To understand more about the impact of COVID-19 on our clients and the local Brighton community, we have decided to ask them some questions.

We spoke to Emilie Lashmar, Creative Director at PLATF9RM, Brighton & Hove’s largest independent coworking community of businesses and creatives, known for its lively and collaborative culture.

When did COVID-19 affect your business and was it immediate or gradual?

We started feeling the effects before lockdown. We had our sold-out Kickass Women 2.0 conference with 120 attendees planned for Saturday 14 March 2020 and had a few cancellations as people were growing more and more concerned about what was unfolding. We decided to carry on with the all-day event and I’m delighted we did. So many people have since said it’s been their event highlight of 2020. Go figure!

A week later, immediately after the Prime Minister put us into lockdown and stated “those that can work from home, should do so”, the majority of our members were WFH and not at our locations.

Financially, we dropped 40% revenue during lockdown from our peak in January 2020.  We hit the bottom in May and now we’re seeing recovery.

How did you communicate this impact with your team and clients?

I hope our members felt we over-communicated. Seb Royle sent out Founder Letters to all our members at various points during the lockdown. We have a Slack group for our 850+ members and we were there updating and supporting them with advice and moral support. Keeping our community together (albeit virtually) was extremely important to us.

Email, Slack, social media and Zoom were our key channels.

What decisions have you had to take in respect of your business?

Lock-down required lots of decisions to be made, and very quickly. We moved our entire events programme online to Zoom. We had to put ¾ of our operational team on furlough. We gave members credit in exchange for payments to continue and worked out discounts for our office users to help them get through the crisis.

Have you accessed or will you be accessing any of the Government support schemes and grants?

We utilised the Government Job Retention scheme and after working alongside other flexible office space providers in Brighton & Hove lobbying government, we applied for the Discretionary Grant Fund.

Do you think the Government support goes far enough?

I feel the Government financial support has been unprecedented in regards to the Job Retention Scheme with over £29.8billion spent. Still, extra support is needed for certain industries, as well as the additional support that will be needed when the furlough scheme comes to an end.

What effect will this pandemic have on your business in the long term?

Positively, in terms of work culture. We have all collectively gone through a huge social experiment. PLATF9RM was set up with flexible working in mind, as an option to stop the commute and work nearer home. We create a better work-life balance for our members whilst combating the loneliness, or distractions that can happen when working from home.

This has fast-forwarded a lot of thinking, we’re now seeing large corporates offering flexibility and autonomy to their employees in where they choose to work, which would have not been the case pre-pandemic. Organisations are now re-considering the need for huge head offices, favourably choosing flexible license agreements. We’re perfectly placed to support this direction of travel.

Do you have a crisis management plan now in place?

Not yet, but it’s something we are currently working on.

What decisions are being made now for when you are able to get back up and running?

We’ve been up and running at our locations with our COVID-secure workspace for 5 weeks now. We were never officially ordered to close by Government so during May our main focus was on creating a risk assessment of our spaces and activities. We then created a COVID-Policy and brand to communicate with our members in the space and made sure our spaces were as safe as possible.

We wanted our members to feel the same welcoming atmosphere at PLATF9RM they’ve always known and loved. A lot of attention was focused on creating a safe and welcoming environment for them to return to when they are ready of course.

How do you think the business landscape will change in Brighton?

I believe we’ll see an increase in the number of startups and freelancers due to redundancies. From dark times, come lighter days and those who cannot find employment in a more competitive job market will create their own opportunities.

In Brighton and Hove we already have the highest number of start-ups per capita after London. This will continue to grow, and what better place for them to work from than PLATF9RM.

What tips can you give other businesses currently going through the crisis?

Communicate, communicate, communicate. With your team, ask them how they are, mean it, and listen to their answer. Listen to your customers and pivot to meet their changing needs.

Author: Emilie Lashmar, Creative Director @ PLATF9RM

Date Published: 24 July 2020