Positive news seems in short supply at the moment. Rising death tolls, lockdown, business closures, high unemployment and a looming recession are common headlines that are difficult to get away from.
Even for those not viewing the news, the impact of COVID-19 is impossible to avoid.
People isolating at home are finding their routine goes out the window and may be suffering from low motivation, boredom, anxiety and a number of other mental health issues.
Employees that are still heading to their places of work aren’t exempt from challenges either. From simple etiquette like holding a door open for someone to using an elevator or their daily commute, these things all changed overnight. Even looking at a half empty office can cause feelings of stress or unease for some.
All of this leads to the same question, ‘When will things get back to normal?’
The fact is COVID-19 has already changed the landscape for good. How we work, how we socialise, how we shop, all of these daily activities and more will be done differently moving forward.
This social and economic change is going to be tough but it does present a range of opportunities to businesses and individuals who are prepared to adapt. In this series we will be looking at life after lockdown, the challenges businesses will face and how to not only overcome them, but thrive in this new environment.
First on our agenda will be social distancing post lockdown.
The future challenge of social distancing
We’ve already started seeing measures easing with the reopening of certain DIY stores. This is going to continue in a phased rollback over the coming months as more and more businesses are added an ‘acceptable’ list.
The question of social distancing is going to be key for these businesses however.
Firstly there is there is the topic of government guidance and how strict they will be on this. Will it simply be ‘guidance’ or will it be something more concrete that must be followed?
More importantly however is public opinion. 71% of people have said they will lose trust in a brand forever if they prioritise profits over people. Many customers also expect business to help, even to the point of losing money, and they will remember those that don’t.
If businesses are not seen to be taking safety and social distancing seriously the backlash could be crippling as customers, suppliers, staff and journalists flock to social media to voice their displeasure.
Seasonality is another challenge as we still do not know how it might impact infection rates. This could see a complicated set of measures based on various factors.
On the flip side of the coin, for businesses to operate effectively they need their employees to be able to work and their customers to gain access to their products and services. The biggest challenge will be businesses striking the right balance between safety, public perception and operational efficiency.
Work from home
Once seen as an optional extra, it will be viewed by many as a necessity. Not only does it avoid any social distancing legislation, employees and the wider public might expect it.
Businesses that start putting these measures in place early stand to benefit in a number of ways:
- Improve recruitment and staff retention levels as people look favourably on a brand
- Positive PR as you proactively provide a solution to look after your team
- Reduced operational costs as office space is minimised and rent, insurance and utility bills come down accordingly
- Reduced worker commute times further improving team moral
To understand if this is a viable option, businesses need to start tracking data now. Staff wellbeing should be paramount in this decision making process but productivity, moral, staff retention, quality and customer satisfaction should all be considered.
If the data shows work from home is a viable alternative, there are a number of factors to consider before you start rolling out this new scheme:
- Creating new processes to ensure operational efficiency and quality of work continues
- Staff training on new technologies and processes
- Management training on how to lead a remote team
- Communication to staff and customers on the new ways of working
- Updating company governance
Whilst this list of considerations might seem challenging, the long term benefits could far outweigh them, especially as this might become the new normal all businesses need to adopt anyway.
Back to work schemes
Working from home will not be possible or desirable for everyone. Firstly some industries require employees to be on location such as shops, bars, restaurants and logistics to name a few.
For others, working from home during lockdown will have resulted in low motivation, poor mental health, poor quality work, less collaboration or just a realisation that distractions at home mean they can’t work from home. In summary, some of your employees will be desperate to get out of the house and back to their place of work.
Social distancing for these people is a harder challenge to face. Management will be expected to have answers, and employees will be expected to adhere to the solutions even if they don’t understand or agree to them.
To further muddy the water, government guidance will get tweaked overtime so businesses will need to continue their evolution.
The solution to these problems is similar to those faced by people working from home:
- Update & document your processes
- Review your company governance
- Consider training for managers and staff
- Consider how all of this will be communicated to employees and customers
The opportunities for these businesses might be harder to see but they are still present for early adopters.
By adopting virtual solutions businesses need no longer worry about physical restrictions such as premises size or geographical location.
The chain of wine bars that start providing online tasting classes via Facebook. Retailers who make the move to ecommerce. Estate agents who offer virtual tours. Recruitment agents who run Zoom interviews. Fitness brands who offer online classes. Construction companies who use site drones and live streaming to connect a project team.
Extra customers are not the only consideration however. Businesses have always had a moral obligation to provide their customers and staff with a safe place to work or visit. More than ever, the public are looking for brands that are ‘doing the right thing’. By addressing these concerns early and unprompted, proactive brands can stand themselves in good stead with the public and avoid a PR nightmare.
A change in strategy and approach may seem like an unnecessary upheaval in an already turbulent time. COVID-19 has likely already forced your hand however, by demanding you adapt to new ways of working.
Add to this public expectation alongside staff safety and mental health and it’s obvious that all businesses will need to accept the workplace has changed forever.
Like anything when dramatic change occurs, those who adapt will survive. Those who don’t will sadly fade away.