Social Distancing

There is light at the end of this long lockdown tunnel but for many businesses in the UK it could just be the start of another chapter of restrictions and ultimately the demise of many.

Whilst large numbers of those of us in business will be delighted at the return to some sense of normality, the cold truth is that this will be nothing close to how life was before.

 

Is 2 metres of social distancing too much?

One of the biggest problems those in business face is that, as of early June 2020, the UK government has been out of the kilter with the rest of the world in recommending the minimum distance we should all try keep between each other. Countries such as France, Denmark, China and Singapore are following a one-metre restriction and others such as Germany, Italy, Portugal, Belgium and Australia following a 1.5-metre rule. Only Canada, Spain and the UK go as far as the 2 metre mark.

It might not seem like such a big deal, 1 metre, 2 metre or something in between, but it is and it’s the sort of fine line that needs urgently addressed to stop thousands of businesses going under.

 

Losses to come in the hospitality sector

For some business sectors the damage that enforcing a 2 metre rule will bring is quite obvious, for bars and restaurants it will be catastrophic. For many that were already struggling in the sector it will be a death knell, having suffered 3 months of forced closure to then be allowed to open with a maximum capacity of 25% to 30% whilst still expected to pay rent, staff, tax and all the other overheads, it’s pretty clear what’s going to happen to many.

Customers in the UK spend £40bn in restaurants annually which also keeps close to a million employees in jobs.

Whilst lots of restaurants and pubs have survived the lockdown with the furlough scheme support, this will count for nothing if they are not able to start trading at some degree of profit. The fear for many in the hospitality sector is that the furlough scheme will simply have kicked the can down the road by 3 or 4 months if further help is not given, the jobs saved back in March and April will still be lost.

 

The knock-on effect of social distancing on public transport

Whilst car sharing is actively discouraged in England and Wales it is currently against the rules in Scotland and Northern Ireland. As a result many commuters will need to find alternative ways to get into work.

In normal circumstances they would rely on public transport but with 2 metres of social distancing we could see capacity on bus and rail transport slashed by up to 90% as stated by the Secretary for Transport, Grant Shapps, in early May 2020.

At our office in Edinburgh, some of our operators have already experienced the difficulty reduced capacity in public transport brings. We have operators who are unable to work remotely and are desperate to get back to work, however, due to lack of bus service and the current ban on car sharing in Scotland, they are stuck.

 

Reduced capacity in offices

As with the hospitality sector, office workers will see their numbers drop due to social distancing. Office floors that were once able to accommodate a hundred staff will again see these numbers drop by 60% to 80%.

At Connect we are very lucky to have ample floor space, even with a 2 metre social distancing rule in place. We have a mix of remote working for staff that are able to, and in-office working for operators looking after our many key-worker clients, especially those that require a more extensive call handling service which is not achievable remotely.

However, there are many office based businesses in the UK that do not have the luxuries of space and remote working that we have at Connect and will truly struggle if the 2 metre rule stays.

 

It’s not all doom and gloom

Whilst it’s very easy to focus on all the negatives that the lockdown and social distancing has brought, there have also been some positives. Perhaps the largest is that of remote working: for years many businesses have stuck by the rule that employees must be in the office, remote working was simply not possible. It’s amazing how quickly the impossible changed to achievable.

Is this the new norm? Who knows but as Disraeli said “there is no education like adversity”.

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