Coronavirus and Travel – Business But Not As Usual
Those of you following along with our ULU blogs will know that on Mondays, PR whizz Anthony Peacock will give us his take on current life and affairs. And as the world has been consumed with coronavirus content for the past few months, Anthony has been writing some insightful content about this unprecedented modern event. So, sit back with a coffee and read what Anthony has to say about coronavirus, travel and business – but not as usual.
Business but not as usual
I’ve been travelling in Europe this week – specifically Germany and Austria – and it looks like, for all intents and purposes, the coronavirus pandemic is over by popular decree. For libertarians, this will be a reason to rejoice. For other more worried people, aware of the World Health Organisation’s recent warning that the worst is yet to come, it’s a cause for despair.
Wear a mask on the street in Austria, and most people look at you like you’ve crash-landed from Mars (although you see a few more in Germany). Social distancing has been more or less forgotten. Bars and restaurants are open for business as usual, and nobody’s talking about Covid. In fact, most places are packed.
But right from the start, it’s been very clear that coronavirus means different things in different places. Countries are going through and emerging from outbreaks at different rates, with the UK being somewhat behind the rest of Europe. As for the likelihood or not of a second wave, who knows? But it’s very clear that in many places there’s been a lot of lockdown fatigue. And in northern mainland Europe, the distinct feeling is that nobody cares too much if there’s a second wave of Covid-19 (or a first wave of Covid-20) for now. That’s a problem for tomorrow.
The economic damage can’t be ignored though, and for every packed restaurant, bar, or shop – wherever you are in the world – there’s another somewhere else that’s not opened as it’s gone out of business. And even those outlets that have emerged have needed to adapt by making big changes.
Ultimately, these effects are going to be felt by all of us – even in the most unlikely places. Motorbike fans, for example, will find that Harley-Davidson has cut their available product range, while if you fly anywhere, you’ll be lucky to get a sandwich or indeed any type of service with a smile.
A while ago, I wrote about freedom of choice in the consumer world and how it would often feel overwhelming. Now we have the opposite problem, with coronavirus meaning that reductions in choice might become permanent. And companies also have the perfect excuse to make cutbacks, along with a convenient scapegoat for any shortcomings in the service they offer. In short, the customer is no longer king.
Even giants such as Coca-Cola and Heinz say that they are trimming less profitable products from their ranges these days. That goes against the grain of the increasing diversification that we’ve seen for many years beforehand. Take the humble can of Campbells soup. Since 1984, the varieties of soup available have quadrupled to about 400 now. Cutting down on the choices available definitely marks a big shift in commercial direction.
The spate of panic buying early in the pandemic not only forced manufacturers to concentrate on their most profitable ranges (also because of the difficulties that their suppliers faced) but got consumers used to having less choice too.
And as any marketeer will tell you, influencing consumer behaviour and attitudes is always the biggest challenge. When you have a pandemic to do that for you, it makes life a lot easier. If you’re clever, you can even use that to your advantage. So if you’ve survived this far, you have a good opportunity to make money in the future.
Restaurants are trimming menus, from the top Michelin-starred establishments to McDonalds franchises. What’s interesting is that many of them are planning to make some of these changes permanent, in the same way that the landscape of office working will probably be altered for good.
As one restaurant owner in London put it: “The limited menu has actually made for smoother service and helped us boost sales revenue. Basically, it eliminates the need to be all things to all people.”
The automotive industry has also taken on a dramatic new focus. Items such as hand-stitched leather steering wheels, for example – a well-known feature of top-end cars – are in shorter supply as factories distance workers. So this means that manufacturers will allocate scarcer parts to models that they believe will sell more quickly. A car dealer I know recently commented: “When people come in, it’s now going to be a question of ‘this is what we’ve got – do you want it or not?’”
A return to 1970s-style service, in other words. Manufacturers (of everything from cars to soup) are basically more concerned with supply now than consumer convenience – while customers are eager to get in and get out quickly rather than browse and choose carefully. With less money and time to go round, people aren’t keen to try new things yet: especially if those things are expensive.
That’s certainly the case in the United Kingdom and the United States. But there are also ways to turn the situation to your advantage, judging from the experiences of our friends in Europe.
A bar and café owner in Germany said: “We’re selling fewer things, but because of that, people are starting to buy more of them and they follow our suggestions more than before, so we end up selling everything that we have. Business isn’t as good as before yet, but it will be soon. It just looks a bit different, that’s all.”
For retailers, it’s going to be the usual tricky compromise between signalling that you’re open but conditioning people that the business won’t be the same.
From recent experience in Europe, it seems that consumer confidence is definitely returning. If you’re a business owner and survived this far, you’ll probably be OK. As long as the coronavirus doesn’t come back…
Neighbourhood watch: Curtain-Twitching and Coronavirus
This week’s regular blog from Anthony Peacock covers virtue-signalling in the time of coronavirus lockdown. Although it can be easy to judge others during lockdown life, Anthony prompts us to consider our motivations for this. Are we simply acting out of fear? In the end, it would be better to forgo our judgements and act with compassion and kindness. Read on for a thoughtful perspective on quarantine humanity.
Of all the horrendous stories I’ve heard about this country in immediate post-lockdown syndrome – and I’ve heard quite a few now – the most alarming was perhaps the tale from a suburb of London recently, where a lady (who probably had several other urgent and pressing matters to attend to) was ‘outed’ in her neighbourhood WhatsApp chat for not having emerged on her doorstep at 8pm on a Thursday to clap for carers.
I don’t know anything at all about the background, but I imagine that the poor lady in question was accused of uncharitable behaviour or something similar by her coven of uptight neighbours.
