The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenging and sensitive time. Worldwide, around 38.6 million people have at some point been infected, with roughly 1.09 million fatalities as of October 15. However, while many countries have been forced to adjust to living under various types of restrictions, there are some positives that have emerged.
Simon Pryce is a director at Skylight Media Ltd, a web design, web development, systems integration and internet marketing company in Nottingham which supports over 200 clients. Sitting down with Leaders Council interviewer Scott Challinor to discuss how his firm had been managing their way through the crisis, Pryce explained that while the pandemic had seen business drop off dramatically for firms across several industries, the effect for Skylight Media had been very much the opposite.
Pryce said: “In the first six weeks of the initial lockdown starting in March, it was like the music stopped for our B2B clients. However, we have other clients here who are B2C businesses. Our B2C customers were experiencing surges in demand while the B2B customers who were selling products and services to traders and retailers were finding that their supply chains were grinding to a halt.
“We took up the option of furloughing some of our staff following a short period of reflection to help protect our business, but beyond the first six weeks of lockdown, our workload increased hugely. We have seen a surge in new business from companies who are looking to use us to help them attract new audiences, as well as make themselves more of an enticing prospect for their existing ones and enhance client retention.”
The increase in business has led to healthier project scales, sizing and costs for Skylight Media, but this has not come from the knock-on effect of the pandemic alone. Indeed, Pryce believes that the foundations laid over several years before the pandemic had a key part to play, with the company’s reputation and ability to bring in business through referrals proving significant.
“Our healthier project, scales, sizing and costs have come about because of our reputation, and the majority of new business has come through referral: many enquiries have been made from people who have had others recommend us to them or have found out about us locally. The role the pandemic has played is that it has put other companies in a position where they are having to market themselves differently to find new income streams. Remarkably, and to our surprise, we are actually in a healthier shape than we were last year.”
Another factor which has helped Skylight Media capitalise on the opportunities that Covid-19 has inadvertently provided is that operationally, its staff were already sufficiently prepared for working remotely.
When the government began to encourage people to work from home where possible from March onwards, it left many other businesses having to transform their systems overnight, leading to disruption, whereas for Pryce and his team this was not the case.
Pryce said: “What has been fascinating for us is that the requirement to remotely work was something we were ready for. We had it set up last year but not on a 100 per cent basis. It was actually something that we got the ball rolling with four years ago and we started having large portions of our workforce working remotely from last year.”
The more gradual and thought-out transition toward remote working not only allowed the business to be better prepared for the shock of Covid, but it has also improved other aspects such as the work-life balance of staff and efficiency.
Pryce explained: “Having the remote working does allow us to be more efficient. I am working in the office alone because for me, it makes sense for to come in and do the commute and mentally prepare myself for the day, but everyone else works from home so they have more time to consider projects and have less interruptions and more time to focus and it suits their work-life balance and fuels their wellbeing. Overall, it has been a dramatic improvement all round.
“Although we’re accustomed to it by now, what Covid has made us think about in this respect is what the future holds: will it be office based or remote based? I personally think there is still a requirement for a physical location just to give your business a pin in the map and it is somewhere for us to welcome our clients into to enhance relationships, albeit anything like that is currently at a minimum and wherever we have rare visitors we adhere to strict social distancing procedures.
“We are seeing some of our clients reducing their square footage and streamlining their office space, so it will be interesting to see whether we are in the majority or the minority, but we will be keeping our office space. I also have to give credit to our landlord who was incredibly generous during this time, which was most welcome!”
Before venturing into the business world which took him to the summit of Skylight Media, Pryce enjoyed a four-year career with the Royal Navy, and he took a moment during the interview to reflect on how his years in the forces helped mould the leadership model he had applied in running his own business.
He said: “I would say my military background has helped me as a leader but perhaps not in a direct way. In the military, it was all about hierarchy and looking at layers of authority. I chose to flatten my hierarchy completely and lead my team by inspiration rather than command. There has to be command in a military environment, but after experiencing that command in the Navy and then going on to work for a lot of bad managers once I began my civilian career, I was left with a choice when I became a leader between introducing a command structure or something different to that.
“My leadership style favoured bringing people together on a level and encouraging people to be responsible for each other. Drawing on experience from bad management, I was nonetheless able to learn from that and avoid bringing that into my own approach. We run a democratic environment in the company where I am reliant on extremely good people to advise me on how we help our clients and I can make a decision then on the route we go down once I have taken on board everybody’s views.”
As well as drawing on his learnings from negative experiences under ‘command and control’ leadership structures, Pryce explained that his engineering background from his Navy years had prompted him to approach problem-solving from a more technical point of view.
“What was helped from my engineering background in the Navy was my technical grasp of problem-solving. I consider problem-solving to be at the heart of things and my enjoyment on a day-to-day basis comes from solving problems for our clients. What I took away from my Navy career was the engineering knowledge and brain capacity to take a wider view and find the right solution to any situation.”