With so many businesses struggling and hiring plans frozen, the world may feel uncertain but 2020 might just be its most important year yet.
Communities are needed more than ever: the COVID-19 crisis has thrown into sharp focus the economy’s instability and inequality, with many businesses being refused emergency loans and employees sent home without pay.
While it is key to keep abreast of the changes, sometimes we all need some positivity.
We spoke to Trevor Bezzina, the co-founder of Potentially: a business that’s working to democratise opportunities for students and help every person fulfil their potential, no matter their background. We asked him what’s making him feel hopeful in business continuity and the future for recruitment.
How is Potentially helping to keep businesses going?
Like so many other businesses in this crisis, we are asking ourselves: ‘How can we help our clients and end-users?’ So we founded the Class of 2020 initiative to appeal to businesses across the UK to share training and resources. That could be on topics across soft skills (presenting, planning, sales, leadership etc.) to digital skills and technical business challenges. We then host it on our platform and deliver it to up to a million students across the UK.
We know that this is going to be a tough time. A recent study showed that about a third of companies will scale back graduate hiring programmes. A third will look to continue as planned and a third just don’t know. We have the opportunity to help students and anyone impacted by hiring freezes or job losses to upskill. And as seen from past crises the economy will and does bounce back.
When it does, we want people to be ready for the economic upturn. The message to all people right now who are looking for work, is that the future isn’t cancelled. Things will come back. The best thing to do right now is to pivot, retrain, and continue growing.
What is it like to be at Potentially right now?
We were previously in an office, meeting up on a day-to-day basis and collaborating with other tech companies in the building. Suddenly, we’re all back in our home environments. Similar to larger companies who have shifted to home working we’ve adopted web tools and apps like Zoom to run meetings or collaborate. We’ve had to shift in our approach to working together and how to maintain camaraderie. That shift resonates across every industry. We’ve even brought back Friday night drinks, to chat and share what’s gone well in the week with the team, only it’s all online. We’re positive though, partly because we know we can do good and make a difference.
Could you break down your business continuity strategy for Potentially?
Our keywords are impact and communication. Typically, we’d be going to two major conferences, meeting clients face-to-face at trade shows. Now those are cancelled, we have to very quickly create a touchpoint with those potential clients. It’s harder but possible virtually. We’ve moved to online webinars, where we can still deliver our message.
The same goes for the universities and colleges we support. We’re trying to help them get more information out to their students through our platform: information such as how to cope during lockdown or to run job-hunting bootcamps. And whilst we compete with all the other digital distractions like Netflix we’ve still seen an uptick by 40% in some of these activities. We’re seeing that many students are now very aware of the soft skills and personal development needed alongside their academic studies. This is mirroring the change in resources that the universities are putting out there.
For the class of 2020, we’re also giving away our platform for free. That’s one of the great privileges of tech companies; we can quickly adapt in this way.
Has the pandemic changed the way you look at our current approach to business planning?
It’s a new and emerging situation. For us, short-term strategies to react and adapt very quickly led to the classof2020 initiative. We’ll then look to review things again in a month’s time and readapt. It’s about continuous improvement.
The tools we use will change. They’ll become more permanent. If we look at multinational companies, they already have them in place. In the last financial crisis of 2008, we saw the growth of new web services and tools, including Receipt Bank.
In this crisis, home working and online learning tools will become more important. Even if companies don’t use them, they’ll have them ready should this happen again – or, as we go into these periodic lockdowns, we’ll learn how to become more flexible when switching from onsite to remote learning and working.
What is making you feel positive about people and technology right now?
It’s this. The ability for humans to adapt very quickly. That’s the great hope. Young people are great at adapting to new tools, embracing and leading with them. Humans can also adapt well into their latter years, as we see with our parents and grandparents learning Zoom and Facetime.
We’re great at adapting to situations and at helping each other out in a community. Tools are becoming more and more community-based. Students are using Google Docs as chat apps and TikTok to teach each other. It’s a convergence across generations.
What message do you want to send to accountants, bookkeepers and businesses?
Patience and resilience. And focus on the things that may not be so apparent in day-to-day work – things like your mental health and wellbeing, community, friends and connections. These are not the obvious things for helping you do your job better, but if you don’t work on them, they can subtly impact your performance over time. Keep in good spirits.
Our accountant uses Receipt Bank with a lot of his clients. They’re small to medium-sized businesses and I know that he’s taking on a lot of their anxiety and worry on how to navigate new and emerging support schemes. They’re acting as close colleagues to their clients, having in-depth conversations just as we do with our students. It might just be that the future of businesses is this: the social aspect of people helping each other in ways only we know how.