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Perspectives

Working during COVID-19

Harry Compton – working during COVID-19
Harry Compton, self-employed gardener

The emergence of Covid-19 has brought with it unprecedented challenges for all businesses, big or small.

None of us could have foreseen or prepared for this kind of economic shutdown. For many business owners, trading and operations have been suspended indefinitely, leaving all those involved uncertain and anxious about the future of their beloved businesses.

I feel extremely fortunate that, for now, my gardening business was able to remain open, and I was able to work in accordance with social distancing rules. To do this however, I had to act quickly and pragmatically to adapt my business to ensure I kept myself, my clients and my loved ones safe.

When nationwide social distancing measures were introduced, my first thoughts were similar to many business owners. I was anxious. I was unsure of how to proceed. I quickly became aware of the fragility of small business and what a risk being self-employed is. I felt very vulnerable as these
uncontrollable variables can be sprung on you without warning, forcing you to react and adapt
quickly. I understood that this pandemic would have vast implications on my business and income, even though I was able to continue working.

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Initially, I stayed at home, reluctant and worried about working in such an uncertain situation. To my surprise, the majority of my clients wanted me to keep gardening and carry on. In fact, I picked up a lot of new business. With people spending more and more time at home in the garden, people wanted it to be a place they can enjoy and escape, but often they don’t quite know how to achieve this. I have found a lot of pleasure in creating spaces I know will make a difference to a lot of people. For me, gardening offers great mental health benefits and it is my firm belief that everyone would benefit from getting outside and doing a bit of gardening to escape the noise from time to time.

However, I found myself at a moral and financial crossroads. My day to day business practices pre-Coronavirus involved an array of client facing interactions, whether that be during design consultations, on sight quotations or that age old exchange of copious amounts of tea and biscuits.

If I wanted to carry on working, I had to adapt. Fast. But with social distancing as a necessary priority, I also had to find a way to continue offering the same level of service.

I began by contacting all of my clients directly asking for their permission to continue to work on their gardens, making sure they felt comfortable with me continuing to come and reassuring them that I respected any decisions to decline my services at this time. Those who expressed the desire for me to work on their garden were then briefed on how I intended to keep both parties safe.

Simple changes were outlined. I have encouraged all my clients to contact me via email, over the phone or by WhatsApp or text messaging where they can, and if talking in person is necessary then social distancing must be carried out. Again, all entrances to the garden must be left open prior to my arrival to avoid touching any surfaces unnecessarily as well as gloves being worn by myself at all times.

Although businesses are open, and people are returning to work, it’s clear that we’re still within the first chapters of the Coronavirus story, and despite the changes we won’t see ‘business as usual’ any time soon.

I think all business owners within industries similar to my own need to rethink how they operate in order to safeguard themselves and their customers, particularly in relation to social distancing and communicating. Even if you are delivering the same product or service, many things will have changed. Furthermore, I believe businesses will need to have contingency plans in place in case of another similar economic shut down.

It has certainly been difficult. Maintaining strong client relationships is key to running a successful gardening business and takes years to establish – and new caution certainly makes that more complicated.

However, what I have found uplifting is how grateful I am for having been able to work, not only for the ability to earn money but also for my own mental wellbeing. There is a lot to be said for working outside and now more than ever I am thankful for that, as I know many people who are self-employed are not in the same fortunate position.

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