While lockdown has brought many people together, we’ve also seen the nasty side of virtue-signalling raise its ugly head on a regular basis. If I were the lady concerned, I’d be sorely tempted to move out of my house and turn it into a homeless shelter instead. All welcome.
Then we would actually see what the bourgeois neighbours thought about charity really coming to their doorsteps – and I imagine that they wouldn’t necessarily be applauding then.
But seriously: in these times, who would actually berate someone – without any knowledge of the individual’s circumstances – for not showing sufficient solidarity during what’s become a mere national ritual? Who are we to judge? What gives any of us the right?
Virtue in the wrong hands is more dangerous than a chimpanzee with an Uzi. The sort of people who abuse their neighbours for no reason tend to be the same sort of people who take pride in wearing high-visibility jackets and wielding clipboards for fun.
Some peoples’ life experiences have made them like this, so ultimately they are more deserving of sympathy than disapprobation. But that’s often hard to muster towards these die-hard disciples of health, safety and other people’s morality.
Those who act this way often do so out of fear. A normal counterpoint to fear is aggression, which is why the people who seem particularly angry or censorious at the moment are frequently those who are most affected and frightened.
Take social distancing (or physical distancing as some business owners prefer to call it, in a bid to persuade people to come out and socialise – just in a different way). There’s been a general relaxation of the rules and even the government, specifically Boris Johnson, has called upon people simply to use their ‘British common sense’.
The problem is, the definition of what exactly that constitutes varies wildly from person to person. I’ve personally seen about five cases of heated conflict happening just in the last week in London and it’s always roughly the same argument.
One person, often wearing a mask, says to another ‘stay back’ or ‘keep away from me.’ The other person – perhaps insulted by the insinuation that they are somehow toxic – retaliates with something along the lines of: ‘if you’re that scared, then just stay at home.’
In the most extreme example I witnessed, it ended with a threat to call the police amid accusations of racism, as one of the two was Chinese.
But who is scared of who? In truth, both are petrified of each other. The mask-wearer is scared of the other person, while the one who answers back is scared of the world and what it has become – which he can no longer control. It’s entirely understandable. Those people – the aggressors – are terrified of living in a world where they have to interact closely with other (masked) people and trust authority. They are scared of being small and powerless, because ultimately they are scared of themselves. But that doesn’t make them bad.
It sounds far-fetched and extreme, but there are many who will recognise a bit of both of those people and attitudes in themselves. I know I do.
What’s harder to work out is the undisguised glee that some people seem to take over snitching on others. I guess that’s down to the famously British sense of fair play: those who live doggedly by the rule book think that it’s unfair on them if others don’t. But fair play is also about not jumping to conclusions and respecting the opinions and actions of others, even if you don’t agree with them.
If people are being asked to use their common sense when it comes down to what to do – which seems to be the case – then common sense must also apply when it comes to judging others, rather than letting the inner freelance policeman take over.
By increasing enforcement you decrease individual thought and responsibility. At some point – probably very soon – we’re all going to have to decide when we feel it’s safe and appropriate to recommence our normal day to day activities. That point will come at different times for different people, for very different reasons. But the current situation simply can’t go on forever: the economic damage is already too great.
So now is not the time to claim the moral high ground, which too many people are over-eager to climb. Nobody knows exactly what’s going on in anybody else’s life. Instead, consider what really matters – rather than just what you want to show people you are thinking or doing – and demonstrate compassion towards those feeling more frightened or cynical than you. Their fear is real, but curtain-twitching or shaming doesn’t solve anything.
For more of Anthony Peacock’s coronavirus content, why not read some of his recent articles?
Freedom of Choice? In Favour of a Simpler Life
This week’s blog comes from Anthony Peacock, content creator and part of ULU Nation, our community here at ULU. Today, Anthony writes about the stress and anxiety that can come with having too much choice, and whether a simpler life might be more attractive in today’s often overwhelming society.
Freedom of Choice
I was asking a good friend only yesterday about what made him most stressed. And the reason I was asking was because he’s an individual who hardly ever seems stressed: even under the present circumstances (which aren’t ideal, as he’s contemplating a career change at possibly the worst possible moment, with the economy in freefall and a young family to support).
The problem is, he’s not entirely sure what he should change his career to yet, with a variety of options on the table. He just knows that he needs to jump out of his old job before he gets pushed. But even that’s not worrying him. No, he says that the problem is there’s simply too much choice.
He’d narrowed it down three possible options for his new career, which range from photography to selling classic cars. So in the end, there’s not that much choice: only three potential choices in fact. “But you said generally,” he pointed out. “The job thing doesn’t stress me out at all. What stresses me out is that there are too many choices in life generally. Do you remember when we got my new car?”
How could I forget. Like many people who are seriously into classic cars, my friend doesn’t know – or care – a lot about modern cars. He’s got his old MG convertible (great fun on summer days), 1972 Mini (great fun on any day) and until last year, a smelly Mazda that provided useful transport on most occasions but wasn’t going to trouble the classic collection at all.
And then their baby came, which meant that his girlfriend insisted on a small, cheap, and modern family car. The Mazda went, and after a bit of research, a new Ford Fiesta was selected as urban transport for the new baby and all its associated paraphernalia. I remember recommending this car from a position of supposed expertise and thinking it would be a straightforward process.
Judging by the proposed itinerary of visits to relatives, clinics, and even baby swimming classes, the chauffeuring requirements of this infant were clearly going to exceed those of the Chief Executive of Glaxo Smith Kline. So the proud parents were understandably keen to delve into Ford’s options list for any extra equipment available to help keep the baby safe (although living where they do in London, the only guarantee of this would be if Ford offered the Fiesta with the option of bonnet-mounted sidewinder missiles, armour plating and an ejector seat).
