Lockdown is easing, so why is Yorkshire business so anxious? - Rashmi Dube

The tension is high, as is anxiety. Businesses are not back in full swing.

Hospitality is opening fully much to the sector’s relief as England doesn’t really cater for al fresco dining, but we gave it our best shot, sitting outside in six or seven layers of clothing getting wet as our food got cold simply to be able to be in other people’s company.

I, like many others, believed (dare I say clung onto) that once we opened up, we would be like the roaring 1920s – bring out those glad rags, let the champagne flow and let the shenanigans commence. To a certain degree they did. Restaurant bookings took off and if you were slow at the start line, you simply had to take what was left.

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But there is an unease in the air with many, which runs deep into anxiety and fear of the virus (particularly its new variants), and a compound of emotions we have experienced and suppressed during both lockdowns, not forgetting that some had to shield/isolate for long periods of time. So, as we tread cautiously into returning to our working lives, business will have to remember that the person who was sent home during the first lockdown in March 2020 may not be the same person returning.

Lockdown is easing so why are people nervous?

Equally, the same will apply to the directors of the organisation.

A year is a long time, and during this time we all developed coping strategies. We have got accustomed to working remotely and limited contact in a physical space with other humans.

What this means is the ‘normal’ emotional checks and responses we had pre-pandemic with others, particular in a working environment, may be on a short fuse. The key is to give yourself and others time to adjust.

Psychodynamic counsellor Erica Spencer Green says of the Government’s roadmap to recovery: “You don’t have to go at this pace if it doesn’t suit you, you can slow things down.”

She goes on to say: “Our physical, emotional, and national defences have been severely tested over the last year with the coronavirus, so we need to give ourselves time to recover and rebuild confidence in all of these areas.”

This is possibly more poignant given we have just had mental health awareness week. Managing people and their return to the office in whatever guise may be a moot point if the fears of inflation become real. The cauldron of business concerns are mounting as opposed to easing.

In addition to behaviour change, businesses are keeping their eyes wide open on the Indian variant, as well as the threat of a sharp rise in inflation in the coming months.

The Bank of England in the recent Monetary Policy Report accepted that inflation would rise above 2.5 per cent but believes that it will shortly thereafter return to the 2 per cent target.

Yet even just a threat of inflation can make the markets jittery, causing less investment and a likely rise in costs of raw materials. With this combination, what would be the best approach to take? Well, this all depends on the Indian variant of the virus.

No country is in a position to enter any further lockdowns. In order to protect us all we ought to come together to help India control the virus. But as a business, our concerns are more immediate and self-serving. Businesses need to stay on amber alert.

Base your plans and trajectory on your baseline for 2019. It will be absolutely vital to continue with the digital transformation and a reallocation of resources, particularly in light of potential inflation.

Leadership is critical at any time but in the present light, given our emotional and mental fragilities, we need to ensure that we do not look at each ‘item’ or sequences in silos, such as the workforce, the impact of the Indian variant on supply chains for instance, and finance due to inflation.

Frustration is running high on many fronts and as a nation, we are far from operating on any level of 2019 normality and that should be accepted as ok. Keep striding forward with a clear connected strategy on all fronts.