On Monday 15th June, non-essential shops and many other businesses in the UK are free to open their doors for the first time in three months. This is the surest sign yet that lockdown is easing, but we are far from normality (whatever that now means).
Many of these shops and businesses are showing great ingenuity in terms of how they have adapted, something I will return to later.
Conditions remain tough for most businesses. Those lucky enough to have continued operations are likely to be employing various technologies such as Teams, Zoom, etc. to support remote working.
A recent article in Harvard Business Review (HBR) talks about a new phenomenon, ‘Zoom Fatigue’.
Essentially, HBR cites that the intensity of concentrating on a screen, instead of physical meetings, looking and listening for nuances, clues, and information is far more demanding than usual. Combine this with going from virtual meeting to meeting, rather than ad-hoc conversations over a coffee, and you have a recipe for considerable human stress.
Planning for the future
With this in mind, we all have a responsibility to plan for the future and find that right balance, which is sustainable, profitable and safe. In the short term, we will survive by taking regular breaks, keeping meetings to the point, and occasionally switching to the phone.
In the longer term, we are all used to weighing up and balancing commercial risk with commercial cost. But now, more than ever, we need to consider personal risk versus personal cost.
As I said earlier, the opening presents a critical moment for many businesses. It is the time when many will survive – or thrive, or even fail. As they reopen, business leaders will need to quickly recover profit while balancing those human needs. There are many considerations which range from issuing PPE to staff, providing safety screens and social distancing; to the innovative use of technology provided by security businesses such as ours, which can deliver additional value beyond security.
Unfortunately, as we see in the news, some have come down firmly on the side of profit, not people, as shown by the Birmingham man arrested this week for selling fake virus test kits on the dark web. Others are mis-selling technology that could indeed make the return to work possible and safer, but only in concert with other technologies, correctly specified, correctly installed and correctly maintained.
Doing the right thing
This is why it’s vital that businesses manage the return to normality with integrity and purpose. For many industries, this will be particularly difficult – perhaps nowhere more than in the hospitality sector.
The British Beer and Pub Association estimates that implementing a two-metre social distancing policy will mean only a third of the UK’s 67,000 pubs can open, with up to two thirds at risk of failure. At a reduced distance of one metre – something the association is campaigning for – at least two-thirds of pubs could open. Bear in mind that this is a £23bn industry that employs 90,000 people and is currently burning through £100m a month!
As the All Party Parliamentary Group for Hospitality and Tourism noted in a recent report, “For businesses, it is imperative to get the reopening process right.” John Lewis is a good example of adaptation, integrity, purpose and planning to ensure its stores are safe for customers when they reopen today. Plexiglas screens surround checkouts, social-distancing reminders are placed every few metres and fitting rooms closed. Make-up demonstrations are not permitted, while pop-socks allow customers to try on shoes safely. They even provide disposable covers for customers who wish to try beds and pillows.
As our recovery evolves, the rules will change, the measures will change, and we will all need to keep up. For example, in a restaurant or pub situation, adaptive learning technologies such as Artificial Intelligence within video analytics could, for instance, recognise the difference between a family group sat in close proximity at a table, and disparate individuals standing too close, for too long.
A new world
It’s true that, while much retail activity has moved online over the past few months, people still want to test, touch and feel items such as pillows in John Lewis. And while those Zoom meetings have saved us during the pandemic and offer potential efficiency and travel savings in the future, they can also be tiring and will never 100% replace physical meetings or phone calls.
I have no doubt the shift in the adoption of technology will continue to increase. The last few months have seen an acceleration from the physical to the online or virtual, but going forward, we will need to balance these two worlds carefully. Whether you are a security business, a commercial business, retailer, pub owner, or other organisation, finding new innovative ways to grow ethically, productively, safely and efficiently will be essential to sustainable profit.
In light of this, when we look at answering security risk and threats, we must consider what value beyond security we can provide. How do we integrate and combine with other technology to deliver insight which helps improve their business, reduces their risks, and improves productivity in a changing world? We need to listen more intently to understand customer challenges and widen our scope.