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How well did the UK’s business scene react to the pandemic and how does the future look?

Written by Contributor, on 3rd Nov 2021. Posted in General

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From small family restaurants to large finance enterprises, the entire businesses sector has taken an indiscriminate blow from the pandemic. Radical shifts in demand, buying patterns, and ways of working, compliance with health and safety regulations, were just a few of the challenges that businesses had to face, and not all of them were successful in doing so. 

A 2020 survey conducted by the Central Statistics Office found that one in four Irish businesses had to either pause or cancel recruitment plans due to the pandemic, and a third of businesses had to let go of staff temporarily. Fast forward one year, and it seems that things are slowly headed towards recovery. New studies have found that, after the initial shock, businesses ultimately managed to adapt and even thrive. However, that doesn’t mean it’s business as usual. The pandemic had a major impact on the way businesses do things and, if leaders want to steer their companies towards a future that delivers growth and sustainability, they need to be in tune with innovative technologies and new employee expectations. 

Remote work came with a steep learning curve, but professionals ultimately adapted. 

One of the biggest challenges that businesses had to face in the beginning of the pandemic was the sudden switch to remote work. Some sectors, like IT, had an easier time with this because they had already embraced digital transformation or were in the middle of the transition when the pandemic happened. But, for most other businesses, where remote work was nothing more than an occasional perk, it was quite a steep learning curve. According to a recent study conducted by Novo Executive Search and Selection, 83% of UK executives said that lockdowns disrupted their way of working. Thus, 71% had to invest in new hardware to enable working from home, and 60% in software such as video conferencing or remote collaboration tools. 

UK Professionals Performed Well Once Adapted

However, once this initial challenge was overcome, most executives could work efficiently. In fact, only 9% of executives said that their efficiency was lowered by working from home. Moreover, 92% of UK executives were able to maintain business relationships. In the past year, most businesses have managed to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic, completed the digital transformation process, and either switched to remote work or implemented a hybrid work model. 

The biggest challenges for executives during the pandemic 

Maintaining the safety of employees was undoubtedly the biggest responsibility that executives had during the pandemic, but there were many other challenges to keep in mind, such as: 

• Being a reassuring presence for employees in a time of crisis whilst also trying to drive performance. Employees experienced a great deal of anxiety because of the pandemic, and they looked towards their leaders for reassurance. Executives had to provide comfort whilst trying to maintain results. 

• Addressing the concerns of employees and business partners in a time of uncertainty, when no clear answers existed. At times, this meant admitting that they did not have definite answers and maintaining honest and transparent communication. 

• Maintaining good business relationships without face-to-face interaction. Executives had to invest in video conferencing and remote collaboration tools and stay in touch with partners across all verticals. 

• Keeping the team productive, engaged, and aligned with the company’s values while working from home. Even though employees are no longer at the office, they still need to receive recognition, stay connected to their work, and communicate. Remote team building still matters, and, according to a Gallup study, 70% of employee engagement comes as a direct result of good leadership. 

Post-pandemic work is all about flexibility. 

Even though the worst of the pandemic is already behind us, its effects will stay with us for a long time. We might not see a packed meeting room for a while, and some changes in the way we work won’t go away anytime soon. The most relevant example is, without a doubt, remote work. For 75% of UK executives, remote work was rare prior to the pandemic. Now, it’s the other way around. It was a forceful change, that we can be sure of, but once businesses started using the right collaboration tools, they discovered that employees will not lose their productivity while working from home. Remote and hybrid work have become the norm, with some major enterprises opting for remote work indefinitely

Companies that do not give their employees this flexibility risk losing talent. 95% of executives said that hybrid work would improve business performance, and 93% that a company that works after a hybrid model is future-proof. Also, nearly two-thirds of executives said that they would consider changing roles if this allowed them more flexibility to work either from home or from the office. Another study from the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research also found that only 20% of employees want to return to the office full-time, even after the pandemic ends. The hybrid work model does seem to offer the best of both worlds: it allows workers to maintain a better work/life balance while avoiding the potential long-term drawbacks of working from home full time (loneliness, boredom, lack of engagement). 

Most UK executives feel optimistic about the future.

Although the outlook for the businesses was rather bleak at the beginning of the pandemic, things did eventually go back on track, and, as 2021 is coming to a close, UK executives seem to be mostly optimistic about the future. The UK's GDP is growing, and only 8% of executives feel that the next year will bring bad things for businesses. This goes to show that the UK's business segment showed resilience during the pandemic and, with the right tools, even a global crisis can become an opportunity for growth. It might not always be smooth sailing, but a visionary mindset and the ability to adapt can help overcome most obstacles. 

Image source https://unsplash.com/photos/R_W_9D-53lw 

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