Five reasons to feel optimistic about the future for businesses

Rich Adams, Business Engagement Manager at the University of Plymouth and Director of Devon and Plymouth Chamber, shares five reasons why he feels positive about the future for the region’s businesses.

Many business owners and employees are, understandably, fearful about what the future holds. While I would not in any way want to undermine that very real worry and concern, I do think there are things the business community can learn from the lockdown and reasons to feel optimistic about the future. In fact, I would go as far as to say that optimism is now the must-have commodity in business.

Here are five key things we have learned from this very difficult situation.

1. We’ve become better employers

The concept of a work-life balance has, through necessity, moved from being a cliché to a reality. The lockdown has proved that home working suits many businesses and employees and it is likely that much of it will continue. This could be great news for working parents and may create a more diverse workface by opening up opportunities to new talent and those with family commitments.

Employees who are no longer enduring an exhausting commute, or the stress of managing family life alongside a 9-to-5 day in the office, are likely to be happier. And a happier workforce is a more productive workforce. Can we at last start to close the productivity gap?

People will become more loyal to the employer that has stood by them and supported them to balance work with home commitments during the crisis. The barriers between home and work life have been softened as we have seen a glimpse into the real human elements of people’s home lives, making work relationships richer and loyalty stronger.

2. We can develop more efficient work spaces

Twitter, Google and Facebook have announced that their staff can work from home for the long-term. With many workplaces operating with no or minimal employees on site, businesses are assessing whether or not they really need large offices. If collaboration can happen virtually with anyone, anywhere, the purpose of the office has changed.

Businesses can now decide whether they can operate from satellite locations or perhaps a smaller office in a more convenient location, rather than a huge central hub. This could result in significant cost savings.

3. Businesses can be greener

Businesses have been forced to take stock of all their outgoings. With smaller and more efficient workspaces and less travel, businesses can seriously reduce their carbon footprint.

In addition to fewer people commuting, we could see a significant reduction in the number of miles we all clock up in travelling to meetings and events. We have been forced to engage properly with video conferencing and, with some practice, have discovered it can often work as well as a face-to face meeting.

4. We’re diversifying and innovating

From the NSPCC running online quizzes to raise funds while their shops are closed, to breweries manufacturing hand sanitiser and a University of Plymouth engineer designing recyclable face shields for essential staff, we are seeing some inspiring examples of diversification.

Companies have adapted and evolved, not simply because ‘necessity is the mother of invention’, but because they have had the time and space to think, reflect and ultimately create solutions. I believe the benefits of providing time to think creatively could become the business-as-usual approach for some. At the University of Plymouth, I work with many businesses seeking to innovate, and I anticipate research and development being very much back in vogue.

5. We’ve become more connected

One solution to cash flow issues is to collaborate and become more than a sum of your parts. This could mean joint purchases, research and development, training, and much more. Collaboration can drive down unit costs, open you up to new ideas and ways of working, and ultimately expand your markets.

The use of technology in our working lives has just gone through the biggest proof of concept test. Communicating through Zoom, Skype, Teams, Facetime, Messenger chat and WhatsApp have become the norm. However, people remain our biggest asset and having creative, brilliant minds in

your business that can overcome the challenges and create a culture of optimism will become the must-have commodity. Interestingly, given that we are practising social distancing, we are probably talking more and emailing less. Surely that has to be a good thing?!

Ultimately, as bad as it feels right now, people still need to put food on the table so businesses will continue to trade. There are positives that come from this and I firmly believe we can be better businesses in the future.