Usually, I know where I’m going with the blog. I know where I want to get to and – while I might not know the exact route when I start writing – I can see a few signposts along the way.
Two weeks ago I was writing about the Metaverse – something that would ‘change our work, our lives and our leisure.’ That would be to the current virtual reality what your iPhone is to your first Nokia. Had I heard the word ‘omicron?’ If I had, I’d forgotten it.
‘I’m enjoying being back at work,’ I wrote. ‘Really back at work. It wasn’t until we were back in the office that I – like I suspect a lot of people – realised how much I’d missed face-to-face meetings and everything that comes with them.’
But here we are, the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet: the 15th star in a constellation. A fortnight ago we’d never heard the word: now it’s on everyone’s lips – and suddenly everything is up in the air again.
As I’m writing this on Wednesday morning the UK government is promising vaccines on an unprecedented scale; masks are back – and both the incoming German Chancellor and the President of the European Commission are openly talking about mandatory vaccinations.
Where do these latest developments leave owners and directors of SMEs? Where does that leave our plans for next year? And where does it leave the team you’ve built if one of your key people says, ‘I’m sorry, I know you want to make jabs mandatory, but it’s a point of principle…’
Like many people, I don’t know the answers to those questions. So no, I don’t know where I’m going with the blog. I’m not so much wandering towards a conclusion, as wondering aloud…
As I’ve said many times – and as we all know – the pandemic has changed everything. But maybe we didn’t realise how much it had changed everything until Omicron turned up. When life was getting back to something like normal…
Owners and directors knew they’d have to adapt. Not just coming up with more attractive salary and benefits packages to attract people, but consistently delivering what their employees wanted from work.
“Get what you really want from your life and your business.” It was almost the first thing I read about The Alternative Board all those years ago. But the pandemic has made us all think about what we want from life and work: everyone wants their work/life balance to shift markedly in favour of ‘life.’
So we’re seeing initiatives like Atom Bank moving to a four-day week as companies look to combat burnout among their staff. One London stockbroker has gone the full nine yards, offering their staff unlimited leave – something I remember reading about when Netflix introduced it.
Right now these are voluntary initiatives from employers. Will we see moves along these lines become law? I’d be amazed if we didn’t. Portugal has just banned bosses from messaging and e-mailing staff out of working hours as part of new laws dubbed the ‘right to rest.’ Sooner or later we’re almost certain to see something similar in the UK.
They are all worthy initiatives. I applaud them – or, more accurately, taken in isolation I applaud them. Taken together, I worry about the impact they’ll have on SMEs.
In many ways, it parallels the debate on climate change. Transitioning to net zero is fine – and great PR – for big companies. For smaller companies it may well be disruptive, costly and of questionable benefit.
If you employ thousands of people, you can probably absorb a four-day week or unlimited holidays. If you employ eight or ten people, maybe you can’t. And I worry that people may enter the workforce with unrealistic expectations: flexible working, work from home, maybe a four-day week, unlimited holidays – and definitely no late-night texts.
But for owners and directors of SMEs it’s different. The business has to make a profit, it has to provide a level of service to clients and/or customers. And sometimes – as every single person who has built a business knows – there’s an emergency that has to be dealt with.
Looking ahead to next year, I remain resolutely optimistic. But I am realistic – and honest – enough to admit that I don’t know what will happen next year.
I don’t know what will happen with the pandemic. Spanish Flu lasted from February 1918 to April 1920. Covid started in March 2020. Does that mean it will be over by May 2022? Let’s hope so.
Neither do I know what will happen with legislation and the post-pandemic attitudes to work.
What I do know about next year is that the challenges we face will be constantly changing. We’ll also face challenges that – like Omicron – suddenly appear from nowhere. As I said in the introduction, that we ‘hadn’t heard of a fortnight ago.’
Fortunately, I know something else. That whatever those challenges are, we are superbly equipped to face them. That everyone in TAB UK has a huge network of support to draw on – not just your colleagues round the TAB table but everyone in the TAB family, wherever they are in the UK. Yes, the coming year will bring plenty of challenges – but we’ll meet those challenges together. As I shall be happy to confirm in the blog – on Friday December 16th, 2022…