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British industry has been changed forever

With the UK’s vaccination programme making such remarkable progress, people are now starting to talk with a lot more confidence about ‘getting back to normal’. Well, sorry to break the news, going back to how we were before the pandemic might be possible in our homes or even in schools, but there will be no turning back the clock in the workplace. The world has moved on.

Reverting to familiar working practices and systems may sound attractive, but there is no room for nostalgia in the world of business, especially in our post-Brexit quest to find alternative markets outside of Europe. Any retrograde steps are likely to be ruthlessly exploited by our rivals and our customers, too, will be expecting more flexibility because they have seen what is possible to achieve.

For example, the way in which companies gather, store, analyse and disseminate information to customers and colleagues has changed beyond recognition, but with that progress has come security risk. An article published recently in The Manufacturer pointed out the uncomfortable fact that a small business in Britain is successfully hacked every 19 seconds and that over 60% of businesses have experienced some form of cyber-attack in the past 12 months. That kind of problem is not going to go away – it is the reality of the world today and must be confronted.

Similarly, manufacturers that converted factory lines to churn out different products during the emergency will know that they have the ability and know-how to adapt, potentially leading to exciting new opportunities. If they could make respirators or PPE for the NHS when it mattered, they can just as easily diversify, spread their risk and prosper now that the danger is receding.

Many companies with complex and lengthy overseas supply chains, and which suffered huge disruption at the height of the pandemic, are actively seeking ways to secure future supplies that are not so vulnerable. A great deal of effort is being put into onshoring and reshoring manufacturing.

With staff working perfectly well from home thanks to technology, many companies are also mulling over whether they should insist on people returning to offices that have stood empty for months. Mental health issues and wellbeing obviously must be considered, but there is ample evidence to suggest that many staff are not only happier, but that productivity has actually improved. It is quite a quandary, but decisions will have to be made.

However, with change thrust upon us through necessity, there has never been a better time to make some of it permanent. It’s called progress.