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The rule of six months: how should we react?

It takes 30 days…

Tap that into Google and it auto-completes with ‘to form a habit.’ We’ve all heard that ancient wisdom and – unsurprisingly – Google offers you 137m results.

Delve a little deeper though, and the time varies – anything from 18 days to around 250 days. The article I read suggested that the real time it takes to form a habit was 66 days – a little over two months.

But whether it is 30 days, 66 days or 250, one thing is undeniable – they’re all shorter than a year. And that is what we’re now going to get.

A year – at least – of lockdown and restrictions.

The UK first went into lockdown on March 23rd. Early last week Boris Johnson suggested that the restrictions ‘could’ last until the end of March next year. When he delivered his Winter Economic Plan on Thursday last week, Rishi Sunak – a man who looks like he drinks from the fountain of youth, not the office water-cooler – seemed in little doubt that they would last that long.

The ‘rule of six’ has very quickly become the ‘rule of six months.’

Where does that leave those of us running SMEs? Where does it leave the people who work for us? And if 66 days is enough to form a habit, where does 373 days of changed working, socialising and buying habits leave our businesses?

And what do we do about it?

I typed those opening paragraphs on Monday. I’m now finishing the post on Wednesday morning. The newspaper headlines this morning tell me Liverpool is now going to face the same restrictions as the North East and that London is heading for a two week ‘emergency lockdown.’

The situation and the rules are changing on an almost daily basis. Two more days and Monday’s questions have become even more relevant.

Where does it leave our businesses?

Let me tell you where it leaves the head office of TAB UK.

Clearly, we must follow the ‘don’t go into the office if you don’t need to’ guidance. We’re not anticipating being back in our Harrogate offices until next spring – at the earliest.

Will Zoom do until then? Yes. And no. The idea of not seeing my six colleagues – irritatingly adding up to a team of seven – right through the winter isn’t a happy one. And I’m not sure it would be good for our business. Zoom is fine: but it can never match face-to-face (sorry, mask-to-mask) contact.

But the two large spaces in the office aren’t quite large enough – so we’re going to find somewhere big enough to meet once a month. Six months is a long time: I see the face to face meetings as integral to maintaining company morale and team spirit. If nothing else they will say, ‘We’re here. We value each other enough to have made the effort to get here. And look, I’m wearing a suit, not my pyjamas…

We’ve also realised that we need to ‘future proof’ the office – and that includes the home office. We’re looking at getting new desks for everyone – which will go up and down, and mean we can choose whether to sit or stand to work.

If you accept that your team is going to work from home then as an employer I think you have an obligation to make sure the working conditions there are as good as they can be. And we’ve all heard the stories about the dangers of sitting down all day…

Clearly buying standing desks – and anything else we do over the next six months – will have a cost implication. But think of all the money we’re saving on tea, coffee and paperclips…

Another subject that’s increasingly been at the front of my mind during the pandemic is marketing. How do you continue to get your message across right now? And should that message change? (I’m hugely impressed by this Halifax ad: yes, the TAB UK team are just the same – they fall out of bed and instantly get into their uniforms ready to work in the garden…)

For us, there is one key message – especially as we look to recruit new franchisees. ‘We’re here. We’re resilient. Irrespective of what the pandemic and the consequent economic cycle throws at us, we’ll adapt and we’ll continue to deliver.’ Or, to borrow a phrase that Rishi Sunak has now abandoned, ‘We will do whatever it takes.’

That, I think, is a simple message that any business can adopt. ‘Whatever happens, we’ll cope. We’ll make sure we’re here for you.’

But let me leave you this week with one even simpler thought. I can’t claim any originality: I’ve borrowed it from a tweet I saw. But it’s a memory of happier, simpler times – and of how much the world has changed in six months…

Do you remember the good old days? When someone blew all over a birthday cake? And then we all ate a slice…

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