News & Insights

Read and share Parliament Hill insights and news on the tips, trends, and key developments we’ve identified for benefit management and member satisfaction.

After the pandemic?

With the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Britain proceeding apace, it’s time to accelerate your business thinking and planning. But what sort of future should you be planning for? What is coming at the end of the pandemic? What key things should you factor into plans?

First, the bad news: expect continued constraints - even if everyone in the UK has the vaccine – a big ask - there is a massive global population to vaccinate, many in poorer, hard to reach communities. This is critical, chances are the virus will go on mutating in unvaccinated populations if mass vaccination is not actioned efficiently and effectively in a concerted international campaign. This suggests continued regulation and control of human gatherings and international travel. Zoom and Teams have become a routine part of life, but sadly the virus is likely to go on constraining basic human needs to meet people face-to-face, travel and take holidays. Testing, track and trace will remain a fact of life and we could well see regular vaccination like the annual flu jab. Better to plan on the basis there will be no clear end to the pandemic’s impact on your business.

Human v Remote - expect to see continued improvements in video conferencing and mobile technology particularly in quality, reliability and security. Even with a return to commuting and office life, it will be nothing like before, since the productivity benefits of home working, shared data bases, online training and of video calls over face-to-face meetings are obvious. As one of my students said to me recently – ‘we are less paper on our way to paperless’. Likely changes for you to consider will be more flexible time in the office – say 2-3 days out of a 5-day working week, towards smaller, more enabled offices often in suburbs or smaller communities with lower rental costs and shorter commute. More meeting room space will be hired on an ‘as and when required’ basis from outsource office providers. In short, look to use the pandemic to reduce your administrative overheads. As one student said to me: ‘even the technology dinosaurs are not quite so dinosaurish anymore.’

Business winners and losers – some of this is commonplace: The losers are clear – many self-employed slipped through the cracks and did not receive state support. The High Street has been replaced by online retail, air and rail transport have lost colossal numbers of passenger journeys, the big tech giants have grown even stronger, as has big pharma and any business supporting home working – everything from new office equipment to home decorating, from local takeaway to local coffee shops, from exercise equipment to Netflix, Prime and Disney subscriptions. In the bounce back, it could well be the luckiest who survive, but much more likely will be those who make their own luck, refreshing their offer, nimbler, smarter, more attractive, the most customer friendly who renew and rebuild in the new normal.

The Rebound – ask anyone what they miss most in the lockdown, it’s the loss of human contact – family members living a distance away, relatives in care homes, friends and colleagues at work – just to hug and to chat, to laugh and to cry. There is a pent-up need to re-engage. Although there will be some health protection in place, expect a boom in all kinds of activities – drinking in bars and dining out, the performing arts, dance, music, cinema, theatre, mass spectator and participation sports – where human contact is at their heart. A great business opportunity opening up – even if it is controlled and regulated – meeting a huge pent-up demand to leave home and enjoy life again.

Is there life on Mars? - many of us witnessed how things that were taking years, happened in days. Focus will now turn to other major impacts on business – of Brexit and international trade, climate change, healthy eating and artificial intelligence - expect these big changes to continue in the new normal. Expect rapid strides in environmentally friendly opportunities – in changing eating habits, in renewable and more efficient energy use, in electric cycles and cars and better waste recycling. Particularly likely to impact on business is the continued growth in smart machines - the internet of things – where artificial intelligence takes on more and more human functions – replacing or transforming them. Plan for business that aligns with more automation, opportunities to make life easier, but with significant implications for humans as they are replaced by machines.

And finally – plan to rule out any return to old ways of working: the new normal will be different. Many businesses and occupations from airline pilots to waiters, from coach drivers to sous chefs, are simply not amenable to home working, and entire sections of the economy have had to survive with no work at all or changing to offer mail order or take away. Many have had to stay home on furlough. The return to work for them cannot come soon enough and when it does, they will have to be patient, but also be innovative and creative – to offer something fresh and different in their service, something that catches the attention of customers – to be more relevant and more tuned into a brave new world.

Author: Dr Mark Pegg, Director, Chalfont Associates

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