How organisations have stepped up in 2020

We wrote in April about how businesses could build resilience and prepare for recovery. Seven months on, it is pleasing to see that our clients and many other businesses have adapted to our changing world and found opportunities thrown up by Covid-19 and Brexit.

People and organisations have not allowed uncertainty to paralyse their business, instead seeking creative solutions which we have helped them deliver. We have seen an acceptance amongst businesses that no one can control all outcomes and timescales. They have turned their attention to what they can control and influence, including revisiting their purpose, values and differentiators and understanding where scrutiny may come from beyond shareholders, making changes to their technology and finances accordingly.

Over the course of 2020, we have been talking to clients and others in the market to garner insight into changing commercial practices. We have gathered this together below, in the hope that it offers some food for thought for businesses as well as highlighting some of the areas we can help with.

Stakeholder engagement

Putting people first

Many businesses have had to make difficult decisions and reduce headcount during the Covid-19 pandemic. We have seen a lot of engagement from clients considering alternatives to redundancy in order to protect their employees as best they can whilst weathering the crisis. There has been real recognition of the value of employees and their roles. Examples from our clients are:

  • Zero-hour contracts: Offering employees zero-hour contracts rather than redundancy and guaranteeing employees that they will be paid for a minimum number of hours each month, whether they have worked for the business in that period or not. In one case the client even reconfigured its business model, using these zero-hours workers as a temporary resourcing solution for other parts of the group and third parties.  Our client’s clear purpose in implementing these alternatives was not to make money, but to look after their people.


  • Collective consultations: In some cases, as a result of the pandemic, businesses have had to conduct a number of collective consultations for redundancy which have involved appointing employee representatives. Following redundancies, one of our clients decided to conduct an employee engagement survey, and following the results of the survey, decided to set up an employee representative body to help improve communication and engagement with their employees going forward.


  • Demonstrating values: In other instances, businesses have been demonstrating their values internally. For example, we have seen companies put a real emphasis on wellbeing at work, with businesses offering employees support through various means, such as a ‘Mental Health Day’ to take as extra holiday, or investing in online mindfulness or fitness programmes for employees to take part in either together or individually. Now more than ever, employees are considering the role their employer plays in its industry and whether it truly has a focus on its people. Where businesses have turned both outward and inward to demonstrate their values, morale and productivity in the workplace has inevitably improved.


As well as focussing on employees, we have also seen an increasing focus on customer centricity for all businesses that need to understand and get close to clients, examples of which feature below.


Doing the right thing

There has been real scrutiny of the actions of businesses during the pandemic and businesses need to be aware of the distinct absence of nuance in the Court of public opinion. However, there is a real opportunity for businesses to be seen to be ‘doing the right thing’ and we have seen our clients taking up such opportunities. For instance:

    • Paying back furlough money
    • Creditors and debtors finding commercial resolutions rather than rushing into litigating cases. This offers a supportive lending market
    • Retailers extending returns policies, which has improved customer relations
    • Providing customer refunds on motor insurance payments to reflect lower vehicle use, sharing the associated reduced cost of claims.


The financial implications of these gestures are in many cases significant, but the financial impact is balanced against the fact that businesses are improving customer satisfaction and also receiving positive publicity for their actions.

  • Creating a shared identity – Businesses and their employees have all been placed in a very difficult situation, however, there has been a sense that we are ‘all in this together’. People have been learning a lot about the businesses they work in. The Head of Legal at a large retailer shared with us how he was more connected to the business as a result of working very closely with them on fundamental operational issues. Management teams are being more open and transparent enabling their people to gain a better understanding about what their business is and how it operates. Sustaining this will reap dividends going forward.


  • Sharing data responsibly – We work with utilities companies and the pandemic has accelerated their plans to share data and use it responsibly. Utilities companies, local government, healthcare providers and supermarkets are good examples of where this has been done. An acceleration of this has been driven by public interest health objectives, rather than commercial objectives (even though commercial objectives are also being met). Data sharing is a sensitive issue, often unpopular as it is often done irresponsibly. But public interest data sharing has been carried out in a responsible way which has showcased how using data can be positive when done in an appropriate manner.


  • Recognition of important charity work – In our work with charities we have seen consistent recognition and appreciation of the vital work charities are doing.

