Financial Mail

Be brave, a new world is dawning

Level 3 marks a tentative step towards resuming normal economic activity — but just how normal will it be?

- @shapshak BY TOBY SHAPSHAK

So, this is the new normal. Here we are. After the worst of lockdown, as it were, we’ll soon be on level 3. What does it mean for our lives and the nature of work? We’ve been hearing about this “new normal” for the past two months. The only consistent thing appears to be that you still can’t buy cigarettes.

Two months of lockdown have ravaged the economy; let’s hope it was worth it. Now we have to rebuild. What is certain is that the economic landscape after Covid-19 will be a lot like the devastated wasteland you see in sci-fi movies. We’ve been living through the zombie apocalypse, thankfully without the zombies.

So, what do we do to turn the lights back on?

Some sectors and profession­s, such as retail, restaurant­s, bars, entertainm­ent venues, hairdresse­rs, beauty salons, personal trainers, chiropract­ors, physiother­apists, therapists and doctors, have been harder hit than others.

The jobs on that list do seem to be those that are the least likely to be automated by robots or artificial intelligen­ce — though this might be cold comfort for people whose incomes dried up because of the lockdown.

So, what is the new normal and what will the future of work look like?

With fears of a second or third wave of infections when businesses reopen, it’s certain that lots of people are still going to work from home.

Companies are going to use what is already being called a hybrid model. In the age of smartphone­s, laptops and fast internet, if you’re able to work like that, you probably already were before the lockdown.

If you’ve just joined the remote working and mobile workforce, you will have discovered there are pros and cons. Less time in traffic and less spending on petrol, but young kids and the housework can be distractio­ns.

It’s a middle-class problem, sure, but it’s middle-class consumers who earn incomes, pay taxes, take out mortgages, buy cars and smartphone­s, eat at restaurant­s (if only) and subscribe to streaming services.

The middle class is an economic engine for any economy, and one that needs to nurtured. Such consumers will, albeit begrudging­ly, still be paying taxes after all those businesses hit by the lockdown have folded their tents.

It turns out that when people work from home, they tend to work too much rather than too little. It’s a bizarre phenomenon; they overcompen­sate to make sure their bosses or peers don’t think they’re slacking off.

This new normal now includes retail stores opening.

How much of an impact the lockdown will have on retail sales is one of the things economists (and business managers) will be closely watching next week. Did Covid-19 give e-commerce an unfair advantage, as Ebrahim Patel thinks? Now we can find out.

Shapshak is editor-in-chief and publisher of

Two months of lockdown have ravaged the economy; let’s hope it was worth it

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