What a home retail CEO has learnt about working from home during COVID-19

20 Apr 2020

What a home retail CEO has learnt about working from home during COVID-19

In our second interview with a CEO at home, we talk to Antoine Brouwer, CEO of home retailer FONQ, about his leadership challenges during the pandemic.

What does your work situation look like during this pandemic?

Right now, most of our office works from home, but the entire logistics continue as before. I happen to be at home for a day today, but normally I'm in the office every day, to lead by example. We have taken good precautions and fortunately have not yet had any sick people.

What type of insights has this COVID-19 situation given you?

We are running extremely well. Because all shops are closed and everyone is at home, people are sitting around ordering our products. It is like Christmas, unplanned, so to speak. That makes us different from other companies.

We see that working from home at such a scale works well. We use Microsoft Teams and that is very efficient. We are, of course, a 100% digital company because we are a pure-player. Everyone already had a laptop and Microsoft Office 356 for working together in the cloud and making video calls.

Also, you can see the industry changing. Shops are closed and suppliers have a surplus of goods. Most of the problems come from France and Spain. Production is halted there, because all factories are closed.

“What we also learned is how easy it is to communicate with your staff when you are in the office”

We now send an email every day with fun facts, and have virtual drinks every Friday.

Next Friday, we will do a virtual pub quiz, with facts about FONQ. We send cards to the employees, let them send photos of their workplace, post videos of how our people drive around with our products, to give our customers an idea of ​​what is happening. We do things like that to keep in touch.

What do you like and what do you find difficult about the disruption caused by this pandemic?

It is difficult to have a grip on the situation. In a call-centre or logistics, your can measure productivity. But it is very difficult to have an idea of what productivity is like now. My category manager who has to buy the winter bedding, will only know in November whether it comes or not.

What advice would you give other CEOs facing the COVID-19 leadership challenge?

Continue to communicate with your employees. And, don’t forget, crises can also lead to opportunities. You see that companies that survive in crisis emerge stronger. And try to be creative. Do not hesitate, do fun things.

You also have to do complex things like marketing in a crisis, but what are you going to communicate now? Many television commercials have stopped showing, even though there are quite a few industries that are doing very well. Yet no one dares to advertise.

“Above all, look for opportunities and do not hesitate. Be agile and try to work together.”

We try to help suppliers who are struggling. Sometimes they call me saying ‘I have a cash problem, can you pay sooner’. We don’t say yes to everyone, but to some we do. Because if the entire market collapses, no one will benefit.

Thank you, Antoine Brouwer, for your insights today.

In the next part of this series, we interview John van der Ent, CEO of retailer Spar