The Impact of Covid-19 on UK Businesses
A huge proportion of employees in 2020 stopped going to the office each morning, instead working from their own home. According to data published by the Office for National Statistics some 4m UK employees are regularly working from home during the pandemic, with a further 4.7m working from home for some of the time.
What is striking about this situation is that many employees are now juggling childcare responsibilities with a home-based job. Employees without children may have other family commitments, or conversely may be isolated at home due to social distancing requirements.
While many organisations were already on a path to adopting more flexible working, the pace of change has been brutal, says Maria Jackson, director of marketing at Ingram Micro. “I think the broad-brush strokes of the new normal were already on the wall, in terms of working from home and flexible policies. What the pandemic has done, though, is push through years of transformation in a matter of weeks.”
I think the broad-brush strokes of the new normal were already on the wall, in terms of working from home and flexible policies. What the pandemic has done, though, is push through years of transformation in a matter of weeks.
In some cases, remote working has driven innovation and better relationships between colleagues, and customers. “The professional wall comes down when you’re seeing someone in their front room, children running around, their partner in the background, making a cup of coffee,” says Vaidyan. “What we found after a month or so of this was that we had quite a deep connection with customers and partners, because we’re all in the same boat.”
At Ingram Micro, the marketing team has formed a stronger camaraderie, agrees Jackson, with the marketing team working to bring new ideas to market. “If you look at the 2008 crisis, those creative, industry-changing phenomena that came out of it like Airbnb and Netflix. We haven’t come up with that yet, but there is a lot of energy about what we can do that is different.”
This rapid change has obvious implications for employee wellbeing, as on the one hand employees may feel stressed, overloaded, isolated or overworked, on the other hand liberated and less stressed as there is no commute.
Some employees working remotely found themselves working longer hours, struggling to disconnect from their workload. Others found it challenging to focus on their work while also handling increased family commitments and home schooling for children. Then there are worries about the broader economy, job losses and furlough arrangements.
“The biggest change for me has been seeing how everyone was impacted in different ways,” says David Llewellyn, marketing director EMEA at AppsFlyer. “I don’t think we’re even at the start of understanding the impact on people’s wellbeing.”
Alongside the impact on people, companies are missing out on the benefits of office-based collaboration. At software giant SAP, the team is missing out on informal meetings and impromptu conversations, says Jacob Vaidyan, the company’s head of strategic industries for Industry & Value Advisory, UK and Ireland. “It’s when you just meet somebody and initiate a conversation and ideas get formed. You miss that sort of unplugged moment when people are working from home,” he says.
Of course, for many organisations, the pandemic has impacted demand. At Absen, an LED display specialist, live events make up a significant part of our business, says Alex Couzins, head of brand and marketing, Europe. “Due to the cancellation of events and festivals, we have seen demand for our screens fall – and we don’t see that getting back to normal until 2021 or until government restrictions are lifted and public confidence returns.”
While business is undeniably tough for the live events industry, Couzins sees the pandemic as an opportunity to drive innovation. Many of Absen’s customers have pivoted from big physical events to hybrid virtual events. “Many production companies are building virtual studios using our screens to create big digital backdrops to deliver presentations and performances that can be livestreamed to anywhere in the world,” Couzins says. “It looks very professional and we’re seeing some interesting applications of our products during this time.”