IT took ethical energy firm Together Energy 72 hours to get its staff set up from home as lockdown hit. Now that restrictions are beginning to ease, the Clydebank company says it will take much longer to return to business as usual.

The West Dunbartonshire firm – which has partnered with The National in a first-of-its-kind drive to tackle fuel poverty – has 140 staff, most of whom are recruited through employability schemes.

All but 10 have been retained through the crisis, with the remainder placed on furlough in response to personal circumstances that made remote working impossible.

The company has invested heavily in new IT systems and support, introducing an AI system used to judge customer satisfaction after calls with employees, all of whom have weekly one-to-one video call

sessions with managers to ensure they are adequately supported.

Many also take part in team gym sessions from their homes to keep the camaraderie alive.

But while Nicola Sturgeon confirmed the first easing of lockdown restrictions yesterday, Together Energy founder and CEO Paul Richards says it’s too early to imagine when his team can go back to their offices.

“There’s space to social distance at our premises, but most of them can’t drive,” he said. “I don’t think it’s fair for people to be expected to travel by public transport.

“We’ll continue to invest in the software and infrastructure to allow people to work from home until such time as there is a vaccine.”

The pandemic has created a number of challenges for the company, including the loss of its 200-strong door-to-door sales team, which is provided through a third party.

Richards is determined to grow the company, but says its current size is what has allowed it to adapt so quickly and keep staff at home with their families.

“If we had a million customers, we couldn’t do this,” he said.

But many of the existing customers are reporting problems in being able to afford to pay their bills.

The company is working to switch those struggling on to cheaper rates, or to adjust their contracts.

“We’re talking to scores of customers every day who can’t afford to pay their bills,” Richards said.

“I don’t see that getting better. Once people don’t have the crutch of furlough, I think we are going to see a hell of a lot of redundancies.

“In an industry such as ours, if your customers can’t afford to pay you, you need to have a fairly robust balance sheet to survive. I think it’s going to be tough for everyone for two or three years.”

Earlier this year this newspaper partnered with the company to offer the Together Energy Green

Brexit Protect 25 Month deal, which aims to take consumers through the uncertainty of the withdrawal period.

A percentage of the proceeds for every new customer are used to fuel the fight against poverty.

As much as £6000 has already been donated, with more to come. Through the HEAT project run by the Wise Group social enterprise, it has helped families and single people keep their lights and heating on.

To sign up, or for more information, visit