The western world is beginning to contemplate its wake-up from economic hibernation with formal (and in some cases less formal) relaxation of lock-down regimes being signalled by governments and businesses itching to start revving the engine.
But how will the workers – and the consumers – respond when the shutters are lifted and the cobwebs on the desks wiped away?
Not well appears to be the message from a survey of 28,000 people in 14 countries by Ipsos, carried out last week. It suggests that almost three quarter of adults in the UK will be nervous about going out – even if businesses are allowed to reopen and travel resumes.
From Canada to India and Spain to Japan the results consistently show more than two thirds – and as many as 78% feel the same way. It’s only in Italy and Germany – ironically countries with very different COVID experiences – that under half (49% and 44% respectively) of the population share this view.
All this suggests that it is not going to be straightforward either getting workers back behind their desks or consumers out into the high street and restaurants – even when they do reopen.
It’s already clear that reopening is not simply a case of unlocking the door and switching on the lights. Reorganising the work environment – to allow social distancing; helping people avoid crowded public transport networks (a particular challenge in London) and; enabling customers to safely interact, are all things which many businesses are already planning for.
But all of these measures will fail if staff, customers and suppliers don’t have confidence in them. Like any campaign that looks to change perceptions on the scale that will be necessary here, it’s essential to start engaging with stakeholders at an early stage. You may have seen this morning that Marks & Spencer set out the challenges they will face as a retailer – demonstrating to staff and customers that, even if they don’t have all the answers yet, they are actively looking for safe solutions.
At this stage, simply demonstrating that you’re aware of the problem and consciously working out the solution will mean that when the time comes to go into more details, the solutions will be all the more credible. Like the school physics exam – this is a problem where you can score points by showing your working, even if the solution is not perfect on day one.
All the signs are that we have some time to go before many people will be back at work – or our experience as customers and consumers will return to normal. Given the size of the apparent hurdle to get the UK population out again that’s no bad thing, but we must use that time wisely and proactively.