We’re now nearly 4 weeks into the lockdown imposed by the UK government last month – and it’s just been extended for a further 3 weeks at least. It’s fair to say we live in unprecedented times! The restrictions on movement introduced to “flatten the curve” of the coronavirus pandemic have made instant and dramatic changes to our way of life – not just here in the UK of course, but across much of the world.
As business owners and citizens, how should we respond to these changes? Observing the daily numbers of coronavirus deaths grinds us down. Contemplating the inevitable repercussions of effectively switching off the global economy for an as yet unspecified time can also cause stress. In all honestly, for the sake of our mental health, it’s wise to limit the amount of time spent thinking about these subjects. As individuals there is nothing we can do about either. Observing the rules and keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe should be our priority. Collectively then, we can help keep fatalities as low as possible and prevent the NHS becoming overrun. By complying, we will shorten the length of this lockdown, hopefully mitigating the economic damage as much as possible.
Observing the rules and keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe should be our priority. By complying, we will shorten the length of this lockdown, hopefully mitigating the economic damage as much as possible.
Government help for business brings peace of mind for some
As business owners, many of us will be receiving unprecedented protection from the state – through business interruption loans, government grants, business rates holidays and VAT deferments. Furloughing will help many businesses hang on to their staff, giving both owners and their employees some peace of mind. The government has also belatedly moved to protect the self-employed. Some have fallen through the net of course – not least those directors of small limited companies who pay themselves through a mix of salary and dividends. Plenty of freelancers have set up on that basis and will now find themselves unprotected. And despite the government’s safety net, many people have sadly already been made redundant, with many more expected to follow.
Some anxiety is normal and inevitable for most of us
Even if you are adequately protected by the government, you are not necessarily immune from the stress caused by the lockdown. You’d have to be superhuman if you hadn’t experienced some degree of anxiety over the past few weeks. And you are probably concerned about the future of your business, once the lockdown is lifted.
By the way, if you’re concerned specifically about your now disused office space – whether that’s rented on a long-term lease or a shorter term serviced licence, please get in touch. We may be able to help. We can also help with remote business services during the lockdown. Have a look at our Covid-19 Response page for more details.
More immediately, the lockdown has created a substantial shift in our lifestyles – and it happened overnight. Maybe you initially appreciated the respite as the rat race was suddenly cancelled. And yet the novelty of a slower pace of life might now be beginning to wear off.
The lockdown has created a substantial, overnight shift in our lifestyles. Maybe you initially appreciated the respite as the rat race was suddenly cancelled. Yet the novelty of a slower pace of life might now be beginning to wear off.
I’ve long believed that the most successful people are those who are comfortable with and embrace change. Change is inevitable even in “normal” times, but many do not cope well with it at all. It’s fair to say I’m not always good at this. However, I’m at my happiest when I’m adapting to – and even pre-empting – change rather than fearing the uncertainty. I’ve been self-employed for the past 16 years. Experiencing my fair share of business ups and downs largely explains my attitude to change.
Working from home #WFH
Beyond that, I am lucky. Typically, I work from home anyway, so this isn’t as big a shift for me as it is for others. Operationally, I’ve experienced next to zero disruption. Regular Find a London Office meetings now take place exclusively on Zoom or WhatsApp video calls, rather than face to face in London. In truth, we’d been moving to that format for a many of our meetings for a while anyway.
Balancing work and life during the lockdown
Much has been written about work-life balance over the past few decades. So it will be interesting to see how office-workers adapt to working remotely. I suspect that most won’t miss the morning commute. No doubt many will embrace the increased flexibility that working from home offers. However, working from home does rely on self-discipline. Obviously, the temptation of Netflix or the distraction of social media are threats to the home-worker’s productivity. Counterintuitively, I need just as much discipline not to work into the evening or at the weekend, when I should be spending time with the family! A friend of mine in the self-storage business told me that despite working from home, the past few weeks have been the busiest in his working life! So many newbie home-workers may well find they miss the clearly defined boundary between work-life and home life.
It will be interesting to see how office-workers adapt to working remotely. I suspect that most won’t miss the morning commute. But many newbie home-workers may miss the clearly defined boundary between work-life and home life.