But they don’t. Instead you can have a perimeter alarm, soft feel gear knob, electronic automatic temperature control, parking sensors and capless refuelling system – among many other things – if you so choose.
That was before we even got onto the colour. Luckily they were quite clear about this: blue. But blue is a relative concept. There are in fact three options of blue available, only one of which contains the word ‘blue’.
Let’s be fair: I’m not singling out Ford for criticism here, just pointing out the sheer multiplicity of choice on an everyday basis. We should be grateful that they were not buying a Mini or a Fiat 500 – each of which, when all the possible options and engine sizes are taken into account, is available in more than 500,000 different configurations. In fact, Mini estimates that no two cars are entirely identical.
Choice, of course, is one of the things that define the civilised world – but maybe my friend has a point: does there really have to be so much of it? Go back 30 years, when the Fiesta was first introduced, and there was just a selection of three models: L, S and Ghia. The L was basic, the S had a few extra luxury items (such as headrests!) and the Ghia had everything – including some hideous fake wood and even a cigar lighter. And it’s not just in the world of cars where freedom of choice has skyrocketed.
Back in the days when such a thing was possible, I often used to wander into Starbucks. And I’d always ask for a coffee. Inevitably the answers would come back along the lines of: “Would that be a latte, cappuccino, skinny cappuccino, espresso, frappe, caffe misto, cafe au lait, decaf? Ready at the collection point! ”
And with that, a man approached a machine and conspicuously “made” the coffee by pushing various knobs and buttons for the best part of five minutes, before finally presenting the finished product on a cardboard plinth with the virtuoso air of someone who had just mastered Widor’s Toccata and Fugue on Westminster Cathedral organ.
He just wanted a car. I just wanted a coffee. But neither process is simple.
Looking back at it now of course, people have got far more pressing problems to deal with. Those inconveniences were in reality a luxury. But my friend still believes that too much choice is one of the biggest causes of stress of stress in his life. And while – like everything he says – that’s a bit of a joke, there’s still a serious point behind it (like there is behind most jokes).
Even in the current moment, society has never afforded us more options. That’s both a good and a bad thing. The simple life will always have its attractions. But you can’t get a shot of hazelnut syrup and reverse parking sensors with it.
If you’ve been following along with Anthony’s weekly blogs, you’ll know he’s been writing about all things coronavirus. So, For more of Anthony’s recent articles, why not read, “Adventure in the Time of Coronavirus: To Travel Hopefully…“ or “Coronavirus Week 7: “The New Normal?”
Adventure in the Time of Coronavirus: To Travel Hopefully…
This week’s ULU community blog comes from Anthony Peacock. And those of you who have been following along will know that Anthony has been writing about life in the time of coronavirus. Today, Anthony writes about travel and what this might look like in the coming months and years.
To travel hopefully….
For as long as I can remember, I have travelled: even before I went anywhere. As a kid, I used to pore over the British Airways timetable – back in the days when it was printed – and dream of places that sounded unfeasibly exotic at the time.
Those prosaic timetables, printed on what felt like tissue paper, opened up a world of magic and I used to devour them with quasi-religious excitement. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that many years later I ended up in a job where I was actually flying every week: sometimes more than once a week.
But I say ‘was’ flying (in the past tense) as recently I’ve not been flying anywhere. Not since a very short trip to Australia in the middle of March. That’s probably the longest I’ve ever gone for the majority of my life without getting on a plane.
Now, people are beginning to perhaps think about flying again. Until they read the newspaper. There, they are shocked to find out about potential four-hour airport delays, exorbitant fares, and 14-day quarantine periods on return.
For most people, that’s enough to convince them that staying at home – even when legislation no longer requires it – will be a more attractive option. But there’s more than one perspective on every situation. Because in many ways, there’s never going to be a better time to travel.
The whole philosophy behind travel will almost certainly change in the short-term. The days of mass-market, low-cost ‘disposable’ travel is probably gone – at least for now. Instead, people will want to make trips that are more meaningful: not least because they will also need to ‘invest’ in a fortnight of self-isolation once they return.
So there’s no point anymore in having the odd weekend away to a nearby and obvious destination. Instead, if you’re going anywhere at all, the time is right to take longer trips and visit the places you always wanted to go, rather than just where is cheap and convenient.
Travel costs are going to go up though, and the high-density routes will make this most obvious, as the travel industry seeks to recoup the terrifying amount of money it has lost as quickly as possible. But those increases will be far smaller when it comes to the offbeat and less popular routes, as not many people were travelling to them anyway.
All the more reason to seek them out: perhaps venturing into parts of Eastern Europe that you might not have considered before, for example. There are so many surprises to be had, with hoteliers and restaurateurs set to be eternally grateful for your business, once tourism is open again. Even then, there won’t be a huge take-up: these beautiful places will be relatively free of tourist traffic. It’s a rare chance to see them in a natural setting.
But what about money? The coronavirus outbreak has caused some seismic changes to the British economy, and there will inevitably be people who find themselves without a job and with no prospect of immediate re-employment. This has already caused countless people to re-evaluate their careers and priorities. Some will even be forced to change their entire circumstances and acknowledge that their professional lives as they once knew them have come to an end. There’s just no getting around that.
One friend of mine – a freelance writer whose work has all but dried up – described his existence these days as being largely like being a student: days spent asleep and drinking beer, with a bit of daytime TV and reading thrown in. He knows that there’s no real prospect of things going back to the way they were in the immediate future though, so he has an alternative plan.
