Coronavirus: The day after tomorrow

Greg Campbell, Partner at Campbell Tickell, discusses facing our new reality in order to build long-term organisational resilience, post-coronavirus.

 

 

 

We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is – Kurt Vonnegut

So we are now locked down, we are told for three weeks pending a review. We could be through the worst in 12 weeks, the Prime Minister has suggested. Across the Atlantic, the President wants to see the US back at work by Easter. Can we see a new dawn breaking over the shuttered shops, the padlocked building sites, the near-empty streets?

Sadly the answer is no. That isn’t the message we all want to hear. But it is realistic. The good news seems to be that the virus does not appear to be mutating. So one vaccine should be sufficient. But there is more to it than that. Some experts tell us that there should be a vaccine ready and tested in 12-18 months; others say 18-24 months. And ready and tested is one thing; but ready, tested, manufactured in huge volumes, and rolled out to the global population is quite another.

Meanwhile we also don’t have a test to see whether somebody has already had the virus, given the wildly varying severity of symptoms between different sufferers. And we also don’t know whether an individual can succumb to the virus more than once.

What does this all mean?

Most immediately, the likelihood must be that if the severity of lockdown is eased, more people will be infected as physical distancing relaxes. Hopefully the health service will be able to cope, but we can’t be sure. We may well be faced with further stringent periods of lockdown presumably until either we can access the vaccine in large numbers, or until we have achieved ‘herd immunity’, though the latter will tragically mean losing the lives of a great many more people.

I say the above not to depress readers. Rather my point is that if we don’t face up to reality, we will fail to take the actions needed to build resilience in our organisations and institutions, and we will all suffer the more.

We are now in a ‘sticking plaster phase’. Urgent short-term actions are being taken across the country by government, councils, health, housing providers, charities, businesses, and by individuals. These are – inevitably and rightly – about dealing with the immediate challenges of day-to-day life and service provision. And recognising that the situation morphs from one day to the next.

But as time passes, we must face up to longer-term realities. However we get through our current challenges, it will not be about returning to the way things were before the virus turned everything upside down.

Businesses, and in some cases perhaps whole industries, will be lost and will not return. Trade will operate differently. Our high streets will not look the same. The way that healthcare is planned, resourced and delivered will have to change (it is said that in New Zealand, the steps taken after the 2011 earthquake advanced healthcare provision by 15 years). The way that organisations, public and private, work will be different. Expect a glut of commercial property available at knockdown rates in due course, as the focus on old-style office bases is lessened as remote working becomes the norm. The relationship between citizens and government will be different. Customers’ expectations will have changed. The way we engage with one another as people will be different (is the ‘Wuhan Shake’ elbow-bump here to stay?).

Housing providers after the virus

This is true for housing providers, too. For instance, if we can make many operations run efficiently and effectively via home working, should that not become a new normal, albeit mitigated by making sure that teams can come together in person fairly regularly and not just virtually?

What about the implications for other areas of activity? As some aspects of delivery become more remote, how can others maximise the engagement needed, with local communities, with councils and other partners, with our more vulnerable residents? Mental health issues (in part relating to isolation) and domestic violence (spiking already) have been especially highlighted as problem areas just a week into lockdown.

How should the delivery of repairs and maintenance be reconfigured for the longer term, to ensure safety for workers, safety for residents, and access to supplies? What about development – how does delivery need to change, again to protect workforces? Can we now expect to see the heralded increase in offsite manufacture (still just 2% of output last time I checked) become a reality? How can development be funded at a time when the housing market is weak and cross-subsidy may not work? Can government find money to increase grants when responding to the COVID-19 crisis has pushed public borrowing sky-high?

A point will come when we must all say: what are we here for and how can we best ensure we deliver on our role? What are the most effective systems for managing and maintaining homes, for looking after vulnerable residents, for tackling homelessness, for building new homes?

These needs – these imperatives – will remain with us. And it is our responsibility to face up to them and look at what we need to change, and what we can change.

It will be tough for many. We are already seeing increasing stress for executives, staff and boards alike, as people do their best to keep going, to keep delivering, to look after their residents and employees, and to share resources with other agencies.

Sadly some organisations may find the challenge of coping with intense and ever-changing demands, while remaining resilient and robust (not least financially), not possible. In the medium run, we can expect to see more mergers taking place. There will also be more transfer of homes, as some organisations look to liquidate cash and others seek housing stock footprints that are more manageable. In other cases, housing providers will be refining and streamlining their operations to better meet the needs of their residents and communities; in doing so, they will be building on the changes they have had to implement at short notice.

In short, it will be a challenge for us all. But the sooner we can start to face up to moving from sticking plasters to long-term resilience, the better it will be.

Never let a good crisis go to waste – attributed to Sir Winston Churchill

 

To discuss this article further, please contact Greg Campbell on: greg.campbell@campbelltickell.com

This article is also featured in Inside Housing

Campbell Tickell is an established multi-disciplinary management and recruitment consultancy, operating across the UK and Ireland, focusing on the housing, social care, local government, sport, leisure, charity and voluntary sectors.

We are a values-based business and firmly place the positioning of our support and challenge on helping organisations to attain change that is well thought through, planned and sustainable. At CT, we want to help organisations create the landscape within which we ourselves would like to exist: fair, inclusive, diverse, engaged and transparent. We build from our values in how we approach all our work as a practice.

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