The past few weeks have brought with them a new, hopeful, turn of events, in which not one, but two, potential COVID vaccines have surfaced; the first, from Pfizer, has so far shown to be 90% effective in treating the virus, and the latter an even more potent 95%. This is welcome news across the globe; especially to the world of business, which has been heavily impacted by the pandemic. The second period of lockdown in England has caused yet another wave of disruption as many firms have had to shut their doors for a second time, or employees have had to begin working from home once again.
Already, the first lockdown brought many changes to the business world. In fact, research from The Future Strategy Club shows that 29% of business owners have streamlined their teams already. The pandemic has provided the chance for firms to slow down and, in many cases, adapt their business model to survive the virus.
For some, this meant re-focusing on their mission statement and business values. For others, this was the chance to broaden their offering by creating e-commerce arms of their firms. The chance to restructure was taken by many business owners, as shown by the above research. With rumours that business may be back to ‘normal’ by the spring, the next few months are perhaps the last chance for these big business changes to be brought to fruition.
The initial four months of lockdown in the UK have transformed the way firms do business at every level, and allowed room for many changes to be made. Immediate changes to mass at-home working left many bewildered at a new way of remote working. Business, in many instances, were operating on skeletal staff, and this is happening once again as they make use of the Government’s furlough scheme ‘ now extended until March 2021. In addition, thousands of businesses have relinquished their expensive overheads, such as office spaces and permanent consultants.
Many businesses have had to or will need to pivot quickly and effectively to remain competitive in the market post-COVID, so experienced talent will be required to help achieve these. Businesses of all sizes, but particularly SMEs, will need to embrace the gig economy quickly to adapt, retrain staff and rebuild their business model to help them survive and then thrive as the economy begins to bounce back.
A more economic solution to the talent-loss that has affected UK firms, as the vaccines give businesses hope to resume some normality, is the introduction of contracted talent. An outside consultant can bring a fresh perspective to struggling businesses, and integrate a new, more flexible ethos to firms who are looking for the best way to accommodate new business models and a more flexible working approach after the lockdown period. Consultants talk to other consultants and these peer-to-peer conversations help to share the knowledge of those experts who have dealt with previous crises, such as the 2008 crash, that now can be applied to help small firms weather this pandemic.
What this has created is a space for peer-to-peer learning across consultants to take place. In such an ever changing post-COVID world, even experienced high-attaining professionals need spaces in which to develop, share their experiences, and pass on this knowledge to their next client. In addition, with more people looking to enter the freelance consultancy space post-COVID in a similar move to the one seen after the financial crash of 2008, these spaces can help newer or less experienced consultants develop and learn professional skills from their peers, allowing them to give top level advice to clients at every price point. This is something that we at The Future Strategy Club are striving to achieve. This format will help give freelance workers the opportunity for strong learning and development practices, similar to those permanent workers employed by companies with development structures in place. Effectively, this form of learning is taking the best ideas from pre-COVID businesses and repurposing them for a post-pandemic environment, heavily favoured by consultants and high-level gig economy workers.
This period has highlighted some of the unnecessary expenses and processes that businesses have perpetuated over the last few years. In the world of business normally, what we have achieved in the past two or three months would have taken years of planning and five years to implement. Lockdown has shown that innovation can, and should, be much faster than this. Innovation can certainly be driven by contracted workers; using freelancers often helps to maintain a competitive edge, in fact, as freelancers are often only as good as their last job, they are motivated to do their best.
As firms look to re-launch projects in 2021, they will realise that they don’t need that expensive office in Shoreditch to be innovative when remote and flexible working works as well as that. They won’t need to employ a CMO on £100,000 a year with a huge office when a consultant working two days a week is more than enough resource. Now is the time for firms to hire top talent to help with this restructuring process before the Spring. This kind of talent is normally inaccessible to SMEs ‘ however, with entities such as The Future Strategy Club, high-calibre freelancers are available for a fraction of the cost.
To help business leaders resuscitate their business beyond COVID-19, the importance and value of freelancers as a critical requirement to retain skill at an affordable rate and as an essential for recovery is becoming clear, therefore. Historically, freelancers have not been included in the same employee benefit schemes, workplace culture, socialisation and support networks that permanent workers have traditionally enjoyed. Moving forward, however, outside talent will more and more become a commodity that businesses will seek to make use of as part of their COVID recovery plan. Now, with the turbulence caused by the lockdown crisis, the private sector’s reliance on flexible workers will not only become apparent but crucial to its survival, delivering a positive step for the gig economy and its importance to the wider economy as we grow out of the COVID-19 period.
At this turbulent time, the importance of having on-demand creative business talent will be crucial to propel firms forward and out of the pandemic. Business leaders should be exploring every avenue of growth and innovation to survive the fallout of the Coronavirus pandemic. By treating freelancers as true colleagues and fully embracing short-term contractors into the culture of the workplace, businesses can drive forward with purpose and overcome the challenges presented by lockdown.