He’s going to give up his expensive flat in London and is now completing the restoration of his old Volkswagen campervan – similar to the one you see in the photo – which has been an ongoing project over the last couple of years. Only now, he’s actually got the time to do it.
And when everything is good to travel again, he’s going to load it up, take a ferry to France, and see what happens next. Essentially, he’s taking a gap year exploring Europe (although it might turn out to be a longer or shorter period of time) which is something he’s always wanted to do. He’ll do a bit of writing along the way and hopefully earn enough to continue the journey until it’s time to return to the real world.
His logic is impeccable: his conventional career has come to a natural break and there’s nothing to lose at the moment (apart from everyday bills). He could never justify such a trip before, but now – why not?
Hearing about his plans, who can say that they don’t feel at least a small pang of envy? Of course, it’s not as simple as that for most people, tied by families, businesses, schools and other obligations.
But more and more families are actually now planning a ‘semi-sabbatical’ where they go away together and work from somewhere else for a while: especially if they have recently been put on permanent part-time or working from home deals. They’re thinking that it’s now or never, and their destinations (to name but two I’ve heard recently) range from Spain to New Zealand.
So it’s not that travelling will stop completely: it’s more that there will be other, more mindful, permanent, and worthwhile ways to do it in future. Tourism will no longer be about instant gratification. Instead, the ‘trip of a lifetime’ might genuinely become a reality rather than just a tired cliché for the growing number of people who decide to take the plunge and head for pastures new in the coming weeks.
For more of Anthony’s insightful blogs about coronavirus and the modern world, why not check out some of his recent articles?
Coronavirus Week 7: “The New Normal?”
As we settle into week 7 of coronavirus lockdown, Anthony Peacock has written us a blog about what “the new normal” might look be. Read on to find out about how cost, value and good service might look in a post-coronavirus world, and to find out about the ‘death of premium.’
“The New Normal..?”
Things are definitely waking up around here. Time to adjust to the ‘new normal’. But for those of us who have ordinary working lives, out of the direct line of fire from coronavirus, what exactly does that mean? What will we notice most when we’re eased back into our everyday professional activities?
Less money, certainly, but – staying positive – this sometimes brings out the best in people. There was a remarkable story from Germany recently about how Lufthansa pilots had accepted a pay cut of up to 45% until June 2022, in return for no redundancies.
This was definitely not the sort of compromising attitude you expect to find from a pilots’ union: organisations that are normally every bit as litigious as American divorce lawyers.
But the first thing you learn in any business is to spot the difference between cost and value. So what will your less money buy you? How will the world have changed, economically?
There will be more working from home and less travel. Sticking with the aviation topic, some airlines might even decommission business class, just to get more seats on the plane (as social distancing guidelines will restrict the number of people in each row). Fares will almost certainly go up and there will now be almost no difference between a so-called ‘premium’ airline and a budget one.
This redefinition of ‘premium’ is something we’re likely to see in every area of work and life.
Here’s an example: there’s a very well-established supermarket not far from me, which due to social distancing guidelines has restricted its opening hours and laid out a series of time-consuming rules, complete with a fluorescent-jacketed bouncer on the door, giving the place the atmosphere of a nasty nightclub. These rules are here to stay for quite some time: maybe as long as a year.
Alternatively, there’s a scruffy corner shop run by some friendly people with an eclectic array of produce that ranges from counterfeit biscuits (which, surprisingly, taste better than the brand they are trying to copy) to crisps in flavours you never realised existed. They are open until nearly midnight every day, couldn’t be more helpful – even dishing out free chocolate on one occasion – and you are in and out as quickly as you want to be. No queues, no hassle, no lecturing. It’s not hard to judge what feels to be the more premium service.
The old adage goes that if you want something done properly, the best way is to do it yourself (obviously the person who coined that phrase never watched me hang a painting on a wall).
But the whole notion of ‘good service’ previously prided itself on removing that burden by attentively doing things for you. Now, coronavirus means that people will be expected to do far more things for themselves, on top of their day jobs. That’s going to be a big change.
In many cases, it’s now impossible to get something done for you by someone else:
restaurants will no longer be able to provide the service they would like to and it’s still going to be hard to get things fixed or delivered, even once lockdown is lifted.
This means that the touch points of how to provide a premium service have definitely changed: something for any who works in a service industry to consider. And with people also less willing and able to pay for the classic definition of ‘premium’, everyone is going to have to quite radically re-think the way that they and their companies work. That’s a source of anxiety, but also opportunity.
In all likelihood, the short-term business culture will focus on providing services that make it easier for people to do things by themselves, rather than attempting to do it for them.
As people adapt themselves to the current situation, their expectations are also different, so we all have to shift to meet these new priorities.
A couple of people I know, who were previously capable of burning water, have now not only been forced to cook but actually enjoy the whole process. I suspect they will be seeing the inside of restaurants a lot less frequently than before, as their eyes have been opened to a different way of enjoying themselves. Like many people, they are likely to be less demanding of the physical infrastructure around them in future, instead prioritising value and convenience.
So, no more premium brands? Is the possible death of business class on planes a symptom of a wider societal shift? If we’re going to be travelling less, walking more, and being more ‘mindful’ of our lifestyles – a sentiment that many different people have expressed – what’s the point in having a premium German car when you could get something much smaller, cheaper and environmentally-friendly from Japan?
It’s not exactly a rejection of consumerism, but instead the adoption of a different type of consumerism. So it’s likely that we will see a big explosion of self-help in all its forms over the coming weeks: whether psychological, physical, or digital.
One thing everyone agrees on is that there will be change, and that change is one of the biggest causes of stress. While adaptable, humans are fundamentally creatures of habit.
