Watch out for the mental shocks of ending Covid-19 lockdown

It’s easy to predict many of the pains that are going to hit business as the UK attempts to follow its neighbours in re-opening from lockdown. Businesses face a new and awkward world where social distancing will throw many of their old assumptions out of the window. Decisions must be made on how much homeworking will continue. The accrued ‘technical debt’ must be paid back in full.

Then there’s the human aspects. What will happen to those who have been furloughed – will they still have jobs to come back to, and will the business be able to pay them if it’s already burned through its cash reserves? Will they even want to come back to the office, now that we’ve all been taught to avoid getting too close to other people?

Goodwill won’t last

And something that’s easily forgotten or missed: how much has the business been relying on goodwill in order to get through an urgent crisis? That goodwill is inevitably going to expire once people no longer feel the urgency – and it’s already faded significantly, thanks to the selfish and/or arrogant actions of a number of high-profile individuals.

Freeform Dynamics has surveyed a lot of organisations about Covid-19 and lockdown recently. We’ve talked about the sudden demand for laptops and the network capacity needed for massive amounts of work-from-home (WFH), and we’ve seen the changes that lockdown has enforced, even in organisations where managers were previously allergic to letting their people work remotely.

In short, we can confirm the truth of Microsoft boss Satya Nadella’s statement that he’s seen it drive “two years of digital transformation in two months.”

The debts are not just technical

Our research confirmed too that this rapid transformation has left organisations of all kinds with significant ‘debt’, especially in areas such as technology and regulatory compliance. That’s the things we had to do in a hurry to enable WFH as rapidly as possible. Whether it was allowing access to sensitive company data over home broadband, the use of free videoconferencing for meetings, or not worrying as much as usual about GDPR or employee health and safety legislation, much of it will need to be fixed or revised in the months following reopening.

The effect on individuals could be just as stark, however. Some of us will have loved being able to WFH for the first time, while others may be suffering severe cabin-fever and be desperate to get back to the office. And in either case, we may be stretching our partner’s goodwill – and the rules on safe and healthy workspaces – as we clutter up the dining room or the kitchen table.

This coming out of lockdown is going to be harder than we expect for many of us. We will need to make readjustments, both mental and physical, and issues that we’ve pushed onto the back burner for the last few months may return to the boil. That sense of common purpose is slipping away, and all those debts are going to start coming due. So be ready for the shocks, whether that means offering help to the others around you, or indeed asking for it for yourself.

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