I am old school, right? I have seen and worked through a few downturns and recessions regardless of how they have come about. I’m sure we all know that economy is a cycle of up and down. Yes, it would be nice for it to just grow, but as the old saying goes “What goes up must come down.”
At this time, the UK government have shared their road map, which is a plan to exit from lockdown, get businesses open and start to recover from what, in the UK, has been an economic reduction over the last 12 months of about 9.9% in real terms with like for like in December 2019 of a 7.8 reduction in economic value.
To most this is not going to mean a lot. Many business owners right now are not really interested in such figures but are focusing on “What Next” and how to recover losses incurred. But what is interesting reading from the broad brush of statistics is the UK is still resilient and has continued to bounce back from July 2020, and this is good news for business.
Regardless of your opinion on how the pandemic has been handled (and we all have one or maybe several), the truth is the UK has in part protected its economy. Some sectors have been hit hardest like hospitality, leisure and aviation and it will take some time for these sectors to recover but recover they will, over time. This does not mean all jobs, incomes and businesses have been protected but the support that has been put into place has been huge and costly for future generations. All be it however, in my honest opinion, very worthwhile as it will eventually lead to faster economic recovery.
Many developed economies around the globe have taken similar measures, some to higher or lesser degrees, all with the anticipation and the risk of banking on “what next”. The bounce back to economic recovery starts now, and the so-called green shoots are beginning to sprout as confidence in getting back to a level of normality begins.
But what is normal? What is the “new normal?” Not a phrase I particularly like as it indicates we might have lost something, but the reality is that the future right now is probably brighter than it has been for some time.
At this point you might be thinking I’m living in a different universe but stick with me and let’s just step back and look at some of the massive changes that have taken place in a very short period of time and the way that not only business, but the way we do business and all the people involved have been able to adapt.
The fear of change is very real, and very few of us will jump at the challenge of change and pivoting, or just changing the way we do things. The reality of the past 12 months has been lots of change and lots of adapting. Who would have thought a year ago our homes would become the workplace and the school yard within a 7 day window of lockdown? - None of us, me included.
I remember thinking, how on earth do I turn the kitchen into an office and a classroom for two children (one in primary and one studying final GCSE exams) and keep my day-to-day activity going!? But we all managed by hook or by crook, and the way we now work has probably changed forever.
Yes, for sure the empty offices are still there, and we will return I’m sure, but the idea of “work from home” once thought for the few and a bit of a luxury from medium to large businesses employees, has now become the normal activity. The banks have sent everyone home and we are now all sat at home in hoodies, sweat tops and jeans chatting using online tools as if we were old friends, and business is getting done. In some cases, productivity has increased.
The way we build relationships has also changed as this pandemic has stripped back further the layers of mistrust and from the safety of ZOOM (other services are available), we have learnt to build what I’d argue are better relationships and a better understanding of each other’s needs. Some of us have even made friends via social media and networking.
Technology has played a massive role in keeping us connected, not only in business to keep the wheels turning but in personal relationships with family. These are a really important roles for tech and tech providers to play, and although spending too long on social media can be conceived as a distraction to our days, it has helped me more than hindered.
I would therefore conclude that these technologies; online networking, social and technology services that have seen huge growth through the pandemic, continue to do so as it is impossible to think that they will just be abandoned as we all return to previous.
I’m sure many of you are thinking about the enjoyment that long commute once brought you, the memories of packed trains, jammed roads and the general stress work life once brought. Personally, I like the office but I’m only three miles down the road, but I think as we emerge out of lockdown, flexibility will need to be key, work patterns will need to change and as business owners and as employees we will need to continue to adapt. I would like to think the 9 to 5 has now gone for good, unless you are in retail or shift work, but I really do think that our office blocks and rented space will just become more of a resource to business, to be used when people want to use it. I would really like to see employers practice a 24/7 approach - we as a business do this where we can, which means most staff can be as flexible as they like.
So, what is 24/7 working? In short, I would like to think about it in a way that is totally flexible working for employees. Granted not all work suits this when customer engaging or customer facing, but I do believe there is a good balance that can be struck to reduce work life stress and give a better life balance.
I do not have a crystal ball and if I could predict the future, I’d buy a lottery ticket and play the stock market, but as a business owner I have tried to remain positive and feel more so about the future economic situation. Yes, it’s going to take a while but in reality, the recession in the UK ended July 2020 and the economy has continued to grow despite lockdowns, which can only be a positive outcome. It will take the UK a few years to recover to a Pre-Brexit, Pre-COVID-19 economic output but I would like to think the dram of what we have all been through is now beginning to ease off.
So, to close “what next”, the key thing to remember about all recessions is that we don’t rush out as business owners and then fall over. Taking small steps at first to strengthen financial position and pipeline will be paramount to future success, so in the meantime take that deep breath and start to prepare for growth and business as normal.