Recognising that these important changes are coming – in both our personal and professional lives – and analysing what they mean is key to getting the very most out of them. The opportunities are there because the things we fundamentally like and dislike haven’t changed at all: only our way of doing them.
For more of Anthony Peacock’s coronavirus content, check out some of his recent articles:
Post-Coronavirus: Be Careful What You Wish For…
This week we have another blog from content and PR extraordinaire, Anthony Peacock. In light of some of our pre-coronavirus freedoms gradually returning, Anthony writes about what life may look like in the coming weeks. He also gives an interesting counter-perspective to those who believe that everything will return to ‘normal.’ So, what will the new normal look like?
Be careful what you wish for…
There are signs in the capital that the UK is waking up from its economic slumber caused by the coronavirus outbreak. In the news, it’s been widely reported that more “non-essential” shops and businesses are opening: despite the government still saying that nobody should undertake “non-essential” journeys – so how does that work, exactly?
It’s also obvious that there are many more people out in parks and on the streets now than there were just a week ago. The other day I even sat in a traffic jam, which for the first time in living memory actually felt like a cause for celebration.
Or was it? Because many people equate the concept of getting back to normal life with merely swapping one set of deep anxieties for another. With more free movement there’s the risk of infection rates increasing of course. But surprisingly that’s not what a lot of people are worried about. (Although it does certainly play a part: only 37 per cent of people surveyed recently by YouGov said that they would be just as happy as before to return to a pub or bar once the lockdown is lifted).
What we’re seeing instead is a dramatically increased level of social anxiety, although not everyone will admit it. Not only have many people become unaccustomed to human contact, they’ve also become actively distrustful of it. In other words, people have in many cases forgotten how to relate to other people, especially if their only medium of contact has been via a computer screen thanks to Zoom and other teleconferencing apps.
One friend of mine, who owns a small marketing company, told me how difficult it has been in the last few days to maintain effective relationships among his employees. Without daily face-to-face interaction, a couple of them had resorted to vicious bickering via e-mail. And we all know how people say things to each other online that they would never dream about saying in real life.
At the heart of this though – as I told him – is anxiety. And it’s self-perpetuating, because of the chain of tensions that it causes throughout an organisation (or family). Even my friend, the business owner, is “dreading going back now”. As well as being a mediator, he’s going to have to take some tough decisions to get his team working effectively again.
For other people, the concerns are more prosaic: how will they cope with getting up, travelling to work, scheduling meetings, dealing with people, coming home, and carrying out their domestic tasks as well? In short, everything that they used to do before without thinking about it. It may have been just two months ago, but it feels like a lifetime.
Through lack of familiarity, even that everyday routine seems daunting. Many people are even questioning if they have the physical energy, courage, and time to cope with it. “It’s going to be really hard for us to find the confidence to peek out at the world,” as one lady interviewed by Channel 4 put it.
She’s speaking for many. Because the world we go back to might look alien and dystopian, with far fewer of the freedoms we took for granted and an underlying climate of fear.
There will be people wearing masks and uniforms, telling the public what they can do, where, and when. Life is going to feel uncertain, authoritarian and perhaps scary. So, for many people, it would be much easier just to take refuge in the now-familiar surroundings of their own four walls – an environment they can at least control – until it’s all over. Whenever that is.
For all the people you hear about who have cabin fever and say they are raring to go out, there is an equal number – perhaps even a bigger one – of people who instead want to hide and stay in.
The workplace atmosphere has also changed. Even without meaning to, the number of people losing their jobs (British Airways alone is to shed 12,000 people) means that the message companies are sending their employees is that they should feel grateful still to have a job at all: and work harder accordingly.
Further job losses in future can’t be ruled out: even when restaurants (for example) re-open, they’re almost certainly going to be operating at 30 to 40 per cent capacity, due to social distancing regulations. Some companies are even creating plexiglass ‘walls’ that could fit around each restaurant table. Is that really going to be an enjoyable experience? No wonder people are frightened or reluctant to go out.
In the latest YouGov survey this week, 29% of people described themselves as ‘stressed’ while 17% said they were definitely ‘scared’. That even includes a number of premiership football players, who are reluctant to return to action despite a plan to re-start the Premier League in early June.
An end to lockdown won’t mean an end to anxiety. But just as the government narrative is that we might have to live with this virus for a while, it’s just as important to learn to understand and manage the social anxiety that inevitably comes with it.
To read more of Anthony’s thoughts on the modern landscape of coronavirus, here are some of his recent blog posts:
Lockdown Life: Musings From the One-Month Mark
It’s Monday! And that means another blog from PR and content expert, Anthony Peacock. This week Anthony writes about linguistic development, workplace shifts, ‘forced team spirit’ and our newfound dependancy in the face of the one-month anniversary of the coronavirus lockdown.
People all across the country are having to learn an entirely new language right now: and that’s nothing to do with lockdown resolutions to become fluent in Russian within two months.
No, the vocabulary that people are having to learn consists of words such as ‘Zoom’, ‘Microsoft Teams’, and ‘House Party’, together with useful phrases such as ‘your call is being held in a queue’ and ‘how do I unmute myself?’
There’s also scientific terminology such as R value, morbidity and – this for the advanced class – zoonotic. Not to mention everyday conundrums such as the difference between isolation, self-isolation, and social distancing.
The way that many of us work has been radically changed, and it’s actually quite hard to gauge how people feel about it. The corporate message people are expected to send to their colleagues – especially at a time when many are losing their jobs – is that they can’t wait to get back to the office, and time spent working from home is a period of immense professional and personal frustration.
Privately, many of my friends – or those whose income is secure, at least – tell me that they’re absolutely loving it. They love not having to commute, travel to meetings, see their colleagues, or get up as early as usual. As one person I know well put it recently: “what’s there not to like?”
