Communication is key

Already key to the success of its business, communication played an even more significant role. By talking to stakeholders, staff and clients more frequently, we were able to maintain trust and workflow. Dr Williams said:

“Environmental consultancy works on trust. Initially we had a lot of conversations focused on health and safety, and staff welfare issues. Once they were addressed, we started talking about specific project issues. The key is to understand how we can adapt to help clients with problems and find new ways of doing things within the guidelines.”

Diversification and innovation

Onsite field work was amongst projects that were initially affected, delays due to travel restrictions, social distancing and access to the field meant that seasonal projects may have to be delayed for up to 12 months. However, the diversification of APEM’s offering and methodologies, meant that work could still take place and they were able to adapt quickly and provide continual support their clients.

As a result, APEM has seen an uplift in remote sensing work and by using innovative techniques has continued carrying out surveys without having “boots on the ground”, including conducting habitat surveys from the air. Marine surveys have also continued, often with two vessels rather than one to comply with initial social distancing guidelines.

The impact on business

APEMs sits as a large SME with a projected £14m turnover in 2020 and over 160 staff. Dr Williams commented:

“Although it is difficult for everyone, SMEs have the advantage of being fleet of foot. We don’t have the reserves of big multi-nationals, but we do have adaptability and flexibility. If you have a best in class product and you can adapt, then that pays dividends. For companies of all sizes, those who can adapt and innovate are best placed.”

“We certainly didn’t expect to win more business than was deferred. We also didn’t expect to recruit. Between March and June we increased our headcount by about 8%, 10 or so people. My gut feeling for 2021 is that if there is not a second wave, there will be a catch up of work.”

APEM recently announced the appointment of several key personnel to support its growth strategy along with plans to expand further. Although M&A activity has slowed down slightly due the pandemic, conversations and plans have now recommenced.

Facing the future: ESG and sustainability

A positive outlook of COVID-19 has been its various effects on the environment and sustainability. Over half (54%) of respondents to the survey said that the pandemic will accelerate the transition to a more sustainable, low carbon future. However, Dr Williams warned: “Sustainability is still firmly in the mind of the public but could be dependent on the extent of recession. If the world falls into disarray, governments and organisations will unfortunately and short-sightedly, focus on other measures.”

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