Strategic review

  • Rethinking operations – Our media clients have had to be really agile and flexible, employing ‘blue sky thinking’ in their approach to content production and distribution, as production teams and actors often can’t be in the same room to film. With huge uptake in media consumption as demonstrated by the high Ofcom statistics from the first lockdown, the previously well-oiled process has had to be rapidly adapted. Out of this comes a ‘we can do this’ attitude when needs must. The outcome of this should be more openness to change and being more agile, after all, people are at home wanting content.


  • Accelerated growth – We have seen an enhanced continuation of a theme within Private Equity (“PE”) of a buy and build strategy to growth within PE portfolio companies. We had witnessed this trend within the industry over the past few years where Private Equity acquires an established business with a strong management team as a platform of accretive growth by acquisition. This response to competition for prime assets where non-Private Equity backed competitors may not be so well funded. Bolt-on transactions can offer quick access to new markets, quick boosts to value of portfolios, providing a platform for quicker growth and maybe even an opportunistic change of strategy or diversification. Over the past three years we have acted on over 50 bolt-on acquisitions for PE houses and are busier than ever with more on the horizon.


  • Route to market – The pandemic has caused businesses to revaluate their route to market. Clearly those businesses with a strong online and digital presence, rather than just a physical presence have been more resistant to the effects of the pandemic.


  • One of our clients, a large UK retailer, has introduced a click and collect service as a result of the pandemic which has enabled them to reach a whole new customer base and is a service they intend to continue using in the future. We know of one high street jeweller has used potentially redundant staff to host online consultations.


The FD of a food business shared that the lack of events and hospitality in their industry is levelling up the playing field for smaller operators and is also revealing who is really skilled at developing new business.

One of our entertainment clients has recently released some free online content just to get people watching. They have been digitalising their content and looking in their archives for previously recorded shows and interviews which have been shared as podcasts; there is a clear trend in businesses looking to digitalise their offering. Previously, theatres measured their success on tickets sold for ‘bums on seats’ whereas now it is about digital content and digital streams. Another thing is that they are promoting and marketing the CDs and soundtracks to the different shows that they have put on and they have an online shop for merchandise, so they have had to think about ‘modernising’.


In terms of banking and finance, broadening the range of lenders and increasing competition has been a pre-pandemic strategic objective of policy makers and industry for some time. As a result of the government-backed loan schemes (such as CBILS and BBLS) lenders who are accredited with the British Business Bank have been able to extend their product range and market reach to customers they have not previously lent to. The lender’s risk has been mitigated somewhat by the Government guarantees but the impact has been significant. Critical liquidity has been available to allow viable businesses to survive and adapt.


  • Confidence in the market – In terms of Private Equity, we have been pleased to report that we have witnessed a return of confidence to the markets, and a bounce back since late July of M&A activity driven by opportunity rather than crisis. The most active sectors are those you would expect, technology and healthcare, but also other industries where opportunities are starting to present themselves as a result of the pandemic, for instance insurance.


  • Focussing on the important issues – The crisis has meant that businesses are focussing on the real issues. The most successful businesses are quickly identifying issues which cannot easily be commercially resolved and finding ways to resolve disputes, including through the Courts (an option which has been available throughout). Businesses still have the full range of resolution options available to them but, rightly, they are testing the extent of their commercially acceptable limits at a much earlier stage.


  • Streamlining – Businesses, largely through necessity, have had to undertake restructuring and streamlining exercises. Whilst for many this has been a difficult process, ultimately, this makes them more profitable and where exit is the goal, more attractive for potential buyers.


  • Time to think – With some daily distractions removed (not least travel time), many businesses have had the time to think about projects which have been on the back burner for a while and get them done.


One of our retail clients have brought forward their plans to move away from a store-based credit application system to an online store-card system which is quicker and easier to apply for, more flexible in terms of the credit on offer and involves the lender, rather than our client, taking more of the regulatory risk.

Another client has undertaken a review of their supply chain which was a project that would not have been a business priority prior to the pandemic. They are looking at all business areas and thinking about what they have been doing and reassessing whether it is the right decision/approach for them. Identifying areas where they want more flexibility and addressing these (property/real estate strategy, for example).

Workforce planning

I am a convert to WFH, having previously been sceptical, and my team have adapted really well. Communication and sharing of information and ideas has improved.

