In Conversation with Brian Murray
The past two years have challenged us all. First was Brexit and then almost immediately, Covid19 wreaked havoc forcing businesses large and small to tear up the rulebook. Now the situation in Ukraine presents even greater challenges. As we continue to adapt and transition from the pandemic to the endemic phase of the disease, Details caught up with Boss Founder and Chairman, Brian Murray, to get his take on doing business in a post-pandemic, post-Brexit world.
“At the start of 2020 when everyone was mandated to work from home, Zoom was king and the office, it was claimed, was dead. Lots of businesses, including Boss, faced huge uncertainty. Almost overnight business dropped by around 35% – so in those very early days the fear of actually contracting Covid was overshadowed by the fear of what would happen to the business, job security and what the future held”.
Fast forward to 2022 and while the final outcome still hangs in the balance, Brian is optimistic that the future for Boss Design is less bleak than those early days suggested: “I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how resilient the business is. It’s still very early days but, so far, we’ve experienced a healthy V-shaped recovery and are performing as well, if not better globally, than we were pre-pandemic. Of course, no sooner do we get over one hurdle than there is something else that comes along to challenge us. Whether that’s another variant or global geo-politics like the war in Ukraine, no-one really knows.” In the face of such unpredictability creating an agile business is, according to Brian, the key to future-proofing his and other businesses in the industry.
“One thing we’ve learnt over the past two years is that we can make all the plans we want but you can’t mitigate against or plan. To survive you need to be flexible and capable of responding and adapting to whatever life – or politicians – throw at you next. In just under two years, we’ve moved from a point where the office was written off to a growing realisation that remote working isn’t the panacea it might at first have seemed. At Boss we work with lots of big, global companies and almost without exception, they are now investing in shared, physical workspaces again. Fundamentally, you can’t escape the fact that we are social beings and need human contact. Zoom is great but it can be awkward and unnatural and, in the end, there’s no substitute for talking to someone face to face.”
Researchers have long championed the positive impact of human interaction on mental and physical health, with studies showing that people with smaller and less complex social networks actually have smaller amygdala (the part of the brain that processes emotional responses). Countless academics have made the link between a lack of social bonding and stress, anxiety, memory loss and depression. And more recently, the medical bible, The Lancet, published evidence that even less that 10 days of social isolation, can result in lingering psychiatric effects (Brooks et al, 2020).
Brian continues: “In an industry like ours working together in person is critical. All our concept, design, manufacturing and upholstery is done by a team of experts, and from start to finish each part of the process feeds into the next; it’s necessary collaborative process. Fabrics and finishes need to be physically seen and handled and the ergonomics and comfort of a seat or sofa can only be experienced in person. Our carpenters, upholsterers and master craftsmen and women are the backbone of our business and for obvious reasons, that work can’t be done remotely.
I think a lot of businesses have come to the realisation that while working remotely has its place, there are certain tasks that will always need employees to be present and together”. It’s this, as well as the drive to connect socially, that Brian believes underpins the shift in organisations looking to create environments that draw workers in with informal third spaces that encourage co-operation, teamwork and relaxed, informal interaction.
observes Brian. “Clients are asking for more relaxed upholstery, softer, tactile fabrics in muted tones and a combination of areas that cater to a whole range of different needs. Mews – our new system of modular pods – for example, have been really popular because they allow businesses to completely transform and reinvent their spaces cost-effectively without having to make huge architectural changes.
Clients have almost limitless interior options and because they’re modular, the pods can be configured and reconfigured in any number of ways to create zones for connecting remotely, meeting informally or focusing when you need to get your head down.
Right now, businesses are focused on creating places that people can be productive in and work from, but that they actively want to spend time in and find inspiring and motivating.”
We work extremely hard to do our bit, but we’re a tiny piece of the global jigsaw. The almost impossible challenge facing us all, and particularly our politicians, is global conformity and how we get everyone around the table signed up to the same thing.
As a grandfather I’m acutely aware that if we don’t get our act together, the way we and other countries around the world act today is going to have disastrous implications for the world my grandchildren and future generations will inherit.
The problem is that you have people and governments who aren’t prepared to make concessions now for something that won’t necessarily affect them directly. It’s like telling a 17-year-old that smoking is bad for them and will end up killing them. It won’t resonate because it feels too remote in the here and now, so they carry on smoking and years later, are going to suffer the consequences”.
“It’s fair to say we’ve had some teething problems and at times it’s felt like walking through treacle. Like everyone, we’ve had problems with European suppliers and getting hold of component parts, as well as transporting goods to and from the EU and getting to grips with the never-ending stream of paperwork. Ultimately though, I’m optimistic that given time it will get better for all UK business”. To date, Brexit, with all its incumbent shortcomings, doesn’t appear to have dented Boss’s reputation across Europe and beyond. Hand-made and known world-wide for all the hallmarks of British design, craftsmanship and manufacturing, when Amazon was looking to furnish its HQ offices in India recently, it was Boss Design that it turned to.
“We were up against all the key players globally, but Amazon came to us, a relatively small, British supplier”. When asked why that is, Brian is clear: “Because we offer them a combination of exceptional British quality, competitive pricing and the highest environmental credentials. A business-like Amazon doesn’t want low quality products that they’re going to have to replace in two years’ time and they also want guarantees about value for money, provenance and sustainability. Investing in British made, high quality products like ours gives them all of those assurances – and at the right price. We see the same pattern in the US, in the Middle East and increasingly in Europe where, despite Brexit and everything else going on in the world, there’s a confidence in British design and manufacturing that means we are continuing to grow and thrive in those markets.” As for the other great challenge of our time, Brian is passionate but pragmatic when it comes to climate change. Something of a trailblazer in the contract furnishing industry, sustainability and ethical practices are embedded into every stage of a product’s lifespan at Boss Design, from only using ethically sourced materials to adopting state-of-the-art manufacturing practices that dramatically reduce or eliminate emissions entirely.