Embracing the new normal: how businesses are transforming the way they operate during the pandemic

The new normal. It’s a phrase that we are using so much, as we adapt to the challenges that the global pandemic has brought to the way we live and work, that it’s already becoming a cliché.

Our working life has changed beyond recognition since March, when emergency measures forced office doors to shut and made us retreat to bedrooms, sofas and dining room tables to run our businesses.

The new normal for day-to-day office life now sees us hold meetings via Zoom, groomed from the waist up, while our jeans or shorts are out of vision. It sees us leading pitches professionally while worried about the intrusion of a noisy child, pet, partner or housemate. And it sees us becoming suddenly very conscious of what our bookshelf says about us – #bookcasecredibility anyone?

As we embrace working from home, it comes as little surprise that a recent Ofcom report, Online Nation, shows that the average Briton now spends a quarter of their waking day online. Indeed, at the height of lockdown, the report showed that we were spending an average of four hours and two minutes online per day – up from three hours 29 minutes in September last year.

And this translates into our use of video platforms, too, which has doubled from 35% of online adults using video calls at least weekly in the 12 months to February 2020 to 71% in May 2020. Meanwhile, Zoom, as a platform, has grown exponentially in just four months from 659,000 adult internet users in January 2020 to an almost ubiquitous 13 million in April 2020.

Let’s be clear. This pandemic is inflicting extreme tragedy on families up and down the country as they lose loved ones; it is scarring the economy in ways not seen for decades, as we confront the worst global recession since World War II; it is having a huge impact on the health of the nation as critical diagnosis and treatments are delayed.  However, whether we like it or not, it is also forcing us to press the reset button and re-evaluate and re-examine how we live and work. And from that, can come some silver linings.

In a business context, it is driving organisations to adapt and innovate, thinking creatively to unlock new markets and new potential – often at breakneck speed.

According to the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB)’s New Horizon report, 16 per cent of small businesses developed a new or increased their online presence; 10 per cent diversified into producing new services and six per cent diversified into producing new products and goods during the coronavirus lockdown.

And these stats are borne out by real life examples. Across the country, there are amazing instances of small businesses showing a gritty resilience to survive and thrive in the face of adversity. From distilleries such as Hensol Castle in the Vale of Glamorgan, who paused gin production in favour of making hand sanitisers through to independent bakeries, such as Pettigrew Bakeries in Cardiff, who embraced a digital presence and started to deliver their home-made goodies for the first time.

And it’s no different at Freshwater, where the postponement or cancellation of all of our events and conferences fast-tracked our decision to invest in new technology, enabling us to roll them out completely online.

The point is that before lockdown, many businesses were probably thinking about making changes to their services, diversifying their product offering, adapting their operating model or embracing digital and new technologies. However, the pandemic has forced many of us to implement huge changes in a matter of weeks which, under normal circumstances, might have taken months, or even years.

Business as usual is a phrase that was once used, but those days are over. There’s a different phrase in town – the new normal – and it’s time to embrace it and all it has to offer.

This article was written by our Chief Executive, Angharad Neagle, and appeared in the Western Mail newspaper on 10 August 2020.