Life in and after lockdown, gratitude and teamwork

2020 was shaping up to be one of the best years in our 10-year history…

This from Jason Belcher, Director and Co-founder, Vanilla,UK suppliers of enterprise-level services and applications.

2020  began with some key IFS license deals, including a contract with UK robotics pioneer Tharsus, and another with leading electronics manufacturer C-TEC. We were well on course for exceeding all of our end-of-year targets. In addition, we had employed a recruitment manager to help with our ambitious plans to grow our consultancy team by 20 by the end of 2020.

Then the pandemic struck.

Think strategically

Fortunately, the vast majority of our valued clients and partners have stuck with us. A few projects have been put on hold, but some companies have used the enforced lockdown to take a step back, think strategically, and invest further in their ERP systems. They’re using the downtime to invest in IFS, which is where we can help.

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One particular customer was Miller Fabric Solutions, based in Pennsylvania, and one of the largest metal fabricators in the US. I’d been out to see them in March to talk to them about implementing IFS, with a view to starting the project in April. COVID-19 hasn’t stopped us.

Obviously, we’d prefer to be on site working alongside them, but Miller were determined to go ahead – they saw the benefit of investing their time in the project whilst running reduced operations. So we’ve done just that, running all of our sessions and workshops remotely using Microsoft Teams. In addition, our consultants have changed their working hours.

Vanilla teamwork

We have offices in Lincolnshire and Tyneside, but many of our team work from home, so working remotely is nothing new to the majority of staff , which I think has helped.

But we’ve worked hard to keep the Vanilla team together. At the end of every week we have a Microsoft Teams meeting for the whole workforce. We’re an honest and open company so we go through precisely how we’re performing against some metrics we agreed upon when the pandemic struck, such as actual versus budget, month on month performance, how the forecast is holding up and what cash we have in the bank and the debtors profile. We give them as much information as we can so that they can understand how Vanilla is standing up to this challenge.

‘Hero of the Week’

After the performance figures we reveal our ‘Hero of the Week.’ These have included one of our team who has been volunteering for St John’s Ambulance and another who has been performing really well despite supporting his wife who is on the COVID-19 frontline and who is also home schooling their children.

Following the awards, we often have a beer together and a quiz, set by one of the employees. It is a great way for us to finish the week together in a relaxing way and as a team.

The feedback we’ve had from these sessions has been really positive, with some team members saying they feel more engaged with Vanilla than ever before, which is great to hear. Going forward we will continue with these virtual meetings when we’re out of lockdown.

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Great shape

As well as a weekly meeting for the whole Vanilla workforce, we have daily meetings with managers where we discuss performance and the metrics, and plan for how we will come out of lockdown.

We know we’re in great shape for the short and mid-term, and we’re also confident for the long term. We were in a really strong position going into lockdown and we believe once it eases, and things return to normal, projects put on hold will get the green light and our strong growth will resume.

There are companies out there who realise that it’s the best time ever to invest in ERP– things are quieter than usual so it’s a good time for implementations to begin.

Life after lockdown

In the meantime, we’re looking at what life will be like for us after lockdown. We’re talking about protocols for employees going on to client sites when it is safe to do so. We’re thinking about what PPE we will need and what we will expect of our employees and from customers in terms of travel to sites and social distancing when we are there.

We’ll only return to on-site working when we’re sure there’s no risk. Our employees’ safety is obviously paramount to us.
It has been a tough couple of months and there are challenges ahead, but Vanilla will emerge from the crisis in good shape and ready for further expansion.

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