Power to the People
by Eduard Schaepman, on 4 Jun 2020
"How's Tribes doing?" is a common question these days. Not surprisingly, the crisis has many consequences, and has an impact on every company. Time to put it on paper: how did we deal with the corona crisis internally?
Just like everyone else, we thought at the beginning of this year that it would not be so bad. As the virus got closer and closer, I started to prepare myself. Thinking about hygiene measures, providing enough hand gel, soap and paper towels. Assembled a corona crisis team to take care of internal and external communication, answer questions and make a plan. But of course no one really saw what happened, and we had to reflect on it as well. But those who know me know better than anyone that the wheels are never off, and soon I came up with the Blue Zone Office concept: Not just corona-proof because that keeps a negative association. No, a super healthy office formula with which you can boost your immune system. If you don't recognize it yet: you can read more here.
But that's all on the 'outside'. What happened internally? As soon as we were called upon to work from home as much as possible, our meeting room requests collapsed like a house of cards. Logical: no physical meetings unless necessary. The Zoom, Skype and Teams calls took over. Since we work with 23 locations, we were already familiar with remote control via Teams. All that was added was the digital coffee moment for the entire Tribes Family from 10.30am to 10.45am.
Our crisis team immediately went to the 'corona desk' of the government. Which regulations could we be eligible for? After all, we employ 100 people, and they and their families depend on Tribes. We were still eligible for the old regulation, the reduction of working hours, where staff would work 50% less, and part of their salary would be supplemented by the government. Of course we were not the only ones, and the waiting time was at least about 6 weeks. Soon that regulation became turnover related, the NOW-regulation. We already had the suspicion that it would not apply to us, but as management we decided not to wait for that, so on 18 March we put everyone on 50%, while maintaining 100% salary. It was quiet at the locations anyway, and in this way our people could recharge themselves a bit and spend their time on something that gives them energy. Everyone will recognize it: at the beginning of the crisis you don't know what will happen to you. In those uncertain times, you want to be able to have some 'me-time', without having to think about your work.
After that, we started looking for ways to keep our business running. People didn't want to go on tour for a while, but continued to be interested in our workplaces. Of course, not as much as before, but for the few who did want to come, we offered an alternative: a virtual visit, where our chiefs could show the location with a video call. In the meantime, we were busy preparing and thinking about our Blue Zone Office concept: there was plenty to do!
At the end of April, we received the message that we were not eligible for the NOW regulation, because this turnover is related. And since we had a higher turnover on the books than last year, we got nothing. You're not that much affected by the corona virus because you perform better, is the conclusion. Anyway, it's logical that our turnover was lower last year: we are now in the scale-up phase. We've invested a lot, setting up new locations quickly costs €2 million per location. And yes, costs come before benefits. In the plan to our shareholders, we were to make a profit for the first time in August 2019 and maintain that monthly. That's not yet at the level the shareholders are judging on. We wouldn't achieve that until this year. And yes, we'll also generate more turnover than last year and realise the figures. We'll hold on to that increase in turnover until June. We have booked little or no office turnover from the end of March up until now because of COVID-19. We will see that reflected in our figures in the 3rd quarter. We have noticed that demand is raising again, so we can make up for this in the 4th quarter.
It became clear that we could expect nothing from the government, not even from the Start - Up and Scale Up regulations as that is another loan and not a compensation arrangement like the NOW fund. In the meantime, reservations for meeting rooms were not made, so a large part of our turnover remained behind. The office contracts will continue, but that's not infinite either. So, we had to intervene, because we had to do it ourselves. And that's no fun: some employment contracts could not be extended. That hurts. That's all I want to say about it, every entrepreneur understands how awful that is.
Of course, we have paid out the holiday bonus in May like always, and not postponed it to June or canceled it. After all, we know how important that is for some families, but also how nice it is to be able to treat yourself to that new garden furniture. We still run our coffee calls, where fortunately the atmosphere is still very good. From singing, quizzes, guided tours to Spanish dance: everything comes along. That #strongtogether that is missing in Europe I see within the Tribes family.
Now everything improves a little bit again. I'm writing this blog on location Utrecht Central Station, where 5 meeting rooms are now full (with 1.5 meters indeed, so there are less people per room). The murmur in the hallway when they go on break is a great sound. Or the cart of the catering, when the coffee is refilled. Lovely.
Now let's hope that we can keep up with each other in the Netherlands, Germany and Belgium, and that we won't do anything weird so that another lockdown is necessary, then the future looks bright for Tribes. And I even dare to go so far as to look around for new locations...