The road back to the office

With the roadmap out of lockdown clearly marked, many businesses are preparing for the return of employees to the workplace. However, dealers will have a prominent role to play in making this a success as it will not be a return to the ‘old normal’

When prime minister Boris Johnson announced the long-hoped-for roadmap out of the UK’s lockdown in February, many employers began to think about bringing employees who have been working at home for the past year back to the workplace. However, if and when employees return, it won’t be ‘business as usual’ – there will still be social distancing and infection control, for instance.

Dealers will have an important role in helping employers to make the return to the workplace a success, ensuring that all employees are kept safe from infection, and that those who are nervous about returning have their fears assuaged.

As Charlotte Eyre, director of marketing at Nectere, notes, the biggest thing for independent dealers is to look ahead and put the wheels in motion now for workplace returns. “We have been sourcing products for the return to work since before January – and that’s about making sure there is a range of products,” she says. “It’s not just about infection control, it’s about padding that offer out into virucidal sprays and wipes – tailoring to business’ requirements and making sure people feel safe for the return to work.

“There is an opportunity for dealers to branch into a new area of products and specialisms they might not have previously had the skillset or product range to do. It is about positioning themselves in terms of the best proposition they can have to fulfil those customers’ needs.”

“There are opportunities for the progressive independent. There is a market that has opened up and it’s about being confident in the range and their capabilities. We are seeing this reflected in the wholesale channel as well, and with manufacturers – look at the products that have been created in the past year; it has drastically changed from the product range we had 12 months previously.”

This means that it is more important than ever for dealers to have a strong market proposition and send marketing material out quickly, directly to their customer base, Charlotte adds.

Shipping models

Shipping models have also had to change in the past year to enable home orders to be fulfilled, and this is likely to remain in place, says Charlotte. “Dealers are going to have to change the way their business models look.”

Lawrence Savage, marketing manager at ExacClair, agrees. “With more consumers working remotely, the rise in demand for dropshipping products continues to drive the supply chain. Dealers can also look to offer a wider choice of product bundles to aid those businesses seeking more cost-effective solutions for home and office-based environments.”

He adds that it’s not just about sourcing the most popular office products. “The key for dealers is to take on a greater consultancy role, advising their business clients on where and how to best utilise and integrate this equipment. This is particularly important when it comes to product categories that certain businesses aren’t so used to, such as social distancing signage, PPE, and items for setting up office COVID self-testing stations. In relation to this, more dealers are now expanding their support services to incorporate personalised office design layout solutions.”

For instance, if the roadmap is adhered to, on May 17 indoor entertainment and attractions will open, as well as hotels, hostels and B&Bs and indoor adult sports activities. This will provide opportunities for dealers to sell things like social distancing signage and sanitising stations.

Safe environment  

Lawrence points out that products treated with antimicrobial additives to protect against bacteria, viruses, mould and fungi will continue to be in high demand.

Marianne Chamberlain, sales director at Data Direct, adds that – while businesses will want to get operational quickly – the priority for most employees returning to any workplace must be that they have confidence they’re entering a safe environment.

“PPE has had to evolve beyond a defensive shield approach and become an active deterrent against pathogens and harmful environments,” she says. “Of course, copiers and printers will want to be maxed out again, and some ‘traditional’ PPE will still be essential, but things like SmartMister will help to manage COVID-19 risk.”

Marianne says that the SmartMister can be easily placed in the dealer network with a machine and consumables approach. “You sell a box that makes your customer’s life less complicated, and more compliant, in the slow return to normality,” she explains. “Because COVID-19 won’t go away, SmartMister will help to manage this risk as well as winter viruses and spring pollution – not to mention new mutations of COVID.”

Flexible working

Indeed, while limits on social contact are scheduled to end on June 21, when nightclubs will be allowed to open, there will still be demand for PPE and anti-viral products as part of the new expectations that employees may have in the office, having worked from home for so long. This will require flexibility, says Claire Negri, trade marketing executive at DURABLE (UK) Ltd. “If this past year has taught us anything, it is that flexible working is possible, and is likely to continue in the future, for many businesses.

“An office is more than just a laptop and, while it is reasonable to suggest a continued shift in working culture, the result will be an increased focus on the quality and adaptability of workplaces. Companies wanting to attract and retain the best talent will seek to offer a modern, inspiring and flexible working environment as part of their package. This calls for more flexible solutions to equip both workers returning to the office and those who continue to embrace flexible working.”

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