The UK's lockdown has proved a tough time for many, but also one populated by positives such as exceptional business agility, improved working patterns and a greater degree of acceptance and trust. Our July 'virtual' club session discussed the positive lessons that emerged, some of which people will be reluctant to lose.
17 July 2020
It was a delight to see everyone in a new ‘virtual’ Business Club session in July. Since the Club’s last gathering in February, the world had obviously changed dramatically. It has been a tough time for many, but also one populated by small rays of light – such as stronger community spirit, more support for one another and a better work/life balance for some.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes showed remarkable agility and speed in reconfiguring for the new trading environment (which still continues to evolve). The Club reflected on industries and businesses which have adjusted their operations quickly and effectively.
For starters, it was not surprising that e-commerce had experienced a boom. At the time of the UK’s COVID-19 lockdown, e-commerce sales were up around 20% year-on-year, but by 12th April this had risen to over 80% as more households logged on to buy their goods and services remotely. The e-commerce sector had an 83% year-on-year growth in online sales as of mid-April.
It led to more than 500 e-commerce start-ups being set up in late March. Five weeks later, that figure had risen exponentially to almost 1,300 e-commerce start-ups per week – around 800 more than the same week in 2019.
Many other sectors had done well including:
- Food delivery
- Alcohol sales and delivery
- Horticultural supplies (as everyone decided to revamp their gardens or get more houseplants in the home)
- Online tutoring
- Food production – for example, the run on bread meant UK’s flour mills went into production 24/7
- IT equipment and support – as everyone tried to master remote working
- Social media – WhatsApp reported a 40% increase in use at the start of the UK lock-down – and that’s only expected to rise as more families, friends and neighbourhoods formed groups to keep in touch
What’s added value to, or helped work during lock-down
In the group discussions, Club members considered what had added value or helped their work during the lock-down and what this might mean moving forward. Points raised included:
Time and cost-savings from the removal of work-related travel aiding greater productivity and efficiency.
Technology’s advancement and people’s prompt adoption of it. Again this aided productivity and efficiency as people migrated to home-working. It was impressive that broadband and bandwidth performed so well to facilitate home working.
More rounded relationships and greater acceptance of the blurring of home and work life. Through the likes of zoom and MS Team discussions, people are more used to seeing each other in their home environment. There’s subsequently been greater acceptance of those juggling childcare and a more relaxed approach to business.
Greater quality of life as the commute and business travel was removed and people could use the time instead to spend time with family, for exercise and to pursue their personal interests.
Greater acceptance of the value of working from home. As productivity levels didn’t diminish, businesses gained greater trust of their employees to cope and perform well in the new remote working setting.
A deeper understanding of the value of communication within teams. Without the ability to just ‘ask someone in the office’, businesses made greater efforts to keep communication channels open. More channels were introduced to keep people connected and some businesses established online social events to maintain team spirit and motivation.
Digital training and events moving to online versions helped people to continue skill development and networking, but more cost-effectively and efficiently.
A fluidity to the working day. Businesses accommodated employees having to home school and were less rigid about which hours people worked, as long as the work got done.
Making the changes permanent
A lot of the lessons that have been learnt in the lockdown are prompting businesses to consider making the changes permanent. The Club considered whether work patterns will continue to shift, with a working week that blends both home and workplace working for greater flexibility. Some questioned whether commercial property will be in such demand and if, for example, offices will be repurposed and reduced in size. This would create meeting space when needed and hotdesking, but also embrace greater home working in business operations. Having your own desk at the office could become a thing of the past.
As more businesses return to their traditional workplace, the advancements made in technology would need to be replicated. Mobile working and online meetings may not be as feasible in the current business IT layout, but the appetite for these is now firmly ingrained. There would also need to be greater consideration of IT security if the workforce permanently moved to a mobile operation.
Whilst the past few months have been ones many will want to forget, a number of positives have emerged. The agility of businesses, the versatility of people and the acceptance to adapt to the challenge has brought about change quickly and successfully. Businesses will be keen not to lose all the progress they’ve made. Some have created new business offerings, product lines and services which they are keen to maintain. Whilst the economic outlook is bleak, businesses can take heart from the resilience they have shown to build a way forward in whatever the ‘new normal’ brings.
If you would like to join our future Business Club events, please contact the Shipleys’ Godalming team for more information.