General Counsel

Remote working and flexibility

Many businesses have adopted more flexibility in the office working culture and there now appears to be a much wider acceptance of flexible working in the market. One General Counsel told us how he had become a convert to working from home, recognising that his team was more productive, they had built better relationships across the business and the use of technology had made internal communications better and more efficient.

This type of working can be beneficial for employees, as it may improve work-life balance, and can be mutually beneficial for businesses who may be able to reduce their real estate costs (i.e. downsizing their office space).

Some of our clients have previously found it difficult to recruit due to their base locations, however, with the move to remote working, these geographical barriers have been removed and so they are able to attract a wider pool of candidates.

Innovate and build for better

The greater focus on business resilience and risk awareness is a silver lining

  • Plugging the gaps - some businesses have seen the opportunity to strategically partner with each other. For instance, digital-only Fin-Tech lenders have been able to combine the best of each's onboarding processes and scale to provide rapid funding to the SME sector. By working together, they are more than the sum of their parts.

The focus on supply chain resilience is good, we are seeing a move away from 'just in time' supply chains to 'preparing for the future'. This will be very relevant for Brexit too and will drive automation and the skills agenda. It is condensing a lot of pain that we would have experienced over to the 4th industrial revolution. We will now be able to deal with these changes more quickly when they come.

We have also seen an increased agility – the response to the pandemic has reminded business what can be done with a "can do" attitude. It has shifted the dial in terms of appetite for risk. Head of Legal of a retail business commented to us that the greater focus on business resilience and risk awareness is a silver lining.

Technology Review

The pandemic accelerated our customer facing digital transformation – to introducing things we should’ve had anyway like live chat, to adding things that are more cutting edge like virtual video appointments.

Leading retailer


Many businesses, through necessity, have had to fast-forward their plans for technology adoption and have been thrust into remote/paperless working. One of our clients, a jewellery retailer said to us that the pandemic has accelerated their customer-facing digital transformation and they have introduced virtual video appointments and live chats.

The pandemic has witnessed an increased use of technology, particularly "DocuSign" for remote deal completions. This has led to overall increased efficiency and shown that deals can be completed remotely.

Necessity has driven a lot of invention and, because banking and finance have had to continue to do work and support clients and customers despite being remote, they have adapted. Things that banking clients thought they didn’t want to do or couldn’t do have been accelerated. So, the issues of virtual completions, doing deals remotely, and not having people attend completion in person with wet-ink signatures has been overcome.

Easy and open communication

The adoption of technology and enforced remote working has in some cases, opened up lines of communications, as there are fewer barriers to holding meetings (i.e. geographical). This is something which businesses are seeing both internally and externally. Whilst everyone is a bit "zoomed out" now, the embracing of Zoom has meant that it is now easier to catch up with geographically distant clients, as it doesn't feel so "weird" to suggest online catch ups as it may have done previously, when you might wait until you were next in their area or make a special journey, both of which take longer.

Communication has also improved for many businesses internally, with one of our clients commenting that their business is more collaborative and more agile at problem-solving - online meetings facilitate that as meetings can happen quicker.

  • GRIP - Our collaboration with Private Equity firms has continued with our GRIP portfolio management and reporting solution. GRIP is an acronym for Governance Reporting Information Portal. This allows a Private Equity house to see a macro view of all portfolio companies and their compliance (or other) metrics on a consistent basis. This is used through an easily accessible dashboard with a traffic light reporting system, providing up to date and consistent reporting, which has proved invaluable during the crisis management phase of this pandemic.

Environmental impact

As mentioned above, the actions of businesses often come under scrutiny from the public and Environmental and Social Governance is high up on the public agenda. The roll out and acceleration of the use of technology means that some businesses will not require their employees to travel as much, which will have a positive impact on businesses' green credentials.

In conclusion

Companies are focusing on long term sustainability and will be buoyed by recent positive developments regarding vaccine trials. The focus on what the business needs to look like for customers, employees, suppliers and community is enabling them to look forward beyond survival.

It has been rewarding to work alongside clients, making creative and commercial suggestions based on our understanding of them to help them implement their objectives as well as identifying potential opportunities. One of our clients commented that this time has made them realise the value of lawyers that understand their business.

If this resonates with you, please do get in touch to see how we can help your business rebuild and innovate for the future.

Key Contacts