There has been a lot of talk in the media around the “new normal” in essence that our society is changed forever, because of the way lockdown has forced us to live and work over the last few months and that those new arrangements are here to stay.
Whether it’s the world of retail going almost completely online and the end of the high street or every office worker working from home and the end of the office, there seems to be a Nostradamus on every corner prophesizing the end of one thing or another.
At the moment it’s way too early to tell what a ‘new normal’ will look like, but it is useful as businesses for us to explore some of the changes in recent months and see if we can improve our businesses and our society through retaining some of the positives. So, let’s focus on the two most prominent examples, the shift to online shopping and people working from home en masse.
The ONS has indeed reported a big shift to online shopping, this is true. In May 2020 the online share of retail spending jumped to 33.4%, the highest on record and from a 2019 figure of 19%. However, a cautionary note here, these increases in online shopping occur in a much-reduced retail market overall (in May it remained 14% down on pre-pandemic levels).
The likelihood of online staying at this increased level, is probably pretty low though the convenience of online food shopping, will certainly have ‘snared’ a few new customers and converted them. People still like the experience of shopping matched with the social aspects of meeting friends and grabbing a coffee or a spot of lunch. That may in the long run, be re-enforced by the isolation we have all felt during Covid. Similarly, the community bonds forged between local businesses and residents during lockdown, may well mean more support not less for local shops long term.
Moving on to remote working or working from home, well ONS again provide some context here with a massive 49% of workers reported working from home at some point in the seven days to 14 June. Over the last 3 months pretty much everyone that usually works in an office environment has become used to Zoom calls and Microsoft Teams meetings being major parts of their working days.
So when lockdown is fully lifted will we revert to our old habits of offices and commuting? I think here, there may well be long term change as businesses and public sector organisations have proved they can function with large amounts of staff working remotely. This will have positive effects on transport congestion, decarbonisation, air pollution and quality of life (as long as we can maintain work / life seperation at home) and business productivity.
The only real negatives on this will be felt in the commercial property sector with less demand for large offices now and in the future and greater demand for smaller offices or shared workspaces. It’s a pretty nimble sector though and will flex accordingly.
In the final analysis whatever the true ‘new normal’ ends up being in 12 months time, we just need to keep the ‘good stuff’ that has resulted from lockdown, and not just return to the way things were because it feels comfortable and familiar, even if that is something we all crave right now.