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We need to talk about getting back to ‘normal’

Author : Gary Livingstone, Managing Director, LG Motion

20 July 2021

Fighting Covid-19 has been a long drawn out and bitter battle, but businesses need to arm themselves for the next stage, with open discussion about easing back to ‘normal’ conditions, says LG Motion’s Managing Director, Gary Livingstone.

The last 15 months have been truly extraordinary for anyone running a business. Covid-19 has resulted in a worldwide pandemic, millions of lives lost and changes to everyday lives for every strata of society, regardless of race, class and age.

The vaccination programme that is now underway offers a degree of hope that we will soon be able to see friends and family – indoors and outside – and start to return to ‘normal’ activities in the home and the workplace. 

There has been no doubt that the Government’s Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme has been a great support for many businesses in the UK. The furlough scheme has meant that companies have been able to retain a workforce without haemorrhaging cash in wages when there is no income from a business which has been forced to stand still or operate with a pared down workforce. It is, however, also the case that when an extension to the furlough scheme was announced, the manufacturing recovery was hit as businesses took full advantage to keep the cash regardless of economic or business conditions.

Open discussions

The pandemic has undoubtedly placed enormous strain on all staff in UK manufacturing businesses. The drop in the level of enquiries and decline in manufacturing activity must result in a long-term effect. Yet, while customers and business leaders in the manufacturing sector acknowledge the adverse impact of Covid on our businesses, no-one seems willing to talk about it in detail – to identify problems in the hope of finding solutions for them.

Sure, pharmaceutical and medical industries have ramped up production, but these production lines are in place of – not in addition to – those that were operating before March 2020. Companies have kept open during the various stages of lockdown, but with lower volumes of production. As with other industries (apart from perhaps energy and food) there has been a general trend of maintaining the business, not developing and growing it.

In extreme circumstances, every good business leader has to “pivot” and LG Motion is not unique in shifting things around on the shop floor to make sure we can cater for more stock and storage of equipment until installations are possible, ensuring our customers are able to maintain their order book.

Maintaining Vs developing 

Maintaining a business or industry is admirable, of course, but at what price? When will the reckoning begin? While UK industry has put its time and energy into maintaining the business, where is the development and innovation coming from? Will this mean that progress will be delayed once the pandemic is behind us, because the industry is playing ‘catch up’?

Today, the initial rush and excitement to automate has been exhausted and we could face the consequences of these well-intentioned actions if they are not executed. Many proposals are sitting on desks, gathering dust as final decisions are delayed.

Engineering teams who have been working from home for over a year, have not been able to ‘brainstorm’ ideas effectively. As a result, projects and new introductions face delays. Some may even be lost altogether. 

The post-Covid landscape

There is a real danger that no-one is addressing that when furloughed staff are able to return, they may leave the industry in favour of other work they have been able to do while on furlough. 

Companies that firms have worked with for years may not still be around when things return to ‘normal’ meaning that new relationships will need to be forged. This takes time. Yet at the same time, there is expected to be V-shaped recovery when demand could go through the roof. This sounds like great news, but are there enough well-staffed and well-equipped companies to deal efficiently with this 0-60mph trajectory? 

Supply chain bottlenecks are already starting to appear across the globe, bringing price inflation for materials which will impact the entire supply chain as well as the end customer.

All of us cannot wait for this to be over and everyone is grateful for the support that has been in place to get us through thus far, but the light at the end of the tunnel may be a freight train heading our way. It is our responsibility to open up discussions across all industries and agencies to ensure we are as prepared for a smooth, trauma-free post-Covid recovery process.

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