Beyond the devastating human cost of COVID-19, the pandemic has turned the business world on its head.

A quarter of UK businesses have temporarily closed and an estimated half a million companies are thought to be in trouble.

An estimated nine million Brits are working from home but when the lockdown is over, and a degree of normality returns to life, how will COVID-19 change business?

That was the question that BusinessCloud asked a panel of 13 business owners, CEOs and industry experts.

Lorna Davidson, CEO, Redwigwam

“We work with people who want to work flexibly. We’ve built a platform that is a little bit like a dating site so we match workers and hirers. COVID-19 has made people realise how vulnerable we are and actually people need some control in their life. I think COVID-19 will change business completely. Homeworking and remote-working is not something people will question in the same way. I think it’s all about flexibility. As business owners we’ll be scared to take on overheads until we know things are certain and have settled down. I think we’ll be treating our employees differently but also I think our employees will be demanding things from us. I think it will change the way we work and our attitude to work. Those people that have embraced this will come out with bigger, stronger businesses in the end.”

Polly Taylor-Pullen, business development, Nivo Solutions

“Nivo is an app that is used across 45 different regulated services. We had customers who were interested in Nivo but never had the catalyst to go ahead. That changed overnight. In order for these businesses to carry on and provide the same level of customer service they found it a very easy way to go digital in the day. If you’re going to go digital it’s now. As well as changing business I think COVID-19 will change human behaviour as well.”

Frazer Durris, managing director, Businesswise Solutions

“I think COVID-19 will have a big impact on the climate agenda for a variety of reasons. It will increase consumer focus on it. There’s also the impact of the massive reduction in the price of oil, which will make investment in energy technology more attractive. It will probably fast forward that investment case. Businesses need to make sure they’re in the right place to support that.”

David Foreman, managing director, Praetura Ventures

“Ideologically I think there are a lot of things we want to change. I think we’d like to be more community-focused and care for the environment. Immediately I think there will be the change we’ve already seen with people wanting to help in the community and do their exercise every day but I think that will wane. I think business will change slightly but for everyone who says there will be a paradigm shift and that we’ll work remotely are forgetting that’s not the reality for a lot of people. A lot of the younger generation can’t buy houses. They live in flats with other people. They don’t have an office to work in. For everyone who says the world is going to completely change, I don’t think that will be the case. Other things will change. For example the days of four of my team jumping on a train to London and paying the prices for a trip to see a company for the first time are over. We’ve proved we can do this on Zoom or Microsoft Teams. For a long time I’ve advocated this sort of technology.”

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Sheila Manzano, MD and founder, Three Little Birds PR  

“I think in general businesses are going to recover at different stages and the economy will come back over time. However, companies shouldn’t be just focused on the money side of things and the “big sell” right now. They need to think about their public engagement. People are going to watch how businesses manage this crisis so as to give their loyalty afterwards to brands. They’ll recognise and remember during this time of crisis which brands were leaders. What business owners say and do right now is really important to what happens for their companies afterwards. Business owners need to lead in times of a crisis.”

Mark Fuller, chair at Vistage UK , NED, coach, mentor,

“There is going to be a new normal because people have discovered there’s a better way of doing things. You either make it your new normal and thrive or you will fail or you will have a slow death as it was ever thus. I worry that what’s gone on will put young entrepreneurs off for a while. I hope that isn’t the case. I think there will be more virtual working but we’re human beings and it can’t be completely virtual.”

Paul Beaumont, general manager, Central Networks & Technologies

“There will be more Zoom and virtual meetings going forward. Where Zoom meetings are going to take off will be where people do a lot of international business. I’ve got quite a lot of experience of international business and I think people will use video conferencing a lot more for international business, which will have a good knock-on effect for the environment. The one area that really concerns me is the high street, which is a big part of the UK and world economy which was struggling before all this hit us. I worry about the high street moving forward.”

Gareth James, CEO, Intilery

“My point is around corporate governance and cash reserves. I think companies will be more prudent going forward, not taking the economy for granted.”

Kate Lewis, founder, e4enable

“I think people will revert to type. I think situational flexibility will be a big thing. It will be talked about at board meetings alongside what’s our disaster recovery plan? How are we able to react to situations if something changes? How quick and agile are we? I’d like to think that people who weren’t that authentic before will become more authentic. We, as a nation, have started welcoming people into our houses (through things like Zoom calls). You can see my pets, my kids or my husband opening the fridge. I’ve seen people, particularly sales people, remove some of the gloss and be much more relaxed around other people because they’ve got to be.”

Robin Williams, managing director and co-founder, Data Hive

“There’s an opportunity for businesses to get a longer and deeper relationship out of their audience. There’s been a big acceleration of digital skills for the majority of people in the UK. There were some comments the other day that said we’ve advanced five years in a condensed 2-3 months and that’s going to change a lot of business opportunities. When you look at the big impacts, like the 2008 financial crisis, people say it takes around 500 days to recover.”

Cameron Booth, digital advisor, Redmoor Health

“I think there will be a lot more remote working in the future and I think that will be particularly true in the healthcare system. I think a lot of businesses will be more mindful of contingency planning for events like coronavirus. Echoing the point David (Foreman) made earlier I do think things will largely go back to normal.”

James Tosh, director at Henderson Insurance Broker

“I think a lot of businesses will have learnt a lot about themselves. Businesses will be a lot better prepared in terms of business contingency and disaster recovery plans. People have been forced to embrace technology which will make them work a lot smarter.”

Amy Whitell, CEO and co-founder of Collective

“One of the unintended consequences of furlough will be splitting workforces into essential and non-essential roles. The other thing from the start-up community is it’s widely known that our superpower is being able to pivot quickly and adapt. Bigger companies have been forced to be more innovative really quickly and that’s potentially a threat to the start-up ecosystem. If, coming out of this crisis, bigger companies are able to maintain faster rates of innovation, then that would have an impact.”