On March 23, Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced a nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of Covid-19 and support the country’s stretched NHS.
An inconceivable notion, but an impending reality that dawned when China, the origin of the virus, closed its doors at the end of January.
As Europe began to follow China’s lead, the UK was initiating the shutdown before Johnson’s orders.
With the Prime Minister suggesting the avoidance of pubs, clubs and theatres the week prior, many businesses were already forced to make the decision to temporarily cease trading.
And with vulnerable groups recommended to self-isolate, businesses were quickly hit with a dip in their workforce and compelled to implement work-from-home strategies.
The Prime Minister announced on March 20 that social settings such as cafes, restaurants, bars and gyms were to close.
Businesses from Canary Wharf to corner shops have faced an eye of the storm that even the most thorough of contingency plans could not prepare for.
Now, with the peak of the virus reportedly passing, businesses are beginning to turn from panic to preparation.
The adage fail to prepare, prepare to fail has probably rang true to businesses who never imagined preparing for a global pandemic would be necessary, let alone the aftermath.
And whatever happened to businesses pre-lockdown will be irrelevant as post-lockdown life beckons.
Businesses that recognise when the recovery will come and what it will look like now will be ahead of the curve, and will offer themselves a greater chance of surviving a new normality – if indeed they have survived so far.
The New Normal
With Home Secretary Priti Patel stating life will simply not return to pre-lockdown routines and that social distancing will be expected to be carried out in every work area, planning for a life two metres apart from one another is the first action for businesses.
And, although hopes exist of the masses desperate to dine out or book an exotic break once quarantine is quelled, markers from China suggest the effects of coronavirus and cabin fever may be long lasting.
One issue facing Chinese business is that, although they have tentatively opened their doors, neither public nor their full workforce has stepped back through them.
CNBC reports that the Chinese workforce is still constrained by travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines, as well as stalled logistics operations and out of sync work and production.
There is also a problem, echoed worldwide, of a lack of protective equipment available for businesses to supply their employees.
Temperature checks for both workers and customers are still commonplace, and if a customer or an employee tests positive for the virus, the business typically must shut down once more.
The public have also failed to flock to the streets, with fears of reinfection and changes in attitude showing it will not just be the Home Secretary ordering the new normal, but the customer mindset.
One Chinese restaurant owner told Bloomberg that business people who would have dined out together for lunch are opting for personal lunchboxes, and that most people are favouring homecooked meals.
Consequently, another step to navigating the new normal for businesses is accepting and preparing for customers trepidation.
Adapting business to anxieties will be essential to tempt customers to trust, and ditch the Stockholm syndrome associated with the safety of isolation.
Businesses that require close contact, such as beauty salons and tattoo parlours, will have to implement a new level of hygiene practice and those in the restaurant sector face unprecedented challenges.
Consumers will be warier of where products come from, and supply chains may be disrupted not only through a direct impact of the virus, but also through customer caution.
Typical habits such as setting tables with cutlery, using reusable sauces and accepting cash in hand will no longer be acceptable. Open salad bars and serve yourself-style buffets will have to be completely reimagined.
But simple procedures can ease customer concern such as spaced-out seating arrangements, with sealed disposable napkins, hand sanitisers and one-use tablecloths all instilling sanitation confidence.
The vulnerable groups, first to be isolated, will also be the last to re-emerge and delivery services will remain essential for those who will still need to be shielded from the virus.
Those businesses that have so far resisted the lure of online trade will have to welcome the world of ecommerce, with the already struggling high street potentially facing the final nail in its coffin.
And, as the high street’s existing hurdles show, issues that existed pre-Covid-19 not only still exist but are perhaps more exposed, with climate change a leading example.
A New Hope
However, the new normal does not need to focus solely on stress, anxieties and the negatives of coronavirus.
A new hope can be located through planning for the new normal, and indeed some businesses have already discovered it.
Some, particularly small, enterprises have been able to reimagine, reinvent and re-establish themselves in the midst of the pandemic.
Several breweries have shifted from alcohol for consumption to protection, offering hand sanitisers to both the front-line and the public.
Others have also seen their businesses meet unprecedented demand due to the shift in consumer behaviour.
One wine delivery service has seen prosecco sales rocket 117% and a year-on-year rise of 300% in new customers in March and April.
Identifying trends and new needs has proved successful for others, with fashion retailers stepping-up sales of workout and loungewear, delivery services booming and the likes of local butchers favoured to supermarket meats.
And one encouragement to emerge from the loneliness of lockdown is the increased desire for community and collective effort.
Whether that be the weekly clap for our carers, the hundreds of thousands that registered to volunteer for the NHS or the displaying of rainbows in windows, the innate need for one another is evident street through street.
The community also wins when it comes to the fears that hide behind the rainbows, of what happens next and where we turn. Inevitably, the public will trust what is closest to them, and local businesses can offer familiarity to consumers whose current world is uncertain.
It may also prove true that the reignited sense of community will mean a more collaborative approach from businesses, particularly important with supply chain disruption and customer focus on origins and sources.
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