And yet the whole process is still challenging – but in ways you might not have imagined. Take the video meeting, which so many people have been subjected to on a daily basis since last month. There’s so much time lost establishing connections, then ensuring everyone can hear each other and then circling back to things already discussed as and when people drop off. It’s also hard to know when to speak and when to remain silent, leading to loads of ‘no, sorry, after you’.
Even worse is the impromptu game of ‘through the keyhole’. There are plenty of comments on the background décor, tidiness of your room, and sometimes peoples’ clothing choices. Not everyone would choose to invite their colleagues into their homes for several hours each day, but that’s what many people are effectively forced into doing.
One friend works for a company, which to foster ‘team spirit’ has enforced a compulsory half-hour ‘drinks at home’ session for all employees on a Friday afternoon: where work talk isn’t allowed and you have to socialise online. Everyone is encouraged to bring a different drink and explain why they have chosen it.
On the face of it, this sounds fun and well-intentioned (as it probably actually is) but just think about it for a second: enforced jollity, in the sanctuary of your very own home? Even if you’re busy or just not up for it? It’s a degree of workplace control into your private life that’s never been seen before.
Coronavirus has additionally meant that shops are enforcing social distancing measures and closing early. So if you’re working, getting out to do some shopping has become practically impossible – every trip can mean a lengthy excursion – while it’s easier to find a winning lottery ticket than a home delivery slot.
The sharing economy has also collapsed: there’s effectively no AirBnB anymore and to get around you need to have your own car – nobody wants to share theirs with you.
So you make do with what you can, or find a volunteer to shop for you, or settle for a tin of spam and a few old tomatoes from your local shop (just be careful they’re not trying to fleece you: one friend is still complaining now about how he paid £2 for two tomatoes…)
The odd thing about this current way of living is that it’s making us strangely more dependent, at a time when everyone is being encouraged to fend for themselves. There have been lots of examples of enterprise and entrepreneurship but at the same time, more people than ever before are dependent on government handouts – just for business survival. We’re also completely reliant on the state for information about when it’s safe to go out, and when we can resume everyday life.
There’s no suggestion of any conspiracy theory here – although the irrepressible David Icke has been putting out loads of them – but it’s the closest thing to absolute rule that most of us have ever seen, hence the current debate about police powers and the much more serious controversy about what has happened in Hungary, with the prime minister essentially declaring a dictatorship.
Questions have also been asked about what’s being done to ease this country out of lockdown, with the central one being: does the government have a plan and is just not sharing it – or is there no plan at all? As usual, you’ll hear different experts saying different things, but relatively few experts are genuinely independent: most are in the pay or debt of an interested party, so there’s an agenda. Who do you trust? Opinions differ widely: from life getting back to normal relatively soon, to life never being normal (as we knew it) again.
No wonder a lot of people are feeling anxious right now – and that’s before you even start worrying about your likelihood of catching the actual disease…
For more reading about the lockdown, here’s more of Anthony’s coronavirus content:
Anthony Peacock – Necessity: the mother of invention
This week’s blog comes from one of our regular writers here at ULU: Anthony Peacock. If you’ve been reading Anthony’s blogs over the past few weeks, you’ll know that he’s got a knack for taking our current fears regarding the pandemic and prompting us all to reframe them: to uncover some desperately needed positivity that might be buried just below the surface. So, read on for a hopeful spin on the current coronavirus situation in the UK.
Necessity: The Mother of Invention
Back when the Second World War dropped its bombs on London, Elizabeth the Queen Mother, declared that she was glad Buckingham Palace had taken a hit. Not because she didn’t like the curtains: instead so that she could now “look the East End in the face.”
A full 70 years later, her daughter – also called Elizabeth – addressed the nation in the face of another onslaught, this time the coronavirus.
Her message? That this difficult time, like the last one her mother spoke about, will pass and that modern Britons should be able to say that they faced up to their ordeal with the same degree of fortitude as their ancestors in wartime.
But how much will coronavirus actually change life in the long-term? There’s been lots of advice recently posted online from business people who recall going through the tumultuous 2008 financial crash, not to mention 9/11, and feeling at the time that the world had immutably changed and would never be the same again.
Yet just a few years later things were back to normal, the angst a distant memory, business processes stronger than before. What these people are saying is exactly the same thing as the Queen, albeit less elegantly: you might think that this is the big one, but it really isn’t it.
For the moment, however, things certainly look very different: especially in the streets of London that are normally thronged with tourists. The streets have fallen post-apocalyptically silent apart from a few zombies queuing for shops, studiously keeping their distance. Many people, including several I know, have admitted to feelings of helplessness: like being a passenger stuck on a life raft mid-ocean with no horizon in sight.
Yet look at it the other way and it’s actually possible to feel empowered by this experience. People are having to rely on their own ingenuity and selves like never before; learning to improvise and be practical in ways that they never thought they were capable of. Necessity being the mother of invention and all that.
There are clever solutions to everyday problems wherever you look. One man in urgent need of a desk, for example, simply tipped a child’s cot upside down and made a perfectly serviceable desk. Another person in Italy has invented a way to turn an ordinary scuba diving mask into an oxygen mask. There’s a start-up company that’s developed a wrist band that will alert you when you’re about to touch your face, and yet another that’s come up with a portable door handle – so you don’t have to touch the one that’s there already.
Radar, computers, rockets, even superglue: all these things were invented at breakneck speed because of the urgency of war. The enforced solitude is also hustling the pace of digital innovation, with home working software and telecommunications taking massive steps forward.
