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Word. Mark Knoff-Thomas on the post-Covid-19 world

Newmarket Business Association Chief Executive Mark Knoff-Thomas offers some insights into what the post-COVID-19 world might look like.

 

Technology has proven to be an extraordinary tool to help many businesses visually stay in touch with their teams, and customers throughout the lockdown. Despite adjusting to this new normal, many teams have experienced being physically apart, but paradoxically feeling closer together. Technology has truly been our salvation. Going forward, I’m going to be far more mindful to use technology solutions for meetings wherever possible.

I say “going forward” with some trepidation as this reality is something we still have to grapple with. Put simply, this pandemic is THE economic crisis of all crises in our lifetimes. As hard, and as confronting as it may be, no one knows for certain what a post-COVID-19 world will look like. The Government is being tested in every way and from every direction. To be fair, from a response and communications perspective, I would say they have done a reasonable job. The messaging is clear, frequent and mostly reassuring – we have a sense that there is a plan in place for the here and now. With startling speed, they have thrown a lifeline to businesses from various assistance packages/ wage subsidies, to current talks of changes to the Companies Act (to prevent businesses going into liquidation). I would really like to see some robust support for commercial rents – above and beyond the tinkering they have offered to date. All of this will go some way to keeping some business afloat, and people off the dole queue. But it won’t be enough. Unemployment is likely to hit double digits, and a slew of businesses will fail. Consequently, many organisations will need to do a comprehensive re-evaluation of their business model to navigate the difficult times ahead.

As our alert levels drop and commerce is freed up further, we’re anxiously looking ahead and asking – What next? What does recovery look like? How will families cope, and business actually survive? And, what will our world look like?

Only a crystal ball has the answers at the moment, but potentially, in the medium to longer term, commercial office leases could shift in favour of tenants, with some businesses looking to a more decentralised and virtual office model. Retailers who have already embraced the full ambit of omni-channel retailing should rebound very quickly. Those that haven’t – will need to get onto to it quick smart. Until a COVID-19 vaccine is found and distributed, bricks and mortar stores will likely have to maintain stricter health and safety requirements. We have seen new protocols implemented in Wuhan, China – and whilst I wouldn’t expect to see quite the Orwellian extent being introduced here, there will likely be new requirements of sanitisation or physical distancing measures that will remain in place. With this new world order, I hope all our banks get on board and offer merchants free contactless transactions for debit and credit cards.

In a nutshell, we will have our work cut out for us to rebuild our local businesses and economies. We will need to re-focus our business models and reinvigorate our clients and consumers; it is a massive reset – but also a unique opportunity. My gut feel is that because humans have traded goods and services for thousands of years – fundamentally, this isn’t going to change. It’s important for our own mental health that we don’t ‘overthink’ ourselves into oblivion. The economy will come right. It will probably look a bit different; we may do business a little differently, and we may not travel as far for a while, but it will come right and grow again. New advances in technology will continue to make life easier too – I’m hearing about many new exciting innovations in development.

Many of us will have had epiphanies during lockdown about what we will change and how things will be different. I hope that in the context of this environment, none of us lose the honesty and clarity of those insights. Here’s to a better world.

 

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