IT seems a very long time ago that any business conversation was not book-ended by qualifications concerning the impact of COVID-19. It all depends on this or that, the shape of the recovery, the timing of the recovery, second spikes, furlough withdrawal symptoms – the list of possible impact points on running a business makes Brexit negotiations simple by comparison.
Two recent developments have particularly intrigued me.
Firstly, we are all enjoying our final couple of mask-free shopping days. The compulsory wearing of masks in shops diktat is somewhat bizarre both in its timing and its ‘science’. I’ve spoken to a number of people who have said they’ll not be going back to shops until they can do so mask-free (OK, most will probably reluctantly don their face-covering) but it’s hardly a message in keeping with encouraging people back into town centres. For every person who might now shop because they feel more secure if everyone is wearing a mask, there will be two who will either be more fearful at the sight of everyone hidden behind a mask or who will simply, on a point of principal, refuse to do so.
Secondly, Boris and his merry band want people to stop working from home and hit the offices again – particularly in town and city centres. This is, apparently, mainly to ensure Sid’s Sandwich Bar, bereft of custom since lockdown, can continue earning a crust. Now whilst I have every sympathy with Sid, I do question the sense of encouraging people (who are working happily and productively from home) back to work with all the negatives this brings with it (traffic congestion, pollution, new-found and now lost again improved work-life balance) just to keep a few sandwich-bars going. Surely there is a case here for keeping the bigger picture firmly in focus and accepting the very sad inevitability of business casualties as we emerge from the biggest interruption to business life we’ve ever encountered?