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Are you optimistic or pessimistic about recovery?

As we start to unwind just a little from the COVID-19 lockdown in the UK I’ve been reflecting this week on whether I’ve got the right balance of optimism and pessimism for my own business and for my clients.

I spoke to three of my contacts in China this week and for them life is getting pretty much back to normal. Traffic is busy, restaurants and bars are full, and offices are now reaching 100% occupancy (though still with social distancing). The bounce back is underway.

Back in the UK I was still feeling relatively pessimistic as I’ve not seen recovery yet. But it’s clear the different parts of the world are moving at different speeds.

It’s hard to plan your business when you not sure whether this is a temporary dip or the beginning of a series of spikes that will last for 12 to 18 months. You have to plan for the worst but drive for the best.

I also received a certificate this week for 40 years of membership in the CIPD (the UK HR professional association) and that made me think about the difficult times I’ve worked through from in the last 20 years; he economic downturn in the early 2000s, the financial crisis in 2008/9nd the other events that have disrupted life to different degrees in different countries, such as 9/11 and SARS. All of them have had an impact on my business but none of them turned out to be as bad as I feared and, when business was on the up, it never turned out as good as I hoped.

Listening to the stories from China was encouraged. Sitting where I am in the UK, we must be pretty close to the bottom of the curve on business disruption (though by no means at the end of it), so it feels quite pessimistic. China is a couple of months ahead of us in the process, so maybe that is a look into our near future.

I’m usually optimistic about our ability in business to bounce back. It must be dreadful if you are in travel or international tourism, but many other sectors might recover quite quickly.

In times like these things change fast. Three months ago I was flying to Las Vegas to run a conference for several hundred sales people. When I landed, I received a text to say it was cancelled. Within a couple of weeks all of our face-to-face training for the next 3 to 4 months (50% of our business) was cancelled within the next week.

By the end of the month we had recovered all the losses and business was actually up on the previous forecast due to strong interest in remote team working and online/virtual meetings training. The summer is looking relatively quiet, but the autumn is busy. We were very fortunate to be in the right training topic areas and with a strong ability to deliver by live web seminar and online learning. I know many training organisations have suffered badly.

Its hard to be certain how it will look 3 months form now – more sporadic lockdowns, or life coming back to normal. I epxect it will vary a lot around the world and in different industry sectors.

Our clients in countries that have done a good job of managing the crisis, such as Germany, seem optimistic about getting back to a modified and distanced version of face-to-face training in the autumn. Others, particular in the US, are assuming nothing face-to-face will happen till at least 2021 – this is still the base scenario we are planning around. The scientific consensus seems to be that we will experience a number of spikes and challenges until a vaccine is available. On an optimistic basis this is mid to late 2021.

How are you finding achieving the balance between planning for the worst and trying to achieve the best possible outcome from this? I feel the first stirrings of optimism.

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