Family time and board games!
Speaking of family time, the biggest change has been having everyone at home 24-7. My wife works in the hospitality sector and obviously cannot work through the lockdown. My elder daughter is home from Uni. We rescued her a few days before the lockdown, as soon as her lectures and seminars went online. My younger daughter is off school, perplexed about why she is still revising for GCSE’s that she will now never take! Thankfully, we’re all muddling along quite well. We’ve rediscovered board games, introducing the girls to the excellent Settlers of Catan (think Risk meets Monopoly, but better than both). This has achieved the miraculous and led to hours of voluntarily phone-free focus from both daughters! We should have started playing this with them years ago!
The Good Life? The therapeutic power of chickens
In the past 3 weeks, we’ve completed a glut of never-had-the-time-before DIY jobs. We’ve cleared the garage, jet-washed the patio and finally installed those shelves in the downstairs bathroom! My garden shed has been an incoherent mess for 15 years, but it now has built-in shelves, hooks and order for the first time! If you try and buy fertiliser online, you’ll have difficulty, in my experience. Growing your own veg is now very much back in vogue, for obvious reasons. We’ve constructed 3 raised beds for salad vegetables and herbs. I’m also growing celery from the base of a stalk – which I never realised you could do. We’re trying the same trick with lettuce.
And in a moment of forward-thinking and good fortune, a week or so before the lockdown, we built a chicken-run and bought 4 hens. Thankfully, we’re no longer worried about so egg-production and supply! I’ve no previous experience of chickens, but they are surprisingly friendly. Watching them is a timewaster, but they are oddly therapeutic in these challenging times.
Technology keeps us sane and makes the lockdown possible
Beyond the frustration of watching teenagers glued to their phones, we shouldn’t be too down on technology. On the contrary I think that technology is making this lockdown possible. I’m not sure how long people’s patience would have held without it.
Social media has got a bad rap in recent years – rightly so up to a point. However, during the lockdown it has come into its own. When so many are self-isolating, social media maintains connections between human beings without the physical risk. We’re social creatures at heart, so communication tools such as WhatsApp and Zoom are now really proving their worth – keeping us all connected to each other. We’ve played numerous virtual pub quizzes with friends and colleagues via Zoom – and they really are great fun.
Online ordering and delivery – whilst under strain and slower than we’ve come to expect – continues to provide a safe way to buy products and keep us connected to the world. Whilst contactless payment – previously a timesaving, space-saving convenience – now provides a vital public health service.
Technological advances over the past 25 years have made this possible. Can you imagine the near impossibility of working remotely in the 1980s or earlier? Can you imagine retaining your sanity in a lockdown with just 3 TV channels, a landline and no Internet?
Technology is making this lockdown possible. I’m not sure how long people’s patience would have held without it. and can you imagine the near impossibility of working remotely in the 1980s or earlier?
Planning and preparing for the aftermath
Stepping away from the rat-race also gives us the mental space for reflection. Helpfully, the enforced slower pace of life provides essential thinking time to plan for when they finally reboot the world. And as business owners, I suspect we will need all our creativity in the new economic environment that awaits us. Anyone expecting everything to be exactly the same when the restrictions are lifted is in for a rude shock. Some of the economic projections are jaw-dropping. And even leaving the raw economic data to one side, I predict that the sudden re-ordering of priorities caused by this experience will have permanently modified our collective behaviour. Society’s wants, needs and expectations have all subtly shifted over the course of the past few weeks.
Business owners will need all their creativity in the new economic environment that awaits us post-lockdown. Anyone expecting the world be exactly the same when the restrictions are lifted is in for a rude shock.
Furthermore, the easing of restrictions will be gradual. We will need to anticipate that social distancing – and its consequences – will be with us for a considerable time.
Of course, there will be winners and losers in the aftermath of the pandemic. Businesses will need to adapt – and those that do so will survive and thrive. Living in lockdown has required flexibility. That requirement will be even more imperative once the lockdown is lifted. My advice is to use this time wisely and think flexibly to make sure you are in amongst the winners after the shakedown.
Stay safe everyone.