We are a couple of weeks away from the Christmas recess where many will be looking forward to hopefully spending time with close family, rules permitting, and having a chance to reflect.
This was a year nobody expected. Even when we heard the first mutterings of Covid 19 I do not think the majority of us realised quite how serious it would be. The harsh reality of it has been numerous deaths, a serious impact on our economy and the devastation of several key industry sectors – travel, hospitality, retail and airlines, amongst many.
Business has responded in whatever way they can. New safety measures and work patterns; wholesale adoption of the furlough scheme to prevent a mass unemployment tsunami; a new work from home ethic we previously could never have imagined; and a healthy awareness of wellbeing in their staff.
This has been a long year. Thankfully nature gave us the best spring since records began which may have helped alleviate the dark clouds gathering. Industry kept going, with the key areas of food and drink maintaining production for the supply chain to ensure we could all access the important things we needed. New businesses emerged, often creating products to support the beleaguered NHS. Many organisations offered help to the frontline staff. There was a spirit of togetherness not seen since WW2 and a massive increase in shopping local.
How has this affected the employment market? LinkedIn, the global business network, saw an immediate decline in active opportunities from March, which levelled out in May, and started to rise again through to September where it is once again seeing a flattening of the curve. There has been a 230% rise in searches for remote working opportunities and a 20% increase in geographic diversity (remote working from another country). Digital skills are most in demand and a real focus has been seen to build diversity in teams. This is a trend which companies can ill afford to ignore. Your workforce is the lifeblood of your company and understanding their changing requirements is key to keeping them motivated, happy, and healthy.
So what does 2021 hold? From a business leadership perspective, a clear strategy for success within the confines of the current restrictions. And a second strategy for best practice once some form of normality returns (post vaccine). Communication is paramount. We have seen that with confused Government decisions and advice which have created anger and frustration. 2021 needs to be about ‘clear and simple’.
Industry needs to recognise that whilst this is a pandemic, much of the economy has kept going. This is not the banking crisis repeated. There is an appetite for investment and those companies who are planning positively for 2021 will reap the benefits. Livingston James advises on senior appointments and business structuring. We have not been busier in 10 years. Strong management, clear leadership and achievable goals are more important than ever.
And there will be challenges. Without getting political, the Biden victory will definitely add some pressure to the Brexit talks. There are many very clear challenges if we leave without a deal, not least to fresh food importers and exporters and haulage companies of all sizes (we import 40% of our food supplies, the majority from mainland Europe). Europe is equally aware of the importance of the UK market to many of its industries – automotive, consumer electronics, food & drink, agriculture, retail – the list goes on.
There is a new Government campaign about preparing for Brexit in 2021. The message is strong, albeit a little late with only a few weeks to go. Recent YouGov polls also show a significant swing towards a negative perception of Brexit in the majority of respondents – 49% against, 39% in favour – but it will happen so do not wait and watch, get prepared.
Global economists agree that we are heading towards the fourth industrial revolution. What is that? The definition from WhatIs.com is “the fourth industrial revolution is the current and developing environment in which disruptive technologies and trends such as the Internet of Things (IoT), robotics, virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI) are changing the way we live and work.” This is the future so ignore it at your peril.
We should approach 2021 with optimism. Several vaccines have been developed which look very positive and the pandemic should be brought under control; the economy will be stronger; new businesses will emerge; those industries devastated by Covid will return, probably in a different guise. We will all work in a different way – more efficiently and with more freedom – and enjoy healthy social time with friends and colleagues.
2020 is a year that will be remembered and discussed for many reasons, most of which are not particularly upbeat. Let’s make 2021 a year of positivity, business resilience, dynamic leadership and economic improvement.