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  • Lawrence Bailey

The changing face of businesses in lockdown land

Someone in my line of work once remarked that the trickiest thing about giving advice is the listening part.

Just to be clear, I don’t claim to run a counselling service. On the contrary, a piece of guidance I once offered was: “Look, if you must do this (bleep) stupid thing then don’t do it this (bleep) stupid way” – but I never said I'm big on empathy either.

All that said, it’s my experience that people in business are no different from anyone else in appreciating a good opportunity to vent, especially during this damn pandemic.

And thus I've found myself hearing a great deal of frustration over the shifting challenges that face smaller outfits in particular as local lockdowns bring fresh restrictions.

Adjustments needed to accommodate COVID regulations, now described as “reconfiguration” by the analysts, are a priority for traders. However, changing the way the business runs can be a tough call when the punters aren’t inclined to change with you.

One particular firm I know provides a service requiring close personal contact. That’s so far meant having to find a fair old outlay to make their premises safe prior to reopening. Thankfully though, it’s turned out to be a success and things have picked up nicely.

The downside is they're now experiencing the problem of a worrying number of customers who think it’s fine to wander around inside and in front of the place, blithely ignoring the two metre rule, and despite explicit warning signs.

Unrelenting council officials reckon it’s the owner’s responsibility to sort matters or get closed down. As a result, the firm is just about to revert back to an earlier appointments-only arrangement. The move will keep the business open for the present but the impact on throughput will hit viability.

It’s not all bad news though.

An associate of mine runs a graphics company with staff numbering in just about double figures. He managed to get half his team on furlough while the others are working remotely.

Last month, he decided to take the firm “virtual” and gave up the lease on his premises. The subsequent fall in outgoings, combined with various productivity hikes, makes him fairly sure he can retain the entire workforce when furlough ends.

Of course, the mix also includes the likes of a ‘contact’ who shared with me on a wink-wink basis that he only did three days of self-isolation when he got back from a holiday in Greece; and, according to him, that was only right ‘cos he’s got a business to run after all; and absolutely no-one he knows has got that crony-virus; and what’s more, face masks are a government hoax. I think I managed about 45 seconds before blurting, “Well you’re a dick then, aren’t you”.

To be honest, I’m not sure which of us was more taken aback by my response but it immediately became a competition thereafter as to who could get off the phone the quickest.

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that running a business is something to be taken seriously. Nowadays, a lot of people can be affected by how you conduct your affairs; and in ways we never previously imagined.

Struggling to make a living in lockdown land shouldn’t be incompatible with keeping each other safe. Equally, it’s worth remembering that an inflexible jobsworth approach to regulations by officialdom is unlikely to foster a recovery.

We have to strike a balance - and soon. That’s my advice, anyway.



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