Car dealer bosses have rapidly adapted their businesses to meet new work-from-home guidelines that have now come into force.
As part of the government’s Plan B to tackle the rampant spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, those who can work from home should do so from Monday (Dec 13).
Car dealerships across the country are open as usual, but many have introduced changes to their staffing set-ups, with many marketing, accounting, HR and other back-office teams now working from home once again.
Masks were reintroduced in dealerships when rules changed to enforce them in all shops once again.
Showroom bosses have told Car Dealer they have mixed feelings forcing staff to work from home again, with some admitting it feels like a ‘step backwards’.
Sytner CEO Darren Edwards said his business has ‘evolved significantly’ since the first lockdown in 2020 and is now ‘more flexible’.
‘We’re now an omni-channel-based business, so I do not expect to be negatively affected by the latest Plan B guidelines,’ he said.
Adam Turner, Chorley Group MD, said he’d taken action in light of the new WFH guidance.
He said: ‘Due to the new guidance being “if you can do your jobs from home then do so” we have taken a pragmatic approach to it with our teams.
‘We are very confident that our Covid-19 protocols are still being effective and still haven’t had one confirmed or suspected inter-company transmission of the virus.
‘We are continuing our extensive cleaning and have reintroduced rules on distancing and, of course, compulsory mask-wearing in the retail environments.
‘In the industry, we don’t have a huge amount of roles that can be feasibly done from home, largely only having practicality of it in accounts, elements of HR and digital marketing, of which we are applying work-from-home where the role allows for it.’
Car supermarket boss Nigel Hurley, who runs Carshop – part of the Sytner empire, is taking a similar approach.
‘We have reintroduced the option to work from home for those that can, for example contact centres, marketing, IT, HR, accounts and admin,’ he told Car Dealer.
‘Plan B’s impact is mainly the need to wear face coverings, so we have adapted the old restaurant rules for all colleagues in all roles.
‘If you are with a customer, wear a mask; if you are a technician and away from your ramp, wear a mask.’
Hurley said these current restrictions ‘don’t worry’ him, but the possibility of another lockdown ‘would be a blow’.
Wessex Garages managing director Chris Wiseman has continued with the firm’s Covid-19 protocols throughout, but has seen customers relax mask-wearing.
He said: ‘We have reinforced this message across all the dealerships to create a safe environment for colleagues and guests.
‘Colleagues within our accounts and admin teams, some of whom already work remotely, have been given the choice (to work from home), but on the whole are comfortable with our measures and prefer to work in the offices.
‘We recently installed fresh-air ventilation systems rather than air conditioning to create better working conditions.
‘Overall, we have seen little effect (from the restrictions) other than the usual softening of the market we see every year at this time.’
Tony Roberts, Magna Mazda boss, said he has reduced personnel levels across his dealerships by using up staff holiday entitlements to account for the quieter Christmas period.
He said: ‘Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse!
‘Clearly, the work-from-home guidance from the government is easier to implement for certain roles.
‘We have maintained two-metre social distancing since we came out of lockdown one, with all colleagues adhering too.
‘Clearly, we have now insisted visitors wear masks as well, although most were at any rate. Temperature checks of attending colleagues have also been reintroduced.’
Roberts said the Omicron strain does worry him, though, and he has already seen increased staff absence.
He added: ‘The doubling of the Omicron strain every 2-4 days has alarmed us, and we have a higher level of absence from other colleagues who are isolating due to positive tests.
‘This absence is not as yet anywhere near as high as April.’
Mark Lavery, Cambria CEO, said he had also kept all safety protocols in place at his dealerships.
He told Car Dealer: ‘We have maintained all our previous guidelines to protect our associates and guests with social distancing, face masks, sneeze screens and lateral flow tests, so this is no real change.
‘Our teams won’t be working from home, because we have kept our guidelines in place.’
Most bosses Car Dealer spoke to said they were taking a ‘blended approach’ to the new restrictions if they could.
However, for the smaller independent dealers, this is often not practical.
Umesh Samani, chairman of the Independent Motor Dealers Association, said: ‘I’m not aware of any of the IMDA dealers who are allowing staff to work from home.
‘The nature of what most independent small dealers are, it’s a hands-on business, so all (are needed) at the dealerships/garages.’
Samani said that at his Specialist Cars showroom in Stoke he has also kept in place all his safety protocols, even when the rules relaxed.
‘In reality with my business, nothing has changed – the signs in the showroom, the screens, sanitised cars have been maintained even when restrictions were not there earlier on,’ he explained.
‘Our customers love the fact that we’re still taking precautions despite the government’s guidelines.’