The new normal: Risks and Opportunities

Numerous commentators are reporting on what the “new normal” will look like as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, and one thing is sure, things will not return to how they were in 2019. People and businesses are quickly adapting to new circumstances. Although many of these will revert to a pre-COVID-19 status, many more will either change back gradually over a long time or remain the new normal and move forward.

The positive approach is to treat the current predicament as an opportunity for improvement rather than treating adaptations as a temporary band-aid. We don’t know how long this crisis will last, and even if it ends this year, we have no way to tell if a new and more significant disaster will be waiting for us around the corner. Digital transformation is at the heart of change. There are many exceptions, as not all work can happen remotely. Still, if we perform everything we can remotely, it will offer a wide range of benefits on a broader scale and permanently change the working culture. Unfortunately, this does pose a significant risk for businesses that depend on office worker footfall.

The “work from home” culture has come forward in leaps and bounds. Thinking about this as a more long-term solution, it has many things to offer in terms of personal and business benefits:

  • Large offices with 1000s of people – could be replaced with smaller offices if staff are working from home most of the time. Far less expenditure maintaining commercial premises. There is no need to have allocated desk space and settle for hot desks when people need to be in the office.
  • Daily travel based on 9:00 to 17:00 – can be replaced with journeys when there is a genuine need to be in the office, rather than standard office hours being a routine that has been around for a long time. Consequently, reducing stress on public transport at specific times of the day. Less travelling and improved quality of life for the workforce.
  • Hotel accommodation – elimination of all the costs associated with travel and overnight accommodation required for face to face working. The cost difference between working 40 hours from home or a local office, and being away from family for up to 120 hours per week to deliver 40 hours of work is significant.

Most of this is the way it is because it started this way, and very few had the foresight or interest in making changes to their working culture. In response to the pandemic, businesses are making significant changes to adapt and stay in business. The critical question is, when this is over, is there a genuine business need to revert, and in many cases, the answer will be NO.

Permanent change to working culture can have significant long-term benefits to society, including:

  • Great long-term business and personal benefits
  • Reduce the stress on roads and public transport
  • Reduce the need to expand airports and build additional runways
  • Reduce the need to add additional lanes to major roads and motorways in favour of reallocating budgets towards the repair of existing damaged roads – includes avoiding the idea of switching motorway hard-shoulders into extra lanes

Unfortunately, there are wide-ranging risks to other businesses, such as cafes and restaurants, that depend on office worker footfall and commuting. Many chains and small businesses could quickly become unsustainable and close or need a subsidy to remain operational.