Author: Tom Langford
It’s been 16 weeks since the UK was forced into lockdown. The global pandemic is like nothing we have ever experienced. Who would have thought that the majority of the world would have been brought to its knees by an undercooked bat (well, there are some rather smug people who claim to have predicted it but let’s not go there)?
It’s a well known fact that predicting the future is a pointless game and 99% of the time simply highlights how wrong our assumptions were. But I’m going to ignore that and plough on with some crystal ball gazing as we begin to see the light at the end of the Covid tunnel.
Businesses are beginning to return to some semblance of normality, communities are starting to reengage, individuals are once again becoming social animals. So let’s take a look at a couple of the big issues facing businesses over the coming months and beyond.
Did this acronym exist in 2019? I had to look it up a few weeks ago but now it appears daily within my emails and conversations. Working from home has got to be one of the biggest talking points on the planet and (virtual) boardrooms are no exception. Overnight, companies were forced to implement working from home practices. All the objections (it’ll never work) (people will spend their day watching Cash In The Attic in their pants) (Everyone will just sit on Facebook and stuff their lazy faces with cheese on toast) were tossed in the bin by the mighty force of Covid-19. It didn’t matter that the CEO thought it was a bad idea. It didn’t care that the Finance Director thought it was commercial suicide. Choice in the matter was a distant memory consigned to a time when we had control over how to run our businesses.
So off we all trotted, dragging our office chairs, laden down with laptops, cables and monitors. We set up camp in our bedrooms, kitchens and lounges and we, well, we got back to work. Of the articles I’ve read, news I’ve watched and clients I’ve spoke with, the vast majority of us actually managed this feat pretty easily. And do you know what, lots of us are bloody-well enjoying it!
Expensive standing desks have been replaced with stacks of books and sleek banks of desks have become kitchen worktops. Bedrooms are boardrooms and gardens are now “break-out spaces”. It turns out that many of us prefer this more home-made way of working.
Here in the Channel Islands commutes are nothing compared to what our counterparts on the mainland have to suffer. Even so, many are finding themselves with more time to dedicate to hobbies, children, exercise and even work, due to the saving on travelling to the office. We have more time to run, play, think, knit. More time to enjoy life.
Obviously, individuals with children have had the additional complexity of juggling work with home schooling. I don’t think appreciation for teachers has ever been at a higher point; most of us mere mortals don’t even have the patience to teach our own children, let alone a class of 28 kids belonging to other people.
There is little doubt that WFH has affected business efficiencies. However, when the kids return to school and we are allowed back into our offices many of the issues causing those inefficiencies will disappear. No longer will we be shouting at little Florence to practice her times tables while updating spreadsheets. Collaborative tasks (which seem to be a key cause of inefficiencies) will be able to be undertaken at HQ rather than over Microsoft Teams.
I think a blend of WFH and working from the office (will WFO become a well-known acronym in the future?) will become the norm for a lot of people. “That’s a load of bollocks!” I hear some of you cry, but hear me out.
Such a large proportion of the population have enjoyed working from home, and many employers are talking about implementing structures to allow it to continue in some form or other. Businesses are always looking for ways to entice new talent through the doors and the ones that offer WFH opportunities will be the ones who pick up the brightest and best people. So while businesses may prefer to have everyone in the office working nine to five, if they want to continue leading their respective field they will have to adapt and evolve to meet the demands of a workforce that wants the option of spending a day or two each week working in their pants.
Working in the creative sector we have contact with lots of companies in a lot of sectors. Throughout the pandemic we have been discussing the challenges faced by a wide variety of businesses and sectors. Most first-hand information has been positive, but there are some horror stories out there; employees left stranded without adequate communication or support.
There is little doubt that company culture will have been tested to a degree never seen before. My experience is that the vast majority of businesses have risen to the challenge and proved that their company values weren’t simply vacuous statements inserted into PowerPoint documents and bandied around at internal presentations.
Those businesses that have looked after their people (as well as they could do under the circumstances), been great communicators and shown clear leadership will win. They will reap the rewards through increased staff retention, better employee engagement and a stronger, more united team. The benefits could last for a long time if harnessed and nurtured; happy staff are ambassadors for any business and in a marketplace like the Channel Islands - where good people are in short supply - having a team that sing your praises will attract more good people far more effectively than any recruitment campaign.
For those businesses that failed to meet the demands of the pandemic, those who left their people high and dry or questioning their importance to their workplace, there is likely a tough road ahead. Once the true company culture has been revealed, it’s almost impossible to mask over. If a business let down their staff in their time of need then those people will be left feeling betrayed and unvalued. In short, they’ll be looking elsewhere for a company that treats them better.
Kindness & Humility
Let’s face it, we’ve all been tested. It’s been a challenging time, but the global effect of Covid-19 has put us all in the same boat at the same time. The effects of the virus have brought thriving businesses to their knees, rendered well-considered business plans useless, and created weaknesses that were previously strengths.
Throughout this turbulent time people could have been forgiven for being less kind, less humble. But communities around the world have pulled together, united in their efforts to help those around them. The business world has been no different; companies have strived to do what they can to make life better for their own people and the communities in which they operate.
It’s less a prediction and more of a hope. I hope that the openness and positivity, which has been boundless while in lockdown, continues. I hope that the generosity of spirit shown to those in less fortunate circumstances finds its way into daily life as we emerge into this brave new world.
I hope that we emerge from this time of uncertainty stronger, kinder, more united.
I’ll keep my fingers crossed that I’m not proved wrong on this one.