10 predictions for the 'new normal'
Here we are, nine weeks into the Covid-19 lockdown and so far I've missed my birthday, 26th wedding anniversary and a whole bunch of other 'outings', that would have been made in previous years. "Still, never mind, we can make up for it when everything gets back to normal..." Whenever I hear that phrase, I just want to shout out "Wake up! - It's never going back to where it was!" In a few short weeks, the way we do pretty much everything as a UK society has changed. How we work, how we play, how we shop, how we connect with each other, how we view key workers... everything.
As someone who has worked in 'Change' for a very long time, it's really interesting to see how the Kubler Ross curve is being reflected in our society, once again, with the usual suspects sitting back in Denial and Frustration. We saw it with Brexit and we're seeing it again during the Covid-19 pandemic. The stock answer? - go on a march - this is only temporary.
Winners and losers were pre-determined
There are those who see opportunity in how we will live our lives in the future - to be fair, they were the ones who were pushing the envelope before Coronavirus. And, there are those for whom it has all come as a rather nasty surprise and whose only answer is to rail against everything from perceived infringement of civil liberties to how and when the Government has responded.
Those who were at the back of the pack in terms of accepting and adopting the digital revolution were left wanting when Change came quicker than a meteor hitting the Yucatán peninsula. Companies and managers who thought that change was for everyone else, but not for them, were still pfaffing around trying to maintain visible control in an age of remote connectivity. So, hierarchies were maintained, ivory towers continued to loom over the workplace, and a 'bums on seats', attitude prevailed.
When change came crashing through the door, IT systems weren't up to the mark, people weren't used to working from home and their mental health suffered from the shock. Crisis management was the order of the day and, for some, it still is.
At the same time, businesses that had championed a more flexible way of working with cloud-based tools like O365 and good social network channels to support regular homeworking, breezed into the 'new normal', barely missing a beat.
Adapt and survive
We might have thought that change, even major infrastructure and technological change, had occurred fairly quickly in the past but we still talked in years for plans to be fully realised. This change has happened with the speed and ferocity of a head-on collision.
The effect is, that no matter how much people talk a good game and try and rush us back to 'how it was', the change has happened. We haven't shaped it; it is shaping us and we must respond to it and evolve, quickly. Adapt and survive. Of course, timing and technology are everything. If this had happened just 10 years ago we would have been struggling. However, 2020 broadband speeds, cloud-based technologies and communication platforms have stood up to the sudden pressure and we're making it work and most are enjoying it.
So, we're not going back to getting up at silly o'clock to prepare for a 2-3 hour commute suffering suffocating cattle-wagon treatment twice a day. We're not going back to cramming our personal lives into a tiny gap between work and getting 5 hours of sleep. We're not going back to 'woke' problems that are the product of some activist's mindset and their own personal issues. This has been a real problem with real victims not a hypothetical perception of someone else's feelings which can only be solved in a safe space.
Yesterday has gone but this is just the start.
Here are my predictions for the changes that will occur during the intended lifetime of this Parliament.
1. Working from home will become the norm for around 70% of 'office-based' employees. Either full-time or with infrequent visits to their company's premises.
2. As leases come to an end, businesses, particularly city-based companies, will release large amounts of their office space and 'downsize'. Some will save millions.
The effect of this will be a significant drop in the cost of commercial real estate as more and more is offloaded. Even in high-value areas like central London, the cost will either be negotiated down, significantly, on a short lease or the space will end up empty.
3. This will ripple out to domestic housing. The M25 ring will see house prices drop as will many other city's suburbs. More rural and remote areas will see values rise as people find they can work for a London-based company yet live in Wales, Lincolnshire or Cornwall.
4. People will achieve a genuine work-life balance suited to them and their new work-style.
5. The death of cash will be greatly hastened.
6. HS2 (of which I was a supporter) will now be seen as a white elephant and scrapped with some of the money being redirected to fund faster broadband roll out around the country.
7. There will be a resurgence of food production and manufacturing in the UK with digital technology, AI and robotics providing the cost-cutting required to compete. There will not be a huge increase in manual labour though. People-free manufacturing is the future.
8. Retail will suffer the most. Argos reinvented itself in 3 years between 2013 and 2016 investing £300m in total transformation. So what happened to the rest? There will be some big deaths on the High Street.
9. The environment, air and water quality will improve because of lower particulates and CO2 emissions. Sadly this is only a temporary respite as temperatures will rise faster without this global dimming.
10 People will be kinder to each other and build on the community spirit that has grown since mid-March. We'll know our neighbours again and when the risk of infection has gone, communities will be stronger than they have been for years.
So, those are my 10 predictions for the next four and a half years... what are yours?