People and businesses have been enterprising enough to rapidly diversify in all sorts of ways, with restaurants turning into shops, a British Airways 747 pilot now flying a Tesco van, and a local wine merchant introducing guided tastings over the internet (via Zoom) – he’ll send you six half-bottles and you taste them together online.
Even Formula 1 teams, best-known for protecting their own self-interests, have come together in a consortium to manufacture vital medical equipment.
More subversively, a friend of mine is also working on a computer programme aimed at home workers who are now meant to be in front of their screens all day. It will simulate online activity, making the boss happy while allowing the home worker to sunbathe in the garden, watch TV, or whatever.
With shopping being tricky, I found myself the other day wondering how best to repurpose a packet of very old brussels sprouts whose sell by date was a distant memory. Normally I would have thrown them away, but they’ll be fine if chopped and fried with fresh chilli (Nigella says you should never be without anchovies, I reckon the same applies to chilli). The point being that I had never really tested my vegetable resurrection skills before.
So it’s been a remarkable display of invention and resolve all over the country, on a macro and (very) micro scale.
But how much of it will actually last? Will we able to take some of these innovations and apply them to our lives post-corona? Will there be an explosion in home working (I guess not, if Dan gets his programme successfully up and running…)?
It’s just about possible that life might look a bit different afterwards. One American politician recently suggested that handshakes should be permanently consigned to history now. He has a point as they’re a symbol of distrust anyway: originally, shaking someone’s hand was just a test to see if they had any hidden weapons up their sleeves..
But the strong likelihood is that we’ll simply slide into our comfortable old ways once this is over: the reassuring routine of familiar everyday activity.
It’s just human nature, even if you can’t quite imagine it now. Like the Queen (and Vera Lynn before her) said: “we will meet again.” Guaranteed.
And for more pandemic-related content, check out “We’re Living in a Pandemic – But It’s Not What You Think!”
Three Days in March: Formula One and Coronavirus
This week’s ULU Nation blog comes from Anthony Peacock. Anthony runs Mediatica, a content creation agency specialising in the automotive sector. He also takes care of PR for ULU, and this week, he’s been writing about Formula One and Coronavirus. Read on for Anthony’s account of his experience in Melbourne for the first round of the Formula One World Championship amid recent Coronavirus fears.
Anthony Peacock’s Three Days in March
There are lots of things that cause anxiety, but travel and illness are two well-known examples. And for three days in March, these two factors came together in a perfect storm that touched the lives of several friends and colleagues.
I was one of the 2000 people or so who made the long trip to Australia for work purposes at the first round of the Formula One World Championship in Melbourne. What happened subsequently has been well-reported, but it might be quite interesting for people to know what it was actually like from the inside.
The Australian Grand Prix got underway in a climate of uncertainty, owing to the far-reaching effects of the Coronavirus, which causes the Covid-19 disease. A while earlier, the Chinese Grand Prix had been cancelled. And just before we all left for Australia, we’d heard that the Bahrain Grand Prix – scheduled for just a week after the race in Melbourne – would be run behind closed doors (a first in Grand Prix history).
It was evident from the moment I got to Heathrow Airport that it would be a very different weekend in Australia. The British Airways flight to Hong Kong (then Qantas to Melbourne) was largely deserted. And masked figures roamed the airport like something out of a zombie apocalypse film. Another colleague, whose first flight to Australia was on Emirates from Milan to Dubai (back when Milan airport was still open), was the only passenger on a Boeing 777.
We got to the paddock, a tight-knit community, and it was largely empty. But it was the social interaction that was fascinating. People who had been to Italy or China (or were Italian or Chinese) were largely treated as lepers. People awkwardly bumped elbows rather than shaking hands. It’s a multicultural and warm environment in F1. But there was none of the kissing and hugging that’s normal after people haven’t seen each other for a long time. If you offered your hand to shake – as I did – it was almost judged to be irresponsible.
As always, the natural defence was humour – which did lighten the atmosphere. There were jokes about marking areas as “unclean,” and feeding certain people pancakes. – As that’s the only food you can slide under the door. It’s really important to stress one thing here: none of these jokes were made out of any form of malice. Instead, it was a natural reaction to nervousness and a very human desire to make light of a bad situation, shrouded by uncertainty. It definitely helped, and the one positive aspect was the genuine feeling of comradeship.
But underlying the humour was the worrying fact that some colleagues and friends had been taken from the paddock already on Wednesday to be tested for Coronavirus. On Thursday, it was all that anyone was talking about, and then on Thursday night it all came to a head. One of those people, from the McLaren team, had tested positive. The team then decided to withdraw from the grand prix. And a meeting of team principals on Thursday night resolved to abandon the grand prix.
What happened next was almost farcical. A political wrangle about who would take responsibility for the decision meant that there was no official communication until Friday morning. For literally hours beforehand, personnel had been wandering the paddock, unclear as to what to do. As one team principal put it: “The latest is that…there is no latest.”
Some people had stayed in their hotels, worried for their own safety, as various airports in Italy closed. One colleague had his flight altered four times, having spent an estimated three hours on the phone to his airline to try and resolve the situation.
McLaren wasn’t there at all, with 14 members of the team potentially infected and so quarantined to their rooms in Australia for the next two weeks. These were people who set off thinking that they would be back in a few days. You sign up for travelling the world, but you don’t sign up for this.
A bit later came the news that a load more races were cancelled as well. The season might well not start until the middle of the year. But nobody told the fans who were queuing up outside the circuit gates on Friday morning…
I spoke to a freelance photographer. He relies on these races happening for his income. He also thought he had been in contact with a Coronavirus carrier. This photographer told me that potentially he wasn’t going to earn anything until the middle of the year, despite having shelled out for flights to Australia, Bahrain, and Vietnam, among other places. He was worried that he’d be quarantined for two weeks, like the McLaren guys, according to local regulations. Furthermore, he said that if so, he didn’t have the money to pay a hotel bill for that long. And above all he missed his family. He wanted to go home.
