Author: Ed Reid, Managing Director, The Alternative Board (TAB) UK
Good morning – and first of all I hope you are taking care and staying safe. And let me put your mind at rest. There is no need to clean your patio again this weekend: twice in two weeks is enough…
Writing the blog in the current climate is a strange thing to do. In the BC (Before Coronavirus) era I felt a sense of continuity from one post to the next. If I wrote about say, planning for the coming year then I knew that the plans you made in December would still be relevant in March.
If I wrote about government policy and how it was impacting SMEs, I knew that the points I made would still be relevant a month, six months or a year later.
Now – with events moving so quickly – I almost feel that each blog post is written in a different age, despite them only being a fortnight apart. I cannot start a post without going back to the last one to check what was happening. Rishi Sunak’s first Budget – a little over five weeks ago – seems like something from a different era.
…And if you read the headlines on Wednesday morning then you’d have had little doubt that we were in a different age: that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse had set their alarms and were saddling up.
Virus threatens to hit economy harder than war and flu in 1918
Dark days ahead
Biggest economic shock in 300 years
Despite those headlines, despite the news, despite the fact that we won’t be ‘back to normal’ for a long time – I’m optimistic.
Business is going to be very different when we go back. In truth it won’t be ‘back to normal:’ we’ll all be discovering a new normal. In one of the next posts I’ll dust off the crystal ball and take a stab at what that new normal might look like.
But let me say one thing here and now. That new normal will present problems for employers. Millions of people up and down the country are finding that they’re getting just as much done by working from home. That they don’t need to spend an hour in a car in the morning and the same in the evening. That they actually enjoy spending time with their family and the person they married.
One of the most overused clichés in business has been ‘paradigm shift’ – a fundamental change in your approach and/or your underlying assumptions.
But if this isn’t a paradigm shift – right here, right now – then nothing is.
One thing I’m absolutely convinced of: the core message of The Alternative Board – that your business should work for you, not the other way round – has only been strengthened by what’s going on right now. It’s one of the key discussions we’ll be having with our franchisees and our members: how can we help you adjust to the ‘new normal?’ And in doing that, make sure that your business is emphatically working for you.
Like the vast majority of people, the TAB head office team have been working from home. I asked them the other week how they were enjoying it: what did they like? What did they dislike? Their answers were really informative – and I suspect they were typical of millions of people up and down the country.
What I valued about the exercise was the huge sense of optimism in the replies. The determination that things can and will be better.
There were probably four common themes – and they’ll shape my thinking going forward.
First and foremost, the team were enjoying the time at home. Lydia summed it up when she said, ‘I’ve enjoyed being at home more. It’s been really refreshing to go out for a walk every day, spend more time with my husband and read – lots of reading!’
Not just husbands: Tracey and Mags both said how much they were enjoying time with the young adults that their children had become or were becoming. I absolutely echo that: it’s been wonderful to sit down as a family every night and simply have the time to talk to each other.
Another common theme was learning: Rena waxed lyrical on the different ways she was learning from other people and the different technologies she was using. (Like several of the team she mentioned a new platform called ‘wine.’ I must try it…)
Several of the team commented on the fact that they were communicating more during lockdown, not less. As Lydia said, ‘Spontaneous video calls. The fact that you can see them makes for more quality conversations. I’ve been getting to know people better.’ As a team, we now have a regular lunchtime catch-up: it works brilliantly and – irrespective of when we’re all ‘released’ – it’s something we’ll continue.
The last one was simply time. As Emma said, ‘Instead of sitting in traffic on a morning I have time to sit with my coffee and read my book for half an hour before starting work.’ No-one, but no-one, missed ‘being trapped in the Harrogate traffic.’ ‘I feel like I have much less ‘wasted’ time’ Mags said – pretty much summing up everyone’s feelings.
As I suggested above, those comments will be echoed by millions. The implications for employers are obvious. Flexible and remote working will become ever more necessary. We’re all going to need to invest in the technology that makes remote meetings the norm. We’ll also need to invest in learning – the crisis has very clearly shown us that people want to go on learning. And they don’t want to sit in their cars: it may be time to put the plans for that new headquarters building on hold…
I’ll be back on May 1st when the world will undoubtedly look different again. Hopefully by then there’ll be an end to lockdown in sight. And with a takeover of Newcastle United on the horizon, let’s hope football’s not far away. Why did you think this one was called ‘Grounds for Optimism…’