What next? Preparing for the New Normal

Nigel Peters
Nigel Peters, Managing Partner of Alium Partners, gives his insight on what the ‘New Normal’ for business might look like in the months, and years, to come.

I am very lucky to speak regularly to the leaders and influencers of many companies, which gives me a great insight to the market, as well as following closely the advice and wisdom of the CBI who manage to keep a business-oriented apolitical stance that is highly respected. 

This week’s insights included webinars with George Osborne amongst others. https://www.cbi.org.uk/articles/daily-coronavirus-webinar-in-discussion-with-george-osborne-20-04-2020/.  I have also spoken to PE-backed firms, FTSE 100 MDs, small-cap and SMEs and even large investment and infrastructure funds.

The main topic we discussed:

‘what is the new normal, or will we quickly revert to our previous stance?’

I think this pandemic will reset the clock in so many ways and the new normal will be different to anything we could have imagined. No one could have envisaged anything other than nuclear holocaust or a massive climate event bringing change on such a global scale, however, the reflection it has enabled and the changes to business and personal lives give us a chance to change our personal and business behaviours for the better.

Technology insertion

I have supported several companies in ‘digitising’, but the move to remote working underpinned by faster broadband has created a technological and cultural change in behaviours that would have normally taken years. We do not need to travel across continents, countries or even counties to meet in the future. Just set up a new routine using MS Teams or Zoom and off you go. Keep the meetings brief, focused and to the point with a shared screen or even a whiteboard; everything is simple.

Real Estate / Offices

We had already moved from the fixed costs of a large corporate office into a flexible solution two years ago. Flexible short contracts, collaborative workspaces and no glossy ten or 20-year leases. If you don’t go totally agile, then ensure your whole back office is moved into the regions and partially if not entirely works from home. If you need a showcase office, then just set this up for front-of-house – but there is no need for support, administration, finance or other elements to be in these costly buildings.

People

The latest generation (I refrain from the millennial term) had already started this move away from traditional working environments and hours, but flexible contracts, flexible hours and home working are a key part of the new normal along with shared school runs and quality time with families.

Contracts

Greater productivity and flexibility until social distancing is entirely removed means we will have to adjust employment contracts. Many I have spoken to seemed happy with being furloughed for 80% of their salary – so why not cut your employment costs and reduce the workforce to 4 days wherever possible. Remove the car allowance and put in a home office, broadband, home fittings allowance so that people can work properly from home with the right equipment and support. Perhaps tax-free loans to build a home office extension?

Team building and getting together

This is still important, but invest in this properly and get the most from bringing your teams together. It doesn’t have to be in a city – why not at an event or social environment that is convivial to hearing the truth and communicating effectively to your people.

Climate change

This seems to have been forgotten momentarily, but the oil price changes indicate that this pandemic has shown us how we can use technology to cut travel and reduce the burning of carbons. Cleaner air, better use of technology and much less costly travel will have a tremendously beneficial impact upon carbon reduction and greenhouse gases.

Exercise and health

The importance of social distancing has given the opportunity for people to exercise and focus on their health. This kickstart should be encouraged by the NHS; again let’s incentivise our workforce to undertake exercise regimes and healthier living.

There is so much we can do both personally and as businesses. There are many more ideas and I hope these help you start a positive thinking process. Adjust now and create the right workforce, equipped, trained and motivated so you have a better, leaner and more productive company.