In March last year the global pandemic hit the UK in a big way, changing life for almost everyone. In the May 2020 edition of Tech Juice, we tried to imagine what the “New Normal” would look like as we moved forward. But the multiple lockdowns and the fact that the virus is still with us was not anticipated then. So, one year on, let’s take another look to see if the New Normal was what we imagined or not.
Supply chain security is now a major issue. For example, Matt Hancock (UK Health Secretary) recently announced that all UK PPE is now manufactured in the UK. Indeed, part of the success of the UK vaccination programme has been the ability to manufacture and supply vaccine from within the UK. With trade threats rife, the Government is now concerned to make sure industries that are considered strategic are UK based, something that Brexit has also exasperated. In the US too, the exposure of semiconductor production to a few sites in Asia and tensions with China is now leading to calls for US and European factories. Is this the end of globalisation? To some degree yes, but “on-shoring” is accelerating as envisaged last year.
Here the picture here is less clear. Many companies have found that working from home can work. Indeed, PwC and Nationwide have stated that staff are free to split their time between the workplace and home. In contrast Google and Amazon have asked their people to return to the office while the head of Goldman Sachs as described home working as an “aberration”. Two main positions are emerging, one based on employee interaction and one based on the methodical nature of the work. In the short term, we’re likely to see a hybrid of home and office working. Longer term, social interaction and peer pressure may actually result in a return to the office.
Transport has seen the biggest impact from the pandemic. Rail and air travel may never be the same again. Zoom and Teams, avoiding mass transit, lockdowns and travel bans have decimated these industries. The behavioural changes and the limited demand as people opt either to not travel or use more individual means have come to pass and may well continue for some time to come.
Again, the picture here is less clear. For sure emissions did drop during lockdowns but quickly rose again once restrictions were lifted. There’s a lot of talk around “building back better” and finally tackling climate change, but for now it’s mostly talk. The jury’s out, whether the sea change envisioned last year will result or whether it’s more hot air remains to be seen.
Last year we postulated that, markets cannot handle a crisis on this scale; only governments can. That has manifestly been the case in the last year with governments continuing to pay the wages of private companies, but have markets changed as a result. In the main, no. The questions raised last year still remain: what risk are investors actually taking and is delivering Shareholder Value still paramount?
Although there have been no official moves it is widely expected that the railways will be “virtually” nationalised. Lack of demand will mean it’s difficult to turn a profit, but this is vital national infrastructure. It’s not the end of private operators but, the way they are financed will change. There are other sectors too that if they continue to struggle post pandemic could also lead to the increased government involvement envisioned.
Celebrity and Sport
Although, there has been some backlash against celebrities that have flouted lockdown rules and social media companies are increasingly under pressure to take responsibility for the content on their platform, there has not been the rejection envisaged. These minor rumblings could of course be the start of something bigger, but they may equally well just fizzle out. It seems we are all still as obsessed with sports and celebrities as every!