We’re a week into the new lockdown and the routines look depressingly familiar. Furlough has been extended until the spring and a fresh batch of business support grants are once again being offered to stave off the worst impacts.
This is all well and good, but it is clear that our members are thinking carefully about what the long-term future of their businesses is going to look like.
They have done a brilliant job of re-organising the way they do things in order to keep the wheels turning and many sectors say they’ve actually been doing pretty well, providing the services that customers are still calling for. If that’s on the positive side, they are also recognising the negatives.
As I said last month, the mental health of staff is becoming a pressing issue, which a further lockdown and fewer daylight hours won’t help. It’s especially difficult for young people who may live in shared housing which makes it hard just to do their jobs. But there’s a lot more to it than that. People are starting to see the loss of creativity which comes about from joint conversations and they are recognising the problems facing junior staff who don’t have the chance to watch and learn from senior colleagues.
They are missing the bright ideas that pop up when you least expect them, the moments of pleasure when something in the team goes well, even the sociable birthday celebration – in short, the fun part of work.
Those elements are not just a “nice to have”, they actually underpin the success of our best businesses and we will have to find ways of re-creating them if the pandemic is not to cause long term damage.
Another question that businesses have been asking as a result of the changes in the way they work is how many people they need for their operation? Some restructuring has already been done, producing inevitable job losses and it’s likely more will follow.
That leads on to the issue of how much office space companies will need in future. There’s no doubt that there is a real appetite to get back into work but if there are fewer people on the staff and some of those don’t come into the office every day, then it is obvious that businesses will be able to reduce the size of their premises. That won’t happen overnight because they will be tied into lease arrangements. But many companies will be considering their future requirements and that could produce a revolution in the way the city centre looks.
Vaccination or no vaccination, our business world looks as though it will be changed forever.