Tuesday, 12 May 2020

What will change permanently when life returns to normal

Time to dust off the crystal ball, slap on the showbiz make up and go all Mystic Meg.  I was giving some thought to what will change permanently as a result of covid19 and what will return to normal pretty quickly. I was giving this some thought as when our business reopens, we need to be able to adapt. So I thought I'd make two lists. The first is things that I think will change forever and things I think will bounce back.

Six things that will change.

1. Offices. Many large firms, especially in Londons finance business, have been run by people working from home since March. When I used to work as an IT consultant, I was constantly having to fly to places such as Edinburgh and even India for meetings. I'd trudge into town every day and 'working from home' was a rare privilege, scowled on by many as an excuse to skive. In fact I did far more work, as there were no distractions. I'd start earlier and work later and focus on getting things done. Technology meant I could attend meetings via conference calls, so apart from job interviews and workshops, it was rare that I actually needed to be in the office. The culture was that we had to go in, so that was what we did. To be honest, I didn't mind, I liked working in London, but more so we could go for a pint after work than because it was a sensible way to work. Many firms will have noticed that they can save a fortune by ditching offices and abandoning the culture of flying around the country for meetings. Business is about making money, so once firms twig that there is a big saving to be had by ditching the office, and possibly a windfall by selling the property, I expect the old style office to be a thing of the past.

2. Shopping Centres. Our shopping patterns have changed beyond recognition. Local shops have been thriving. Online retailers have been raking it in. But what about our already beleaguered shopping centres? We have all had a crash course in 21st century shopping. It seems to me that the lockdown has sped up a process that has been happening for a few years now. I suspect that the traditional shopping centre, such as Brent Cross is in big trouble. Unless they can figure out a way to reinvent themselves, I suspect that they will become the modern equivalent of Stonehenge. I expect the local High street to see a major resurgence. That will be no bad thing.

3. The Rush Hour. This has never been a pleasant experience. Now it means possible death, we have finally woken up to the fact that there are better ways to travel. When I worked in town, I'd either travel very early or very late, depending on whether I was meeting anyone for a beer. I think that there will be a general trend, fuelled by far fewer people working in offices, towards missing the crush. This will have a big knock on effect on organisations like TFL. Their budgets are already under stress. If people spread their journeys out more evenly, they'd need less staff and less trains. I suspect that in ten years, we will see this period as the time when we changed our commuting patterns for good.

4. Fast food joints. Everyone has reconnected with cooking and good food. When the likes of McDonalds and Burger King shut their doors, many of us decided that we'd cook for ourselves. The likes of M&S have done well with their ranges of tasty ready meals and dine in for a tenner offers. many have woken up to the fact that the factory production line burger isn't the tastiest snack on the market. We've broken the habit and it would be no surprise to me if the habit doesn't come back.

5. Professional Dog walking. I saw a friend yesterday who runs a very successful dog minding service in Mill Hill. She had two small dogs with her. Before the Lockdown, she'd have a couple of helpers and maybe 12 dogs. She was telling me that she doesn't expect business to ever be the same. People have reconnected with their dogs, made more informal agreements and generally realised that they can find other ways to keep their pooches happy. Many are working from home and so don't need a service. Of course some will return to work, but she told me she fears that it won't be the same and that for those who run it as a business, it will be a real struggle.

6. Luxury flats. What is the point of paying a million quid for a luxury flat, if you are stuck in it, like a prison, for months on end. I think that this will have made many of us wake up top the fact that gardens, communal spaces and a bit of outside space are a premium. I think a lot of developers will have to drastically reimagine their plans, or they will have a lot of expensive, unsellable flats on their hands. People will remember this when they move.

And five things that will bounce back

1. Hairdressers. With everyone looking like Robinson Crusoe, I expect barbers and hairdressers to have queues around the block. This is near the top of things we miss.

2. Pubs and clubs. Many have struggled, many will have closed, those who have just about been hanging on. But those that come through, I think will bounce back with a vengeance. I think those of us who like pubs will have realised just how much we like them. It is not about the alcohol, it is about the social interaction. I think that in five years time, we will see this as a real tipping point in the fortunes of pub. Those that survive will be the well run ones. This will lead to a boom over time, as people recognise that a well run pub is a great business. With many offices being repurposed as housing, I suspect that the pressure will be off pubs as prime real estate. Big blocks with no space will no longer seem like a guarantee to print money.

3. The Music scene. We've all been cooped up. Those of us who live for music are desperate to both watch and play it. If you give creative people time, they create. I expect 2021 to be a classic year for music. It won't happen straight away, we'll have to get back in the groove, but once the Lockdown is lifted, we will be itching to play.

4. Small shops. Both Mill Hill Wines and Gerards Butchers in Mill Hill have been doing great business during the lockdown. People have reconnected with their local shops. They realise that there is quality to be had. Once people realise why you pay more for good produce, they will stick with it.

5. The fitness industry. When we come out of this, we will not only be unkempt, we'll be flabby. I suspect that gyms and personal trainers will do business like never before. Although there is a booming industry in on line classes, I suspect that once people can get back to a proper environment, they will be delighted.

What do you think will be the winners and losers?

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