CEO Forum – Covid-19 | Thursday 9th April

  • Thought Leadership

On Thursday 9th of April, Adam Brown and Michael Dickson from FWB Park Brown hosted the latest CEO Forum, via Zoom. This brought together 22 CEOs from a range of industries including Technology, Energy, Construction, FMCG, Engineering, Manufacturing, Retail, Financial Services and Professional Services.

The purpose was to share experiences and strategies relating to how we are approaching the current financial and business challenges due to Covid-19.

In this forum, although many are still in ‘crisis mode’ there had been a significant shift in mindset and strategy within several businesses to begin future planning. This week’s conversation covered the developments and next stages of the government furlough scheme, returning to work and developing new manufacturing methods, investment in technology and future planning.

The conversation was conducted under Chatham House rules and a very open and valuable discussion ensued covering, amongst others, the following topics:

Government Communication

  • It was widely felt that significant ambiguity remains in the government’s messages surrounding the furlough scheme. This is particularly frustrating for businesses with large manual workforces who cannot work from home and for companies with complex shift patterns such as in construction and manufacturing, that do not fit with the minimum 3 week furlough period. There is frustration on both employer and employee sides that employees cannot work at all during the period of being furloughed, and that working for any period of time constitutes the furlough period ending.
  • Some CEOs have decided to continue production/manufacturing, or indeed start this back up, following investment in technology and/or new working practices in the production line to implement social distancing.
  • There was agreement, even between ‘competitors’, to unite in their communications and campaign to government for clearer messaging and direction, especially given the inconsistencies between the UK and Scottish Government position.

Manufacturing and Production

  • Significant changes have been made by companies who are still running their production lines. Those who have not yet restarted production are looking to restart soon.
  • These changes and innovations have included:
    • New/separate entry and exit doors.
    • Hands-free radio communications to remove the need for travel across the ‘shop floor’ for face to face communications, or the sharing of radios.
    • Significant investment in PPE, including self-manufacture where possible.
    • Separation distance markings on the production line.
    • Shift patterns changing (i.e. 2 weeks on, 2 weeks off – all paid).
    • Health monitoring, including temperature checks.
  • Agency workers have been recruited to combat sickness and absenteeism issues, although absenteeism has been dropping with improved, more transparent and purposeful, communications and the social distancing investments.

Furlough and Staff Communications

  • With almost all of the represented companies having staff now on Furlough or considering the Furlough scheme, as well as a much greater use of the scheme UK wide than expected, there was strong debate as to whether it is now ‘too big to fail’ or so costly to the State that it will end sooner than many are relying on it for.
  • Should it end sooner, then the belief is it will have failed as a retention scheme and will have only been a short-term reprieve on redundancy. However, given the 45 days’ notice required, we are all expecting an update and clarity on this from the Government imminently.
  • It was agreed that whilst staff cannot work on Furlough, they can undergo training. This was seen as an essential distinction and a great way to both keep morale and engagement high as well as developing a stronger workforce to return from Furlough when appropriate.
  • It was also noted that the language used when communicating with these employees was crucial. Staff are ‘on Furlough’, and have not ‘been furloughed’.
  • Many of the staff retained, across all levels of the organisation, have been asked to undergo temporary salary reductions. Varying models for this were discussed, including: a tiered income tax like approach; universal 80% to match furlough; highest cuts at executive level; and cuts proportionate to savings made through working at home e.g. travel cost savings.
  • It was highlighted that staff on Furlough are both allowed to volunteer for the NHS as well as actually taking paid work elsewhere during Furlough with their employer’s permission. This did however raise a moral question of taking Government funds whilst being paid elsewhere…
  • Again, the importance to continue to monitor and champion the wellbeing and mental health of staff at this time was discussed in detail and agreed to be of the highest importance. Innovative cultural and staff engagement methods were shared including virtual team physical exercise, virtual coffee breaks and work drinks and even prohibiting meetings between certain times to encourage wellness, a time for exercise and time away from screens.

Investment in Technology

  • The feedback from the group was that the majority of remote working migrations had gone smoothly and effectively.
  • The biggest concerns regarding technology was now the internal and external Cyber/Data Security Risks and the cultural issues that may arise. For example:
    • Employees seeking technology and communication work arounds, or not being as technologically savvy, resulting in accidental data breaches that are harder to track and resolve.
    • Employees now being able to be logged on 24/7 and the work life balance issues for many that this could cause.
    • For others, this availability and flexibility could lead to a lack of urgency and productivity.
    • And there was also debate as to how the office culture adjusts or returns to a manageable norm if a significant proportion wish to increase home working in the future. Will we have to permit social distancing if someone choose to adopt this permanently?

The Future

  • It was discussed that there may be four stages to this pandemic and crisis:
    • The deep slide into the crisis.
    • In crisis mode.
    • Scenario planning and the emergence from the crisis.
    • Life after and the new normal.
  • It was clear that the majority of businesses were now either ‘in crisis mode’ or beginning to ‘plan their way out’ and consider what that might look like.
  • There was agreement from those who, although impacted like everyone else, are starting to see a future for their businesses and that this appears to be a fantastic opportunity to spend time on future strategic initiatives, training and development, change and innovation.

The CEO Forums will be hosted weekly via Zoom on alternate Thursdays and Fridays at 1pm.

For further details on this, or future events, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with Michael Dickson or Adam Brown on:

For a downloadable copy of the above article please click here.

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FWB Park Brown
FWB Park Brown continues to deliver its full range of services which includes providing support and advice during the Covid- 19 Public Health and developing global economic crisis.
We have established a range of cross sector as well as sector focused discussion forums for Chairs, NEDs, CEOs and all the main business management disciplines.  We are also working closely with the Scottish HR Leadership Group to provide constructive support including discussion forums and Q & As.
Summaries of the discussions will be posted on our news section and also on LinkedIn.
For further information about any of these forums please contact us via

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