THE majority of people across the North-East are now feeling the widespread effect of measures introduced to limit the spread of coronavirus.

Over the last week, businesses have been busy putting contingency plans into place and introducing new working practices. Here, a range of businesses and business organisations reveal how they are coping under the shadow of Covid-19.

Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “The health and safety of our members and our community is our top priority, and as one of the region’s leading providers of networking events, we know we have an important part to play in preventing the spread of COVID-19.

“We have postponed all Forum events until further notice but have adapted our offering to best reflect our members’ needs during this period of uncertainty. We are communicating regularly with our members, offering guidance and advice, while strongly focusing on mentoring and learning, providing our members with the much-needed tools and knowledge they need to navigate through these turbulent times.”

Kevin McConnell, commercial director of Bondgate IT said the Darlington firm currently has engineers on the road, with the remainder of staff working remotely from home to ensure continuity of service.

“As a business, we have had contingency plans in place to ensure there are the necessary staff and systems in place to cope with the rising demand for our IT expertise. Businesses are discovering that they have been under-prepared and haven’t necessarily had everything in place to be able to respond effectively to the current situation. We are currently busy helping businesses and organisations understand what they need to do to allow them to continue to service their clients and how they need to do it.”

Nic Smith, co-founder and managing director of Gateshead-based Commercial Maintenance Services (UK) Ltd, said that it’s an ideal time to install, repair or maintain business-critical systems, given many premises are largely empty allowing access to previously busy sites.

He added: “It’s vital that business-critical systems, such as heating, electricals and plumbing, remain safe and any repairs or scheduled maintenance is not delayed. Such work is necessary to ensure buildings continue to operate efficiently and meet legal compliance standards. Businesses must take a measured approach to safety, as it is no good reducing the level of risk in one area, only to increase it in another.

“Our own staff are already working remotely wherever possible, whilst our teams of qualified engineers who are based throughout the UK, are taking all necessary precautions regarding coronavirus when visiting premises.”

Nicky Jolley, founder and managing director of Darlington-based HR2day, said: “It’s unprecedented times, and obviously SME owners are getting increasingly concerned about what is going to happen in terms of their business being able to function and the wellbeing of their staff. My company has been looking to new technology, such as Zoom, to get people online for a group call and support each other with their HR issues.

“We’ve had excellent feedback from the first one, so it may be a way forward in these difficult times. We’re encouraging businesses not only to take a common sense approach to dealing with pay and staffing issues, but also to support each other as a community, providing help and advice between peers.

“Communication is essential during difficult times like these, so we’re hoping to host these online chats quite regularly, so local businesses are getting the support and advice they need.”

Mike Odysseas, founder and managing director of Stockton-based telecommunications company Odyssey Systems, said it has ten engineers on the road, with the remainder of its workforce operating remotely from home.

He added: “Where possible, we will try and persuade clients to delay any physical visits to their premises if they are not vital. Fortunately, 99 per cent of our work is carried out remotely so if a client has a fault of any kind, we can normally fix that without a visit.

“We have grown used to working as part of a team in a fixed location but what this situation proves is that everyone can learn to work differently. I believe more and more businesses will adopt a more relaxed attitude towards remote working as cloud-based solutions grow and reshape every sector.”

Ian Henderson, founder and managing director of Cramlington-based Boiler Plan, which supplies, installs and repairs a wide range of gas boilers throughout the UK, said: “It’s important that anyone experiencing a boiler breakdown or who needs a new boiler installed gets in touch as soon as possible. It’s important that customers remain safe and warm.

“Our offices are currently staffed with small teams, while all our people who can work from home are doing so with secure remote access to all our systems and processes. In addition, when installing a boiler, our heating engineers are wiping down any surfaces touched with antibacterial spray and ensuring little or no contact with the customer. In addition, we have provided all customer-facing staff with gloves and masks.”

Matthew Hewison, chief operating officer of IT security experts CyberWhite, based in Seaham, County Durham, is already working from home and said he must remain disciplined, given the many distractions operating outside the work environment.

He said: “One of the things we are seeing at the moment is a sharp increase in ‘phishing’ – with cybercriminals using the coronavirus situation as a vehicle to commit fraud.

“CyberWhite has been busy carrying out risk assessments and advising clients how best to protect their IT systems.”

Karl Pemberton, managing director of Active Chartered Financial Planners in Stockton and director of the Institute of Directors (IoD) North East (south), said “Clearly, most of us are going to experience significant difficulties and challenges during the coming months. Thankfully, I believe that the Tees Valley business community is a tight one, and I am sure we will collectively come together to help each other far more than most.

“Despite the best planning efforts of the best leaders, directors and management, it is highly unlikely that many businesses will have had a well-prepared plan for such circumstances. It is therefore imperative that businesses are pro-active, dynamic, and communicate without delay what their plans may be with staff, suppliers and clients alike. Many resources are available to you in this regard if you are struggling through the likes of the IoD website, central Government website, and more locally through the Tees Valley Combined Authority website.

“We all appreciate that the pace of development is rapid, and I would encourage all businesses to communicate with each other and offer support. Social media, LinkedIn and Twitter especially, are proving to be great mediums for gathering information and offers of support. Check in regularly, and more importantly, if you’re not on there, sign up as soon as possible

“As the local Chair for the IoD in the Tees Valley, I have a direct route to central Government, and have already expressed concerns of our business community to them.”