A workplace paradigm shift?

Many companies are now planning to bring staff back off furlough (at its peak there were 9.3 million people furloughed) and start to open up their offices, albeit with a reduced capacity. The question still remains about where staff will be expected to conduct their work. This blog outlines some of the observations I’ve had over the last few months and speculates as to how this virus will enable a significant shift in where we work and our work commute patterns.

I do think it is unlikely that there will be a return to the commuting patterns pre-covid. This has numerous implications for businesses that accommodate staff in offices, businesses that are located to service historic worker populations, support the journey to and from work, and also how we utilise our home space.

Our 2020 Location Planning and Customer Insight Practitioners’ Salary Survey (collected pre-covid in January 2020) indicated that flexible working is on the increase, from 68% in 2018 to 71% in 2020. Working from home has significantly increased, from 58% in 2018 to 69% of respondents in 2020. It is very likely that these percentages, in our focus industry of Insight and Analytics, will increase when we carry out the survey again in 2022.

The commuter commotion 

I have done this myself and know of hundreds of people who have followed a similar path. As people move through their life-stages there is often a desire to move from renting to getting on the housing ladder and purchasing a property. There tends to be an affordability gap between homes in close proximity to peoples’ work (which are typically city based) forcing first time buyers to look further afield, which results in a longer, more expensive, commute.

Before coronavirus, my Facebook timeline was occasionally littered with complaints from friends’ commuting experiences. They followed a common thread; their commute was a necessary chore, fraught with overcrowded, inconsiderate (and sometimes smelly) people the ‘pleasure’ of which often comes at no small price (which only increases every January!). I read in the Sunday papers the other week that our trains are currently operating with better punctuality than German trains, granted services have been severely curtailed and are operating at less than 50% of capacity, but is it economically viable? This pandemic will change commuter patterns long term and it has the attention of Whitehall officials both from a financial support perspective, where billions are being spent to ensure the transport system remains in operation, to pressure on the transport providers to find new ways of incentivising ‘regular’ passengers.

Pre-lockdown behaviour for those who typically did a 4 or 5 day commute was influenced by company culture and expectation but it was also influenced by the use of rail or tube season tickets. In terms of culture one person I spoke to described it as being made to feel guilty for working from home – this was obviously pre-Covid and I would imagine that this guilt may dissipate to a certain degree post-Covid. On the commute there is normally a cut off (usually between 3-4 commutes a week) that means it’s economically beneficial to switch from individual day passes to weekly, monthly or yearly season tickets. Once you have bought that longer-term ticket you are likely to feel even more compelled to make sure you are using it above the magic number of trips. No one likes to pay for trips that they don’t use.

The train operators will have to (and some have already) introduce more flexible options, such as 3 or 4 day season tickets, and the option for ‘carnet’ style tickets which allow you to bulk buy a set number of journeys per month, quarter or year. Like with many businesses this pandemic may significantly change the business model of the transport providers – which currently ‘penalises’ peak time commuters with high ticket prices for a (largely) poor experience to subsidise the provision of services at off peak times. Regular commuters may be concerned about the price increases that are likely to be implemented in January 2021 given the volumes of passengers will unlikely return to previous numbers.

Redress the balance for working mums 

It has been a well-documented frustration of mine that our industry has not been very good at retaining working mums. Some mothers find it hard to justify continuing in their employment if they are expected to do a full commute, particularly if that commute is lengthy as they have moved to a place in the suburbs that is more affordable and offers better schooling options. I know it is getting easier in terms of parents sharing the parental burden and the traditional role of the male as the ‘main breadwinner’ is thankfully changing. Businesses can also help by being more flexible in their expectations and to show willing and more understanding of the impact a commute has on young mothers who have to often juggle two full time roles.

The Head/Support office

This pandemic has certainly challenged thinking about the future role of offices as a place to work.

Offices should be a place to promote corporate values, provide a meeting place for clients and suppliers and somewhere to foster collaboration between colleagues.

Covid-compliance for offices contains some fairly stringent guidance which will certainly impact offices in terms of occupancy, cleaning and layout.

