Undoubtedly 2020 was a year no one could predict. The global pandemic has impacted almost every element of life as we knew it, personally and professionally. Terms like ‘social distancing’ and ‘support bubbles’ were completely alien to us all this time last year yet have now become so commonplace it is hard to have a conversation without using one of them. For those with children of school age, learning to be a teacher overnight came with its own challenges – becoming a full-time teacher and juggling work commitments seemed nigh on impossible, a breaking point many business owners have had to become sympathetic to for the health and wellbeing of employees.
After the initial UK lockdown in March 2020 and a period of adjustment, talk turned to ‘the new normal’, with various assumptions made, largely regarding predictions about the future of working practices and working from home, at least in part in professions where it is possible, would be here to stay.
Back in September 2020, we published an article on Returning to the office vs working remotely based on the feedback of some of our clients in different sectors. The consensus was that a blended, flexible approach to work would be utilised by the majority, that meetings would go ahead in person where necessary, and if working from the office was required this would be done as safely as possible by rota and space available. At this time, it was looking promising that a phased approach was possible, and many companies indicated a return to business premises was on the cards throughout the last quarter of the year. There was a glimmer of hope that 2021 would be a fresh start as it seemed the pandemic was under control during late summer months.
A national sigh of relief could be heard when the news that the COVID-19 vaccine had been given the go ahead by the MHRA and would begin to be administered in the UK by the end of 2020 – finally, would this be the end to a year most would like to forget?
Unfortunately, that was not to be as the Health Secretary Matt Hancock said in October 2020, “things will get worse before they get better”. By winter much of the UK, and other countries, went back into localised lockdowns and we saw in 2021 in the third national lockdown of the pandemic.
So where are we now? The good news is that the way many companies and people do business in 2021 has had some positive impact – a more flexible approach to work, better care practices for employees, the ability to hire a more diverse team as working from home, and indeed anywhere in the world, becomes a norm. Technology and software have been fast-tracked in some areas, particularly in remote working with meeting and conference apps seeing a boom, as well as cyber security and ecommerce. Some businesses have been able to make savings on previously occupied premises and recycle these funds into employee welfare and systems to make work, collaboration, and connectivity easier.
One thing it is safe to say is that ‘the new normal’, ‘the next normal’, ‘the 2021 normal’ or any other ‘normal’ are likely to be far from the life we were used to before 2020, but perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.