A post-pandemic return to normal for Leicestershire business?
Larraine Boorman, CEO of Optima UK and LLEP Board Director, shares her views...
There is a real buzz of excitement this week as we’ve moved past the 12 April milestone. Non-essential businesses and services have been allowed to open their doors again, with the first tentative steps back to the activity we once took for granted.
As lockdown eases, there is much talk around about a return to normal, whatever that might be.
It is a truism that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the business landscape, in terms of companies that are no longer with us, and how we go about our day-to-day work.
An article in The Guardian on 14 March 2021 reported that “17,500 chain store outlets disappeared from high streets, shopping centres and retail parks across Great Britain last year”.
Sadly, we’ve felt that here in Leicestershire. But there are also businesses that are either launching for the first time or are looking to expand or enter new markets. There is always another side to everything.
And, when you think about it, business was changing pre-lockdown anyway. As shops closed their doors, new businesses emerged, and new plans were put in place to make best use of the spaces vacated. Businesses will always adapt and evolve to the challenges they face, and the current situation is no exception.
There is almost daily talk about whether or not people go back into the office environment like we always used to, and some people want a return to the hustle and bustle of a busy city centre, a return to the football and rugby clubs – a return to life.
For many there is a focus on working from home (which I believe really isn’t the utopia some people think it is), while others are chomping at the bit for a return to seeing colleagues and clients face to face.
We talk to thousands of client businesses across all sectors, not just here in Leicestershire, but across the UK, EU, EMEA, the US and elsewhere.
To be honest, I am hearing mixed messages about what will happen next. While there is definitely a will to get going again at full speed, there is still a degree of uncertainty for others.
If you think about offices for example, I think it’s going to be led by the sector. In fields such as finance and legal, there’s been a fair amount of home working because agile technology and communications have enabled this. Additionally, many IT and software professionals are also adept at working in isolation.
But, when you look at manufacturing and engineering, a lot of shop-floor people have been working throughout. And those businesses are telling us that they need the support infrastructure and office people around them.
I think people need the social interaction, the social buzz of life, whether that’s in a restaurant in Leicester city centre, shopping in Highcross, at the rugby match at Welford Road or enjoying the parks and open spaces.
So, will there be a new normal? From what we hear, there’s a real mixed bag of opinions, but things will shake out. It is clear though, while the business landscape has changed, it is always the companies that think ahead and get the right people in place, whether they are the strategic thinkers or the hands-on ‘doers’, that go on to survive and thrive.