 Working Safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres

Download Working Safely during COVID-19 in offices and contact centres

Companies have always had an obligation to provide a safe work environment for their employees.  The above guidance states that “no-one is obliged to work in an unsafe work environment” particularly in relation to a potentially fatal virus.  This will mean that there will be a shift in emphasis to an individual assessment of whether working in an office poses an acceptable level of risk, coupled with the individual’s role/function and their ability to perform to the expected level in either an office or home environment.  Other changes are at force which are driven by technology.  The main driver is the increase in broadband speeds to residential areas (granted there is still great variability depending on how near you are to a switch or exchange) meaning that the office is no longer the only place to find fast connectivity speeds.  Most households that have teenage children (including mine) will see an immediate increase in their bandwidth when schools are able to open at capacity.  Mobile computing means that most office tasks can be carried out securely and efficiently from home. Connectivity software such as Zoom, Skype, and Teams etc. means that we can connect with distributed colleagues in a variety of manners. 

For those of us used to working in collaborative office environments the lockdown has certainly been a challenge and most people miss (and crave) that face-to-face engagement with colleagues.  Humans are naturally social animals and despite the fantastic features with these connectivity tools, it’s never quite the same as being in the same room as someone. As confidence improves and measures are eased it is all about finding a balance that works for both the company and the individual. 

Businesses with central offices, reliant in the main on public transport for staff to get in, will need to be more flexible about office staffing levels and acceptable hours of work.  This will allow staff to decide on the most appropriate times to commute in order to avoid peak congestion times.  This will help alleviate some of the peak pressure that has been faced by the transport companies and help spread demand to times where there is more capacity. As well as reducing the risk of virus exposure there will also be the benefits of a nicer commute.  It could also result in offices, which will have to operate at reduced capacity, being utilised for more hours of a day.  I could envisage there being two office shifts – one for those who come in early and leave early and one for those who travel later and leave later. Alternatively, people may wish to extend their office hours for the limited days they are in i.e. come in early and leave late. 

Some business are moving completely to remote – given that the second biggest cost after staff costs is usually office rent, I can see why some businesses are doing this.  A close friend of mine who works for a tech business in central London was in the process of moving to a new office as the virus impact took hold.  They have now decided to go completely remote as this significant cost saving could help turn the business around as revenues have been hit by the pandemic.  They will be looking at flexible, cost effective ways to get everyone together at periodic times through the year once it is safe to do so.  One potential challenge with a move to more flexible working is that of clarity in an employment contract and definition of their usual place of work. 

The new town centre use

This section was inspired by an excellent panel discussion a few months ago hosted by Said Business School.  The discussion centred on some of the issues highlighted above in terms of changing commuting patterns, the future role of the office and the opportunity that presents itself as a result for our town centres. The panel talked of a ‘third’ workplace (first being the office, second being home) which is likely to be within a short distance of home, based in some of our smaller towns and cities.  This third space is likely to be flexible, affordable co-working space.  A place where people have a safe and secure working environment with good wi-fi connectivity, private rooms and good drink making facilities! A good example of such facility would be Perch in Bicester (https://www.perchcoworking.co.uk/pioneer-square/).  The major cities often have a range of co-working facilities and there are a number of national providers in this space.  My sense of smaller locations is that these are often local run initiatives.  Perhaps there is a franchise opportunity for a chain of co-working spaces in smaller locations that could leverage the abundance of (retail) space that a lot of our town centres can offer? 

These spaces provide an opportunity to have a break from the home office environment or an alternative to going into the central office for those people that are unable to work from home.  It’s not the same as working with colleagues in an office, unless by chance there is a local cluster of colleagues living near each other, but there are still opportunities for networking and collaboration.  The other benefit would be that it would give a vital footfall boost to some of the smaller towns and cities which could be important to help national and independent retail, service and F&B chains survive this crisis caused by the pandemic.  

There is little doubt that this pandemic will change the way we (workers and companies) evaluate our commuting choices and our workplace locations in the light of pandemic risk.   

I do think there has been a significant psychological impact of the pandemic and a lot of people, myself included, are now caught in two minds.  We crave for some of the freedoms to return but we are also fearful of potential exposure to the virus (regardless of the extremely low probabilities) from doing certain ‘unnecessary’ activities.  This fear will dissipate as we slowly take back some of those lost liberties and gain confidence in our diminishing chances of catching the disease. For me, I’d rather not share a cramped enclosed space with a host of strangers on a tube (regardless of whether they have got masks or not) but still crave going to support my favourite football team in the stadium or going to watch an indoor gig.  

