will likely impact the sector going forward.
As traumatic and life-changing as this coronavirus pandemic is, when it is finally over how we as organisations and individuals behaved will not be forgotten. There’s the unstinting courage of our NHS staff, often risking their lives to save ours, and the indomitable spirit of WWII veteran, Captain Tom Moore, who has raised £26m at the time of writing to support them. There are the innumerable acts of kindness from volunteers helping the vulnerable, manning the food banks, and making the scrubs. And, every Thursday, we’re on our doorsteps making some noise for all our carers.
Others have also shown their true colours when they decided to profiteer at a time when household incomes have never been under greater pressure, when they put profits before the wellbeing of their staff, staying open despite all the evidence to the contrary, or cast off an entire workforce without a penny. All actions have consequences, and people have long memories.
When you run a company, small or large, as so many of us do, a cool head and the ability to think in the short, medium, and long term are important skills. You have objectives and a strategy for how you’re going to reach them. When you’re running a country during a global emergency, these attributes become critical. Of course, it’s not so easy to combine nerves of steel, analytical brilliance, and leadership skills when everyone is demanding answers, solutions, and support now to save lives and livelihoods.
Stepping out of your comfort zone and thinking a little differently, as Chancellor Rishi Sunak did with the introduction of his financial package, isn’t easy either, but he did it. It was as innovative as it was enlightened, and has given many reassurance and hope, where there could have been none. Sadly, this may turn out to be an even costlier measure as it’s not part of a joined-up effort to get us all back to work.
When a company is large and hierarchical, it’s less flexible, takes longer to make decisions, and is often out of touch with what’s happening at ground level. As long as this status quo exists, it’s impossible to move forward, until outside factors force your hand.
It took geneticist and Chief Executive of the Francis Crick Institute, Sir Paul Nurse’s WWII ‘little ships’ analogy to make the government finally use the highly efficient science labs that had been put at its disposal weeks earlier. Why? It comes down to the conviction that central control is better than collaboration. But, if you want to get the best out of people and improve any situation, you do it better, faster, and with a greater degree of equanimity if you collaborate.
None of us will be unaffected by this lockdown, just how badly depends on its duration, but we do know that this country will be facing its biggest ever deficit, house prices will fall, and unemployment will rise, so now is the time to review and rethink how we operate in what will be a different world. Working from home, new working practices, and areas where there have been improvements because we’ve innovated out of necessity, will inform how we operate in the future. An even greater degree of collaboration is top of my list.
Looking specifically at the heating industry, we will probably bounce back better than most in building services because people will always need heat and hot water, but a new boiler may often take second place to a repair because everyone will be worried about money.
I’ve spent the last few weeks talking to installers, buying groups, and merchants to see how life is and, of course, business is severely down on normal levels. There are still some contractors being kept busy in the social housing and newbuild sectors, and some installers are finding new ways to operate, especially when it comes to offering emergency services and cover. For the most part though, many who have staff have furloughed them and business is quiet; refurbishments, extensions, new kitchens, and bathrooms are likely to be hit hard in the short term because the focus will be on getting by and saving money for essentials.
We all want to survive this as well as we can, but should it be at the expense of others? A deep recession is inevitable, and life will continue to be difficult for some time, but I’m convinced that businesses and industries post lockdown will look at how they can operate more effectively through some forms of collaboration.
I’m a realist and this article reflects where I’m at, and I’m positive that working together will help all of us do a little better, rather than some of us doing well at the expense of others. There couldn’t be a better time to pay it forward.
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