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In less than six months, our world has changed beyond recognition. It is fairly surreal trying to write this article in the midst of all the chaos.

The world has gone into battle against an invisible enemy who seems very much to have the upper hand right now - schools closed and exams cancelled, industries closed down, loved ones isolated from their families, mortuaries overwhelmed and the best and worst side of human nature portrayed in the news daily.

It’s impossible to predict what the situation will be when this is published in a few weeks from now with changes to Government advice and support packages occurring daily.

Overnight my focus on the business changed from growth to survival, two very different mindsets. I am no longer thinking of where the business will be in the next five years but how we can survive the next three months. We currently have no indication how long this economic crisis could go on for nor the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on our lives and businesses. This is serious stuff. Planning and regular re-forecasting are now critical in order to have the data upon which to make the right decisions at the earliest opportunity. Now is not a time to ‘wait and see’.

This scenario has really brought home to me one of the earliest lessons I learnt in business, which is neatly summed up by the mantra ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’. It is a rule I have followed diligently and it is this that has hopefully given us a life-line.

Our business is fairly evenly split between the on-trade (hotels, restaurants, pubs) and the off-trade (supermarkets, wine retail outlets and on-line wine retail companies). The latter are currently booming, the former were closed down overnight and some of these businesses have the odds set against them for long-term survival.
But, despite this, we are not immune. We have still lost a significant arm of our business which cannot be easily replaced or itself fully rebuilt until this pandemic is over.

We took the difficult decision to furlough employees and cut all working hours to 80% for April and May in order to preserve cash-flow, defer more permanent decisions and take advantage of the support being offered by the government staff retention scheme which may or may not be extended.

This can be a bitter pill for those employees still required to come to work whilst they know some of their colleagues are being paid to be at home, so open communication of these decisions to the whole team in a timely fashion is critical. A videoed message from myself followed up by senior management and HR remote meetings with each employee was our solution in the current environment.

Perhaps one of the positives to come from this otherwise awful situation has been how our team has embraced the use of technology to enable us to continue to work together remotely. This was not a necessity for our business in the pre COVID-19 era, but I can certainly see it being regularly utilised moving forward. It is technology that will keep us all sane over the coming weeks and months and I look forward to all the new and exciting developments and innovations in this area that are reassuringly inevitable.

Now is a time to unite and appreciate those in your team who are prepared to rise and face the challenge with you.

Together we will thrive.

Tamara Roberts is CEO
of Ridgeview Wine Estate, producers of the award-winning English sparkling wine. 

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