Whoa – what just happened?

I promised some time ago I’d be back with some blog posts. Well here I am. But not quite in the circumstances I, or anyone else, was expecting.

2020 is just over three months old. I lost my mum to Lewy Bodies Dementia in February and my Aunt, her sister, five weeks later. Hardly a positive start. But on a positive note I managed to ski in Whistler Canada in the first week of January, started lecturing part time at Nottingham Trent University on the Real Estate course and squeezed a trip to Los Angeles in last month (just in time).

And then Covid19 appears.

It’s been very hard to see businesses effectively closed down virtually overnight. Staff furloughed (we didn’t know what that meant a month ago). Pay cuts and redundancies were inevitable – and we are at the beginning of a journey which could take months to get back to any sort of normality.

There have been lots of questions about the property market. No one really knows how this will pan out. We remember from the 2008 financial crash that it took a long time to recover – probably 5 years.

This time may be different. I am not sure we will ever be the same again. This could well be a Malcolm Gladwell tipping point. Our High Streets were already in terminal decline. Offices were bloated and (in some areas) hideously expensive; most Core Cities had a shortage of good quality space courtesy of the last downturn. Manufacturing had taken a pounding over decades.

It would be easy to beat ourselves up and bury our heads, but this isn’t normally a good business plan. I was reminded in the week of a 1963 quote from Leon Megginson,

“It is not the most intellectual of the species that survives; it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself.”

It is time for us to adapt – and we have started to do so.

Our offices are closed – we are working from home – remotely and with agility. In reality will we want to go back to that office environment? We need offices for socialising (remember that?) and for meetings (the sort where you don’t try to follow 12 people on screen). We have some administrative functions that may need ‘files’ – although they have a limited life now. If this remote working was an experiment for the few before it is not now. Offices can change shape to reflect this new way; hubs for human interaction, coffee, food, get-togethers, meetings (if you must).

The days of clocking in and being measured on your ‘input’ were numbered anyway. Outputs aren’t much help either. But ‘outcomes’ – now there’s a thought. Get paid for what you achieve… not for being there longer than the boss!

Then there’s the High Street. The dying high street. Amazon may have save us in the short term with their deliveries to the doorstep, but we do still enjoy ‘shopping’ as a leisure activity. And it may be that this is moment when we all realise that the local shop is about to have its day again. We have been walking to the shops. Some people have been sensible and not bought 6 packs of 24 toilet rolls (what was that about?). The best places to shop in my view have always been the surprise finds, the little lanes, the quirky stores. The local businesses built on talent by creative clever folks. Those who see an opportunity.

May be this is the moment the High Street returns to being just that, a place to go, to meet, to chat, to browse, to buy essential and occasional gifts of treats. A simple pleasure again? It used to be.

We must also face the fact that shipping stuff (products, viruses et al) across the world might also be curtailed. Maybe there will be a return to locally produced goods and so our manufacturing (we are good making stuff) will thrive again. I am less optimistic on this as I am unsure we are prepared to pay the price.

But my real thought is that we should be positive. Benjamin Franklin said that “Out of adversity comes opportunity“. It is for us to grasp this opportunity and make the world work again. At the moment we are in ‘survival mode’ – rightly. But this period will end and we need to adapt.

All we need is ideas. And someone else once said “Sometimes I believe in as many as six impossible things before breakfast!“.

Ideas on a postcard…


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