Thinking to the future
With lockdown easing and many businesses starting to reopen, we’ve been thinking about the lasting impact of COVID-19 and how it could change the way we work, shop and behave, forever.
Every business has had to adjust how they operate, in one way or another, in response to COVID-19 and it’s likely that some of those adjustments will become permanent. One of the main changes that many businesses have adopted is to establish remote working, allowing traditionally office-based employees to work from home. In order to facilitate this, some businesses have had to invest in their networks, systems and hardware – now they’ve made that investment it becomes much easier for employees to continue working remotely, at least in part.
While some have struggled with the remote working, and trying to juggle work and home/family life, many have also flourished and found they’re more productive due to fewer interruptions and no commute – regardless of experience, it’s likely that most businesses attitude to remote and flexible working will shift. In a recent survey by O2, ICM and YouGov, it was predicted that 45% of workers expect to work more flexibly after lockdown rules are lifted, with 81% expecting to continue to work remotely at least one day a week.
With more people working remotely, offices could become more like hubs for catch-ups rather than somewhere you go to sit and work all the time. This shift would enable businesses to potentially have smaller office spaces, helping to cut overheads.
Having a flexible approach to where and how your team works certainly comes with its advantages. For example, it means you can open up certain vacancies to a wider pool of people and no longer be as confined by geography in your search for the perfect candidate.
* Source: YouGov Plc online survey of 4509 adults, of which 2394 were workers, April 2020
During the lockdown, most businesses have stopped all non-essential travel and face to face meetings, opting to meet virtually instead. Traditionally, face to meetings have tended to be the default. However, now that people have got out of the habit and seen the obvious time and cost saving benefits of remote meetings, it’s likely they’ll carry on with more virtual meetings, and face to face will become more secondary. Business travel in general is also likely to decrease, especially with the restrictions on air travel and the potential requirement to self-isolate afterwards.
But what about when we do meet up in person? It’s likely we’ll need to limit physical contact with others for a while to come, so could this spell the end of the traditional handshake? Perhaps we’ll see businesses in the UK adopting the Japanese-style bow, or even the newly-introduced elbow tap!
There’s no doubt that technology has played a vital role during lockdown, allowing many businesses to carry on operating to some degree. However, the situation will have highlighted the holes in their infrastructure and digital presence, as well as how reliant they are on paper or face to face interactions.
The lockdown has seen many businesses turn to technology as a way to survive – the most obvious case being traditional bricks and mortar shops who have started selling online through social media and e-commerce websites. Many businesses have also shifted their advertising spend from more traditional offline channels such as billboards, and press, to online digital advertising, which has allowed them to connect more effectively with their locked-down audiences, as well as being much easier to track and monitor in terms of engagement and ROI.
Technology hasn’t just helped B2C and retail businesses though. It’s also provided a vital way for B2B businesses to reach out to their customers through video conferencing and digital communications such as emails, social media, and their own websites.
We predict the shift to embracing digital technology won’t stop there though. Digital technology presents so many opportunities and benefits, which are currently underutilised by many businesses. For example, traditional classroom and face to face inductions and training can be delivered through videos and online learning portals, which as well as allowing remote, socially-distanced learning, also has the benefit of being able to track progress, download files and generally provide a much more integrated and effective ‘one-stop-shop’ approach to training. Or Cloud-software solutions which can be completely tailored to the needs of the business, allowing employees to input data, access files and applications from anywhere, at any time, all without the cost or hassle of having to maintain traditional servers.
We’ve all seen the devastating impact COVID-19 has had on the travel industry, with several airlines going into administration, and big aerospace companies such as Rolls Royce announcing massive job losses. Sadly, we predict the travel industry is going to continue to be affected for some time to come. Many people will remain reluctant to travel, unless a vaccine can be found. And with the introduction of a 14-day ‘self-isolation’ quarantine period after travelling abroad, it’s likely that many people will opt for staycations in the UK, instead of venturing further afield. So, while this may not be the outcome that the travel and aerospace industry are hoping for, it could bode well for UK tourism and hoteliers.
Lockdown has forced people to change how they shop, with many consumers turning to local suppliers and online retailers. And it’s likely that buying behaviours will change permanently, post-lockdown, as consumers choose to shop with businesses who were there for them during this difficult time. We’ve seen many local businesses introduce ‘click and collect’ or home delivery services over the last two months. In Sheffield, we’ve seen the huge success of the community shopping app, ‘City Grab’, which allows people to order food and products from local suppliers and have it delivered direct to their door. With the increase of home delivery options and its obvious convenience benefits, we expect this trend to continue after lockdown. Nor do we expect to see a big shift back to using cash, especially with the increase to contactless spending limits and more smaller businesses now accepting card payments.
The COVID-19 situation is predicted to have huge repercussions on the economy. We’ve already seen a lot of job losses and businesses closing, so, there’s understandably a lot of uncertainty and worry over what the future may hold. As a result, people may be more reluctant to spend on non-essential items, despite the huge drops in interest rates making borrowing cheaper. There may also be reluctance to actually go out to shops (to avoid crowds) – with only 14% in the UK saying they expect to return to stores ‘immediately’ once they’re allowed to. GlobalWebIndex (However, the recent images of the massive queues at the likes of Ikea and KFC as they reopened, suggests otherwise.) Could the repercussions of the lockdown completely change our high streets forever? Could we see chain stores replaced with smaller independent businesses, or could retail units be converted into smaller, hot-desking style office ‘pods’ instead?
Lockdown hasn’t all been bad news though; we’ve seen some incredible stories and acts of selflessness and generosity. Who can forget Captain Tom’s inspirational fundraising walk, 9 year-old “Captain” Tobias’ (who lives with Multiple Sclerosis) taking his lead from Captain Tom and raising over £100,000 by walking the equivalent of a marathon up and down his road over the course of the lockdown, or the show of solidarity as the nation took to their doorsteps religiously at 8pm every Thursday to clap for our carers? We’ve also seen some amazing examples of businesses reaching out to help their customers, the local community and the NHS, in any way they can. We too have been trying to do our bit, sending tasty ‘thank you’ gifts to those who are giving back and donating 5% of our proceeds from new work to two amazing charities. This kindness, generosity and genuine sense of community and unity is something we really hope will continue long after lockdown.
Under normal circumstances, many businesses are hesitant about change, or of moving too far from their traditional offering. However, COVID-19 has forced many businesses to do just that. It’s shown the importance of diversification and spreading risk, as well as the possibilities of what can be achieved. For example, in an earlier article, we looked at some of the amazing ways businesses were adapting in order to survive the crisis. It’s also shown the resilience and strength of businesses and their employees. We anticipate that, moving forward, businesses will have more of an appetite to try new things and embrace new ways of working.
Rather than spending our time worrying about what the future will hold, we’re remaining optimistic, and are excited to see how brands and businesses evolve over the coming months.
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