A New Normal – Avoid the three Evils of WFH!


A New Normal. Will it last? Surely not! Over time humans have overcome viruses before, moreover humans are not meant to be caged in! But survival is part of our evolution!

WFH – working from home. No F2F – face to face meetings. “Sorry, can’t talk now, on a Zoom Call, or is it Teams, cannot remember”, become reasons, or excuses for reprioritisation of working days for many. Losing track of days, maybe of interest too, in more ways than one!

We are in a full-scale global recession! We need to engage with businesses and others to see what needs to be done to build resilience during and beyond the pandemic. Just as significantly, we have to keep an eye on Brexit too, it is just around the corner.

“We’ve waited long enough”, I reiterated to Brunel University, London colleagues from Life Sciences and the Design and Technology team, that manages the Co-Innovate Programme at Brunel University, London, during our zoom meeting to finalise arrangements for our webinar on Wellbeing in SMEs on 1st July 2020.

We all agreed, we are in fluid and fast-moving times and have much to learn about COVID-19 and its impact. Moreover, the subsequent nightmare that has wreaked havoc both for the economy and in society, for months and additionally has generated mistrust and a rise in blame games locally, nationally, and internationally.

For months during the initial lockdown, only hospitals, care homes and other essential places of work were open, largely to save lives, ensure food was available and accessible. Offices, restaurants, factories, cinemas, theatres, gyms became virtually deserted, just like the transport and aviation sector (buses, trains, and planes etc.). Just like a scene from a dystopian sci fi movie, cars parked on roads and driveways gathered dust, with deserted office buildings and streets. Yet, open spaces, playing fields, and gardens blossom. Clear skies, clean air, no pollution!

The impact of this invisible enemy will be felt for generations as scientists, governments and pharmaceutical giants try and create a lifesaving vaccine. No guarantee we will ever get one, many argue. Everyone has got an opinion.

Wash hands with soap regularly for at least twenty seconds, wear masks, keep social distance, exercise, build immune systems, get a COVID-19 test, eat healthily. These have become familiar mantras to help Save Lives! The mantras are holding good. We all comply, in the main! Madness not to, otherwise the economy will be destroyed.

The language of lockdown trips easily of the tongue as restrictions are eased, step by step, but with extreme caution as predictions of local fluctuations leading to localised lockdowns are already in real, and more on the horizon.

The hour-long webinar attended by SMEs, academics, policy makers and students whizzed past. Much food for thought.

Click Here to watch edited highlights.

We are live. I remark, “We are living, or surviving in unprecedented times. Over half a million lives lost. The financial cost of the pandemic into the trillions and rising”. Economies devastated. Livelihoods under threat like never. It is by no means over yet! We have witnessed nothing like it for a hundred years.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, my work with SMEs, Enterprise Wellness and Brunel University was putting the spotlight on the importance of SMEs as being the lifeblood of our economy, and how productivity and revenues were being adversely impacted by sickness absence. “Only one in ten businesses have a mental health policy”, I add, signalling the tremendous challenges that lay ahead.

Our keynote speaker, Dr Onkar Sahota, a GP, and Chair of the GLA’s Health Committee makes his presentation and shares personal, professional, and political insights into health, productivity, and equality, all of which have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Only 5% of people were working from home before COVID-19, and now its nearly half”, Dr Sahota stated. It is too early to define what the New Norm will look like, as we have three challenges”. These are, how do we stop the spread of the virus, a need to ensure there are tools for enforcing non-compliance and addressing mental health – half the adult population has been affected by mental health through stress, anxiety, and an increase in domestic abuse because of the pandemic.

“Avoid the three evils of working from home”, adds Dr Sahota. The evil of the Bed, the TV and Fridge! Good advice!

Dr Wendy Martin, Senior Lecturer in Life Sciences at Brunel University, emphasises “Our research before COVID-19 had already identified that less is known about how to enhance wellbeing strategies and solutions in SMEs. In effect, the research project concluded that Culture and Values, Environment, Relationships and Stress and Mental Health are critical in the workplace,” suggesting that more urgent research into these and, other solutions for a post COVID-19 workplace are crucial now.

My message is “innovate and come up with new ideas,” affirms Professor, Rob Holdway, Innovation Director on the Co-Innovate Journeys Programme, which has been supporting London’s SMEs to grow since 2014.

“Innovative businesses are more likely to export and employ qualified staff, with 40% of businesses collaborate to innovate”, adds Rob Holdway, highlighting that this will be key to moving through the current crisis and Brexit.

The journey ahead is uncertain, long, and fraught with anxiety, especially as warnings of a second spike begin to gather momentum the closer, we get to autumn and winter this year.

Going for short or long walks, wearing masks in shops, but still reluctant to use public transport and pubs and restaurants, and for many of us, WFH, is the New Norm, but at what cost to overall productivity and to our general health and mental wellbeing?

Building resilience, preparing for Brexit, and redefining WFH, which is patently not possible for all occupations and roles in the workplace are core messages, that emerge from our webinar, along with the need to continue to undertake in-depth research and find new innovative ways to support businesses, its owners and staff.

Email me at ash@ashverma.com with your ideas, needs and support, so that we can become a voice for you!