What we have learnt from the COVID-19 Pandemic

Tuesday 20th April 2021

The impact on business
Creative thinking, flexibility and cooperation on all sides keeps us moving forward

As the lockdown took hold, businesses were forced to quickly rethink core systems and processes. With travel impossible for most workers, employees who had never worked from home before were suddenly sat at kitchen tables and study desks trying to find a way of completing at least some of their regular tasks.

For some industries it was impossible to continue. The manufacturing, leisure and hospitality sectors, to name but a few, all rely on maintaining a close proximity to people or equipment. On the other hand, businesses delivering online content boomed and e-commerce sites capable of carrying out no-contact deliveries also saw an uptick in sales.

For others, circumstances at home, connectivity to office systems and the type of role performed, have all influenced the viability of working remotely. It certainly hasn’t worked for everyone, but thanks to video conference services such as Skype and Zoom, combined with an increased reliance on online chat, a surprising number of people have been able to engage with colleagues, customers and suppliers in a new, and in some cases more efficient, way.

Of course, this new way of working relies on cooperation from all sides, with customers being asked to prioritise their needs and reassess their expectations as to how quickly they could expect products and services to be supplied.

As is often the case, adversity has been the mother of invention. By combining patience, understanding and a little creative thinking, new ways of operating have been found, and some of them could be here to stay.

Exactly how many of the changes in attitude and approach remain as the new normal begins to take shape remains to be seen. In many ways, the primary legacy of the current pandemic will be that businesses of all sizes need to think the unthinkable and continually explore the “what if?”. After all, if it happens once, it can happen again but, if we learn the lessons of the current crisis, we will be stronger, more flexible and better prepared to keep UK Plc afloat.

The impact on people
Challenges abound but community spirit and a positive attitude to change lights the way ahead

On a personal level, the lockdown has been particularly challenging for vulnerable groups who have been required to self-isolate for weeks on end. Even those who could at least go out for essential shopping or exercise have found the restrictions on movement and activities difficult to cope with.

For most people, regular and sustained human contact is an essential part of life, especially when it is with the family and friends we love and trust. Having said this, our reliance on physical interaction is something of a paradox, with too much of it causing as many problems as too little. During the lockdown, this has meant that relationships within the household have become strained, whilst the absence of contact with others has been equally difficult to deal with.

As with the approach adopted by many businesses, technology has to some extent come to the rescue, with video conferencing platforms quickly repurposed to host virtual dinner parties, games nights and online exercise classes. Even when it’s just for a chat, the phone is now frequently left on the side in favour of a Facetime or WhatsApp video call. It seems we have realised that if we can’t be in the same place as those that we hold dear, we can at least take comfort in seeing them on screen.

For some, the extra time spent at home has resulted in a period of reflection and reassessment of priorities. Having cleaned from top to bottom, ticked off a whole list of household projects and watched one last box set, many of us have begun to re-learn the simple pleasures in life such as family walks in the park, games in the afternoon, and even a bit more me-time to enjoy.

This positive spin on things in no way detracts from the difficulties faced by those struggling on reduced income, or the heroic efforts of the nation’s key workers who continue to put their lives on the line to keep essential services going. This has been an unprecedented period of change, one that will undoubtedly influence our collective economic, physical and mental health for some time to come.

In other ways too, the pandemic is leaving its mark on how we live our lives in the short to medium term. The fact that financial pressures and travel restrictions are likely to put thoughts of holidaying in foreign climes on hold until 2021 could be seen as a negative, but it’s also an opportunity to reinvigorate the ‘staycation’ and fuel local economies. And for those who can work remotely, giving up the daily commute permanently could lead to a better work/life balance going forward. Not to mention the environmental benefits of reduced traffic on the roads.

One of the most positive outcomes of the current situation is that despite, or perhaps because of, the difficulties faced, there has been a resurgence of community spirit, a revised understanding of what is really important in life, and a heart-warming show of appreciation for the unsung heroes who are the backbone of our society.

The new normal
We can’t control everything, but we can at least influence the outcome

The new normal is a phrase we have all become accustomed to hearing and it is often positioned as accepting a situation that has been imposed upon us. Whilst this may be true, the fact that there have also been some positives to come out of the current crisis should lead us to think more about what we want our new normal to be and what we can do to create it.

It’s true that policy decisions by the government, driven by a need to balance the needs of the economy with the capabilities of the National Health Service, will undoubtedly shape our lives for some time yet. This may be something we need to accept but it’s not the only thing that shapes our future. Seeking out the opportunity within adversity and harnessing the spirit of invention, cooperation and community shown, could yet shape a new normal that in some ways is better than what went before.