While it may be a long time yet before the Covid-19 lockdown is removed completely, following the Prime Minister’s briefing at the weekend, the process of relaxing the lockdown restrictions is now underway.
Despite the financial support that has been provided to businesses and workers it is becoming clear that we shall not return swiftly to a pre coronavirus level of business for some time and before we do many businesses will not survive, especially if the recovery takes a long time and the post lockdown landscape is substantially different.
Much depends on businesses’ ability to recover, on how long it will take them to recover and on how much people will change their behaviour as a result of the crisis.
A key to business survival is communication by leaders to deliver the information and direction everyone needs when a large scale crisis hits. While they are unlikely to know the answers, leaders reassure everyone by sharing facts and the rationale for decisions in a way that allows them to change direction as the crisis unfolds and more information is available. Essentially they need to be agile.
A PwC investigation of leadership behaviour during a crisis suggests “When disaster hits, an all-hands-on-deck, everyone-to-the-rescue reaction is understandable — but such good intentions will most likely lead to a chaotic response.”
The website emergency cdc emphasises the importance of clear, simple messaging from the start: “Because of the ways we process information while under stress, when communicating with someone facing a crisis or disaster, messages should be simple, credible, and consistent.”
Messages should be repeated, be supported by a credible source and be specific, it says, and should offer a positive course of action.
To this extent, this is exactly what the UK Government has done with its repetition of the simple message “stay home, protect the NHS, save lives” and its daily briefings reiterating the message as well as giving updates on the numbers of cases that justify the advice.
That it has been doing its job, perhaps almost too well, is indicated by the findings of an Ipsos Mori poll in early May that “two-thirds (67%) of Britons say they will feel uncomfortable going to large public gatherings, such as sports or music events, compared to how they felt before the virus.”
However, things become more difficult as the messaging changes, especially when it becomes more nuanced as we are seeing with the change of message to allow for a partial relaxing of the lockdown rules.
The proposed new message “Stay alert, control the virus, save lives” has already been rejected by the UK’s devolved governments (in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales) as being too vague as well as being perhaps premature given the continued high numbers of positive diagnoses being reported. Indeed, the Evening Standard last night reported confusion over the “back to work for some” message that led to commuters being packed on the London Underground.
The packed tubes may be linked to other reports that the country’s transport infrastructure is operating at only 10% of its former capacity post-lockdown. The biggest four trades unions have united to warn that people should not be going back to work without adequate safety measures in place and despite the troubles in the High Street retail sector, the British Retail Consortium has also warned against allowing shops to open without clear and adequate safety and social distancing rules.
In addition to any return to work message, different age groups are interpreting the message differently with many young adults going out to meet each other while older age groups remain at home.
The longer that the return to post lockdown normality takes then the more likely it is that people will change their behaviour permanently.
It is becoming clear that it will take quite a long time before everyone will do all those things that they did before Covid-19 appeared so a return to normal is a long way off.
Therefore, it is highly likely that there will be a permanent change in many people’s behaviour post lockdown.