And a Question for 2021…
I had intended to make this last post of the year an upbeat one. Resolutely positive. Looking forward, not back. A rallying cry to the future.
I do you no favours if I gloss over a question that a great many owners and directors of SMEs will have to address in the coming year. So let me start this week with that one, very simple question:
Are you going to sack Jim?
Jim’s been with you for five years. He’s been integral to the growth of your company. No-one else can do what he does. Yes, Jim can sometimes be tough to manage. But top salesmen, top programmers… It’s part of their make-up. And look at what he contributes to the bottom line.
But it’s April 2021.
Most people in the UK have now been vaccinated against Covid.
You vaguely remember a poll published in the summer of 2020. 53% of people said they’d be ‘certain or very likely’ to get a vaccine if one became available. 20% were ‘fairly likely.’
That left a sizeable number of people who were unsure or outright sceptical. In practice, their numbers dwindled. But here we are in the spring of 2021 and 11% of the UK population are still saying ‘no ‘ to the vaccine.
The Government hasn’t made vaccination certificates mandatory. Not yet. But it’s tough for people who can’t prove they’ve been vaccinated. They can’t eat in most restaurants and, as of last week, they can’t travel on public transport in your region. Jim’s one of those people. He’s not an anti-vaxxer. He’s just not convinced by the science. He’s doubtful about some of the figures. And he feels there are ethical concerns as well.
And now it’s happened. The moment you’ve lain awake worrying about. The other nine members of your team have walked into your office. Their argument is simple: as an employer you have a duty of care to them. You’re being negligent. Either insist on Jim getting the vaccination – and introduce a policy that only vaccinated people can work for you – or they’re going to resign…
‘We like working for you, Ed. We like the company. But our health – and the health of our families – has to come first. It’s Jim or us…’
Back to the present – and these last two weeks have brought plenty of good news. As you’ll all know, the Pfizer vaccine received approval, and it is already being rolled out. And businesses are optimistic.
A survey published in City AM at the end of November said that the vast majority (94%) of mid-sized businesses in the UK believe they will fully recover from the effect of Covid-19 within a year if a vaccine is made available.
The even-better news was that the optimism was evenly distributed across economic sectors, with more than two-thirds of businesses in the beleaguered hospitality sector predicting recovery ‘within six months.’ Over half the businesses (53%) felt more optimistic about the UK economic recovery compared to three months ago.
My anecdotal evidence backs that up. Despite everything TAB members are optimistic. There’s a real determination to bounce back, and to bounce back quickly.
But we’re going to bounce back into a different world. Arcadia, Debenhams and Bonmarché – sadly some town centres are never going to recover from 2020.
It has been a year like no other: a year none of us could have imagined. It’s interesting to look back to the post I wrote at the beginning of March.
Put simply, we’re in uncharted waters. A month from now we may be wondering what all the fuss was about: or I may be on my tenth day of self-isolation, sending the blog from my bedroom with a mask over my face.
There will unquestionably be long term consequences from any epidemic. What will happen to city centres and high streets? Coronavirus could pose a real threat to retailers and their landlords, possibly finishing off the work Amazon has started.
What about the office? A lot of people and companies are going to find that remote working is surprisingly effective. They’re going to start questioning the need for all those desks, meeting rooms and overheads.
The short answer is that none of us know what will happen.
Sadly, that was surprisingly prescient. ‘Hope for the best and prepare for the worst,’ I wrote. And the worst duly happened.
But we’re here. We survived. So what did we learn from 2020?
Three things, I think…
First, that our business model is robust. Very much so. If anything gives me confidence going into 2021, it is that the TAB business model has been tested in the fire – and has proved remarkably resilient.
Secondly, we’ve all come to know and love Zoom. But what we’ve learnt – unquestionably – is that face to face is better and it always will be. We’re social creatures, and business needs that human touch. I confess that I might become a compulsive shaker of hands in 2021!
Thirdly. I’ll come to that…
2021 is going to present some challenges. Yes, businesses are rightly confident of a recovery as the vaccine is rolled out. But next year isn’t just going to be about economic recovery.
It’s going to be about new ethical challenges as well. Are you going to sack Jim? The coming year will present us with business challenges we never imagined – which is why having the support of your colleagues round the TAB table is going to be more important than ever. There will be questions asked that have never been asked before.
Let me finish for this year on a personal note. We’ve learnt from the pandemic – and there are things to look forward to as well. Spontaneity. Unplanned visits to the pub with Dav and our friends. Seeing my mum and dad without having to worry about the impact it might have on their health. And Dan and Rory being able to have their freedom back – without their parents asking ‘have you got a mask’ three times.
…Which brings me back to the third thing I learnt this year. I’ve left this to last because it is the most important point I have to make this week – or this year.
2020 has been difficult: tougher than any of us could ever have imagined. We’ve all had to make changes, make sacrifices and – in many cases – make very painful decisions.
But that’s what this year has taught me: the worst of times brings out the best in people.
My TAB colleagues – here at head office and around the country – have been simply amazing. Our TAB members – their resilience, their determination and their enduring optimism – have been an inspiration. This year, more than any other, it has been a privilege to work with you all.
Thank you. Have a wonderful Christmas and New Year, and the blog will be back on Friday January 8th.