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Emerging into the sunlight

Many of our members adapted quickly to the early challenges of the pandemic, organising different ways of working, which have proved largely successful. They have saved time and money and kept productivity high.

However, there have been problems, especially for those people who don’t have suitable home conditions for working and for younger members of staff who have missed the chance to learn from more experienced colleagues.

But now we are going into a different phase, where businesses are planning for how the medium to long term will look. Office based companies seem to be moving towards a permanent hybrid system with a mix of office and home working. Some are creating teams which work together on certain days, others are asking people to only go to the office for a specific reason, a project meeting, training session or the like.

In the Chamber and Initiative we’re taking soundings about when members want to meet face to face. It will feel a bit like the tortoise, blinking into the sunlight after its hibernation. I sense people will be keen to meet up as long as there is sufficient space, though younger members may want to wait until they’ve been double jabbed. On the other hand there will still be a greater role for virtual meetings than before the pandemic. We’re thinking that alternating meetings between face to face and zoom might be a model for the future.

Meanwhile other sectors are facing up to a different set of problems. Hospitality seems to be doing well, especially for those venues with good outside space, but it seems it’s a struggle to get enough staff to operate the business. This is an area where re-training people who have been made redundant could have a big part to play. The College and our Universities are already working on new ways of delivering training and that could play an important role in supporting this vital sector.

The construction industry also has serious issues to contend with. The cost of raw materials, such as timber, are rising sharply and supplies are becoming more difficult to find. Whilst consultancies, such as architects, are seeing huge rises in the price of indemnity insurance in the wake of the building cladding and fire risk situation.

Our businesses have shown tremendous resilience and creativity over the last 15 months, for which they should feel very proud. I have no doubt they will continue to demonstrate those qualities in the months to come so we can continue to build a strong and sustainable local economy which will benefit the whole community.


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