The moral of the story? People are tremendously good at compartmentalising and hiding stress, even though you would never guess that they were so unhappy from the outside.
There were lots of other people who told a similar story: worried about potentially being trapped on the other side of the world, unable to see friends or family, not even knowing when they got to go home, worried about becoming ill, infecting loved ones, and not being able to work.
The reality is that so many people working in what appear from the outside to be dream jobs felt let down and anxious, many wondering what they were doing travelling the world in the first place – given the current climate – but equally feeling that they had little choice. They were all stressed and in need of help. And that’s nothing to do with Formula One. It applies to any international workers or travellers at the moment, in Europe and beyond.
It even applies to people who are quarantined at home. People who are watching news stories about supermarket shelves emptying, and the prospect of the pandemic getting worse: perhaps about it seriously harming their elderly relatives.
For many, the world has never seemed a more concerning place. And that’s why, in times like these, we need to focus on positivity more than ever. The Australian Grand Prix was a weird weekend – but it was only a small reflection of everything else that’s going on at the moment.
For more content by Anthony, read his recent blog about travel, Anthony Peacock: Sleepless in Seattle. Or Was it Toronto?
For more content about Formula One and Coronavirus, read a recent blog from our founder, Paul Hembery: Paul Hembery’s 2020 Formula One Review – Not!
Anthony Peacock: Back to School
This week’s blog is from Anthony Peacock. Read on for some really beautiful and thought-provoking insights into the spectrum of human emotion found in airports and the wisdom we can all gain from the folly of youth.
Back to School
I’m writing this from an airport departure lounge in Barcelona, sometime after 5am. It’s pitch dark outside, bitterly cold, and the terminal is largely deserted.
There are a few lone travellers about. Plus a massive school group, all done up in identical orange and white fleeces. Because these days you can fly to London for less than a tenner as long as you don’t mind getting up before most people in Spain go to bed.
At least the kids are happy. They’re talking about the exciting adventures they are bound to get up to while away. Underage drinking, illicit smoking, and perhaps a bit of amateur seduction for the more risqué among the crowd.
Everyone else, me included, just looks plain miserable. After all, there’s no more depressing place than an early morning airport, is there?
We’ve all got our own reasons for feeling unhappy. For me, it’s an unscheduled journey I’d rather not be making, at a time when all sorts of other stuff is going on too. Having been to bed at 1:30am and waking up long before the alarm went off at 4am doesn’t help. Especially after a sleepless night in a grotty part of town next to the airport.
The man opposite me is engrossed in his computer, although it’s clearly not a happy relationship. He’s not liking what he sees, jabbing at the keys, scowling at the screen, which contains some sort of interminable excel file, from what I could see earlier. So much anger, so early in the morning.
I’d guess he got up in even more of a hurry than me, tie at a weird angle and collars that are sticking up. He keeps running his fingers through his hair. You can almost feel the stress running off him. Probably he needs to be prepare for a meeting that’s happening way sooner than he wants it to. And if he screws up, he’s in trouble.
Then there’s the woman sitting at the end of the row, about as far as possible from everyone else as it’s possible to get. She’s staring vacantly into space, a million miles away, clutching a tissue very tightly in her left hand.
Airports are funny places. They’re associated with happiness and sadness, excitement and desperation, reunions and partings, work and leisure. And for many people – whatever their reason for travelling – fear and anxiety.
In his book, ‘A Week at the Airport’, writer Alain de Botton describes airports as a crucible of human emotion: a microcosm of mankind placed on a conveniently-sized petri dish.
“There is a painful contrast between the enormous objective projects that we set in train, at incalculable financial and environmental cost – the construction of terminals, of runways and of wide-bodied aircraft – and the subjective psychological knots that undermine their use,” writes de Botton. “How quickly all the advantages of technological civilisation are wiped out by a domestic squabble. At the beginning of human history, as we struggled to light fires and to chisel fallen trees into rudimentary canoes, who could have predicted that long after we had managed to send men to the moon and aeroplanes to Australasia, we would still have such trouble knowing how to tolerate ourselves, forgive our loved ones and apologise for our tantrums?”
That profound truth, like every bit of genuinely insightful writing, reflects our everyday reality. It’s not only present in that airport lounge in Barcelona, but also in everyone you see around you, right now.
And it’s too easy to focus on those negative issues and think of all the modern conveniences of everyday life, such as airports, phones and computers – as just a way to make them more acute.
Even if you’re flying to the other end of the world, text messages, emails and social media will always follow you. Whatever crisis you face, modern transport and telecommunications will bring you closer to its epicentre faster than ever before. There’s even Wi-Fi on the actual plane now: previously the final frontier of digital seclusion.
Whether they like it or not, people are being forced to confront situations sooner and faster than they think. And it’s all too easy to be sucked into a web of useless anger and negativity, especially at 5am.
In fact, the only people who weren’t abjectly miserable in that airport were the kids. Because they didn’t have a care in the world, they didn’t mind the earliness of the hour, they saw each day only as an adventure and an opportunity. They wore their worries as casually as their school fleeces.
That’s the mindset we could all do with getting back into from time to time. In theory, we’re meant to be the responsible adults setting an example to kids about how to behave. In reality, it’s us who can often learn a lot from them.
For more insights from Anthony, read his last blog, ‘Sleepless in Seattle – Or Was It Toronto?‘