What will the ‘new normal’ be for business post-lockdown?

26th June 2020

As the gradual easing of the lockdown continues, HW Interim MD John Wakeford asks what the ‘new normal’ will be for businesses.

After more than three months away from the office, many of us are becoming accustomed to managing our businesses remotely.

With social distancing and recommended home working (for those who can) likely to continue for some time, I wonder if we will ever go back fully to the pre-lockdown ways of working?

I can’t say I am missing being away from home several nights a week, commuting thousands of miles every month, the twice daily rush hour or even wearing a suit on these hot summer days.

And now we have a taste for this new work/life balance, which has proved that many of us can conduct much of our business online by taking advantage of latest technology, you have to ask why would we just return to the daily grind?

I’m not suggesting we’ll all just close down our costly offices and homework hereafter obviously; there is no substitute for pressing the flesh and we are social animals after all.

Daily catch up calls and twice weekly Teams calls with our staff are becoming the norm, with a glass of wine at the ready for the more relaxed Friday night social dial-in. We are also planning a midsummer outdoor picnic for a proper catch up with the full team.

One thing the lockdown has proven, which those of us in executive search and interim have taken advantage of for over a decade now, is that the technology is there to do business across the globe wherever you are.

As we said in an earlier blog in March, less time travelling would mean more time to support clients facing yet more upheaval. And so it has turned out. Whilst it is undoubtedly a tough market, things are starting to pick up and we have had a very busy month.

Private equity backed businesses and the financial services and retail sectors are experiencing early recovery. We are seeing particular demand for business transformation, finance and treasury experience as companies restructure and upskill.

The candidate market is buzzing, with a lot of good people available – hugely experienced and talented executives who have either been made redundant from larger firms or as interims are currently without a contract.

To use a footballing analogy, we have seen the likes of Leicester and Wolves take advantage of the woes of Arsenal and Tottenham and replace them in the top six in the Premier League. What is stopping a business that didn’t exist ten years ago become a market leader?

Technology is enabling companies to grow faster than ever; there are huge opportunities for medium sized firms, and those which are prepared to be flexible and innovative will flourish.

Global leaders that have nailed the multi-channel approach like Amazon, and those which have grasped the nettle during lockdown like Zoom, Just Eat and Netflix – and in the UK, Boohoo and Laithwaite’s Wines – are growing market share.

Opportunities are also there for the headhunter who works hard. This is a market that will be led by relationships with people you know and trust.

Talking to clients and candidates every day, I am getting more and more optimistic that we are turning a corner after an unprecedented second quarter which saw UK GDP drop a record 20 per cent in April alone.

But it is the businesses which adapt best to the post-Covid world, where consumers more than ever now expect to be able to do anything they want on a mobile phone and employees at all levels demand more flexible working, which will emerge strongest.

John Wakeford is MD of HW Interim. Contact him at johnw@hwglobalpartner.com or on +44 (0) 113 243 2004.