Lancashire Times
A Voice of the North
5:00 AM 14th November 2020

Saturday Essay: ‘The Pandemic Has Caused A Seismic Shift In Attitudes So Let’s Not Go Back To The Way We Were’

Gary Butterfield,
Gary Butterfield,
Gary Butterfield, Co Founder and Executive Director at Everyday Juice Limited takes a look through the Covid lens to see how our attitudes have changed.

The world has moved on apace in 2020. The Covid-19 pandemic has created a seismic shift in attitudes and suddenly what would have taken months, if not years, can now happen tomorrow. The retail industry, for one, has seen a huge change and dramatic impacts. Countless thousands of jobs have been lost, of course, and customers - unable or unwilling to go to physical shops and stores - have driven a massive growth in online sales.

This move further and deeper into the virtual world left gaping holes in our towns and city centres. Planning permission and traffic regulation orders, mired in red tape, took an age to pass through our local authorities. But when Covid came along there was suddenly a new urgency. Bureaucracy became part of the solution not the problem.

People’s attitudes also changed. When lockdown happened we all valued our “daily walk.” The schools were closed, and we all re-connected with our immediate families. Working from home meant ‘absent’ parents were with their children 24/7, often for the first time.

The environment benefited as cars never turned a wheel for weeks on end. Nature started to emerge from the shadows. On those daily walks our eyes - and ears - were opened to what damage we were doing to our planet and what it takes to start turning the tide. Maybe it’s not too late after all?

We’re still in the grips of this terrible human health crisis but what we have seen these last few months is that we can change our lifestyles for the better. Once the threat of Covid has been defeated we have the opportunity to build a healthier workforce and healthier towns and cities.

It’s amazing how people have adapted. We smiled cynically when the media referred to the “new normal” but we are all living this new normal already – and I think we like it! Working from home has meant a big shift for many people but that is likely to continue for thousands of employees across the UK. That’s not to say offices will be completely redundant but towns and cities will adapt to a more relaxed pace of working life – with huge benefit to people’s health and mental wellbeing.

Once the virus releases its grip and people have their freedoms back employees will feel more empowered to make choices about their working lives. The legacy of the pandemic will be empowerment. We won’t just return to the old 9-5 routine. People will realise they can have control over how they work.

Just as importantly, employers have also realised they can trust their people and don’t need to micromanage anymore.

Companies may well take the opportunity to reduce their investment on office space and make savings, but they will still need places for employees to meet and interact. Human beings need personal interaction and connection. Zoom calls are all very well but they’re not the same as good old-fashioned face-to-face contact.

Once this is all old news, employees will be able to choose how to work. It’ll be a mix and match of working from home and working from the office ‘hub.’ This will improve family life and give people back control. This freedom and choice could be huge and bring benefits to mental health and wellbeing that we could only dream about before. I’m genuinely excited about the possibilities.

Then there’s our physical health too. Cycle to work schemes have been around since the late 1990s. Many employers offer the salary sacrifice scheme which gives £1,000 savings off the cost of a new bike and accessories.

The pandemic has given this scheme the chance to hit top gear once more. Local authorities are creating new cycle lanes and closing off streets to traffic, opening the way to a new generation of cyclists. With fewer cars on the road riding to work suddenly becomes much more inviting. If workplaces play their part with showers, bike stores and cycle-friendly facilities then cycling becomes a viable – and healthy – option.

E-scooters are banned on roads and pavements, but local authorities are carrying out trials and it may not be long before they receive official sanction. Councils in Yorkshire are committed to cutting carbon emissions as they push towards net zero status, so all ideas are on the table.

The Government has shown it can introduce legislation very quickly without the need for it to go through endless committees. Local authorities have also proved they too can speed up their processes. The pandemic has brought a tangible shift in how we all live our lives for the better. Things have moved so far and so fast they won’t go back to the way they were, I am sure of that.

We all have a duty to protect this legacy now and ensure the opportunity that has presented itself for a better and healthier future is delivered. Let’s not go back to the way we were, let’s embrace the change!
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