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Suzie Bogle, Managing Director of the Leeds-based consultancy Breathing Space HR talks wellbeing, hybrid working and hopes for the future. 

Suzie Bogle is the Managing Director of the Leeds-based consultancy Breathing Space HR. Working with clients across multiple sectors, the Breathing Space HR team offer tiered levels of support, from short-term, ad hoc advice, to fully outsourced HR cover. Here’s what Suzie has to say...

Our research suggests that small businesses in Yorkshire and the Humber are beginning to feel much more positive about the future. Is that true for you?

Well, we're an HR consultancy. So, because of the furlough, with all the clients needing our support, lockdown has actually been really busy for us. But, as the roadmap has rolled out, we’ve been getting even more enquiries. Our clients are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel and saying ‘Let's get back to business.’
 
One of the key issues that’s coming up for many clients is that they want to engage more with their employees. Lockdown has highlighted where things are not going well. That's really in four areas: wellbeing, engagement and training and development. People are still having to deliver in a very tough environment and the focus is on getting them back up to speed. 

What – for you – are the main factors making you feel positive? 
The increase in new business is always a pleasure. Cash  is king. But we’re also changing the type of clients that we're working with. We’ve pivoted away from companies that have the old school corporate ideal, towards ones who are more embracing of a new culture, who are willing to change, who want to take our advice and make a difference to their people. Those are the clients that we want to work for, so that makes us happier. It means we can work to make things better, more productive. 

What changed for you as a business during the long months of lockdown? 
You know, I really thought we were going to hit a load of redundancies, but that hasn't transpired. We're seeing people hiring but thinking more about who they're hiring. Clients are stepping back and looking at their businesses. Things that they weren't dealing with now need attention: restructuring, hiring more experience, investing in key parts of the business like trade and development. And their client base might be changing. We are seeing new vacancies coming in, not just replacement jobs.

What challenges are you seeing around hybrid working?
Personally, I've always done remote working, and because of my experience and because of the people I hire, we were able to just pick up our laptops and go home. I'm very lucky, my team are very mature in terms of how they balance work and life. I just need to know where they are from a health and safety point of view. 

But I am interested in all the chatter around hybrid working because it reminds me of the 2000s and hot desking. That trend turned into banks of hot desks that sat empty all the time. I think hybrid working will go the same way. People like their own little areas and territories. When they're working, they want to have their bits around them all the time. 

Hybrid working is almost like setting up two spaces for people to work in, and business owners need to know how you handle people who are working in that way. How you treat them. What your expectations are. How to engage with them. Community. Equipment. Health and safety. There are all sorts of regulations and tax benefits and things you've got to check, so there's a lot more thinking that has to be done. You can’t always work from your dining room table. The chair might be wrong. The light might be wrong. Your posture might be wrong. All these things will have to be considered. That's going to impact homeworking, because businesses won't want to bother to do that for every employee twice: once for the office space and once for the home-working space.

As a business, do you feel that adapting to all the change has resulted in you improving your business model? 
It has. Our website has changed dramatically. We’ve introduced a dedicated online career development service: DevelopME. Some of the biggest uptakes from that have been the wellbeing and resilience training. DevelopME is providing us with an extra income stream and it’s also opened the door to a variety of different clients. Even individuals can buy the product. That’s a real pivot for us. We can now go B2C. Another change is that we're giving away more. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, we made all our furlough information available to our clients. Anyone who signed up got all the letters, guidance and a guide to good resources. Right at the beginning of the pandemic, we made all our furlough information available to any business that needed it and promoted this offer on LinkedIn with a great uptake. It prompted us to create a free HR resources hub with templates, guidance and training to cover all areas of the employee lifecycle, plus a dedicated covid support section. You can access it for free on our website section 'How To HR'.  We recognised so many businesses didn't have any HR support, so if we can be a first port of call for information and advice, they will hopefully remember us when they may need additional HR support.

Looking forward, what are going to be your biggest challenges and why? 
I think it's maintaining quality of service and customer service, as we grow and get more clients on board. Most people sign up for a year initially, but a lot of the work we do for them happens in the first few months. So, as we get more clients, we've got this big whoosh of work scaling up immediately. 

There's also a push on pricing in HR. Competitors across the UK are pushing down prices. So, clients are wanting more and more stuff, virtually for free. And that just makes it unprofitable. In our favour, we have clients that we want to work with and who understand what we offer. I had one client actually say: ‘Suzie, you're the one supplier I would pay anything to!’ So, I want to keep doing what we're doing and doing it well and not get pushed on price. We offer a huge amount with our subscription.

So, what is the most important thing, going forwards? 
Leaders recognising that they’re not above their team. They’re part of the team. Having people you trust, and supporting each other. That's what got us through. So, going forwards, it’s about valuing the people who work for you, and recognising their ability to support you as much as your ability to support them.