I do think that individuals will want to have greater flexibility in their commuting patterns and caring, trusting organisations will support that to the benefit of all in the move to recovery. 

What are your thoughts? Are you planning and hoping to return to your normal commute and working environment? Think you’ll end up with a blended working structure or would you actually prefer to work from home? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Photo by Visual Tag Mx from Pexels

Post Lockdown – What are our predictions for the future?

It’s the end of the (old) world as we know it (and I feel fine) 

Now I have finished with my review of how businesses and individuals have been coping, (Click to read Part One and Part Two of the New Normal) I thought I would conclude the final part with some predictions:

  • Too many people, too few jobs – I do believe that we will start to see an increase in the announcement of redundancies as the Government looks to end the Job Retention Scheme.  Once businesses start to incur the significant costs of staff and premises it really does depend on how their revenues recover post lockdown as to whether they can maintain their pre-covid employment levels.  We are already seeing some businesses (including those owned by Gordon Ramsay) using the Job Retention Scheme funding to pay people through their redundancy notice. 
  • Head Office/Home Office balance – This isolation has proved that a lot of people can successfully work from home and businesses are still able to function.  Offices will need to be repurposed in order to cater for reduced employment densities (most offices are now aiming to operate at 20-25% capacity immediately after lockdown easing) and the way we interact with them will change.  Some businesses have already made the decision to not open their offices until 2021.  Most of us will still desire that face-to-face interaction and collaboration with our colleagues, albeit, on a less frequent basis. 
  • Hours to suit – Flexi-time will see a resurgence. Most businesses will need to show willing to enable their staff to commute with minimal exposure at peak times on public transport. The authorities and environmentalists would like to see everyone walk/cycle to work (participation will inevitably be higher during the nice weather) but where public transport is the only practical mode it will mean flexible start and finish times to minimise peak travel. 
  • Digital dominance – We will all emerge from lockdown with new abilities for the digital age – particularly around remote working and video communication.  I feel that this will help diminish the need for some physical face-to-face contact in order to get business done.  It will mean greater scrutiny and justification of travel, particularly with use of public transport.  There will also be an emergence of new rising stars within businesses who have a natural flair for engaging in the digital world – some skills may translate from the physical world, other competencies will be discovered or developed. 
  • Home delivery and online will rise sharper than recent historic growth levels – The grocery sector has seen phenomenal growth in demand for online services in the last few months, to the extent that they have been unable to fulfil all the potential. I believe this will continue as more capacity is added and the crisis proves to be the trigger that forces a step-change in people’s behaviour, with more preferring to have their regular groceries delivered, to the detriment of the environmental considerations. 
  • People will shop local and support their independents – The successful independents have been very good at adapting their offer in the crisis and really engaging in support of their local customers.  I believe there will be a lot more emphasis that people put on supporting these independent businesses and shopping local. 
  • Retail Phoenix from the flames – There will always be a physical retail/leisure/F&B sector in the UK but there will be some clear winners and losers that emerge.  Some businesses will be rendered flightless (excuse the analogy) and be left to wither in the embers, struggling with business models that are unsustainable moving forward. Other businesses will adapt and survive.  
  • The death of retail browsing? The old ‘retail therapy’ rule book will need to be ripped up. Conversion rates should increase as people make visits with a clear purpose, and average basket sizes will increase as shopper frequency will be down and customers will be unable to try before they buy (due to the changing rooms being unavailable). This will result in an increase in returns and in the challenge retailers face on getting this returned stock sold.  
  • Retail Property is broken, and it needs Landlords and tenants to fix it – Both parties need to share the pain out of the current crisis. There has to be a recognition that Landlords still have bills to pay and so withholding rent for an extended period of time may not be acceptable.  This crisis will drive a fundamental re-correction in retail rents in order to take account of the new function of retail and ongoing rental sustainability.  There also needs to be a drive for more flexible leases where both parties share in the upside but share the pain of depressed performance.
  • Staycation havoc – With businesses encouraging staff to take holiday, people wanting a change of scenery from their home, and continued uncertainty on the opening up of international borders (and who will be around to take us to foreign climes) this can only mean that everyone will be holidaying in this country in 2020.  My advice, particularly if you have children, is to get your October half term and Xmas trips booked as soon as possible as prices are likely to go through the roof. 
Have you planned your staycation?
  • We will be better prepared for next time – This may be a once in a lifetime event (or longer) but be sure that UK plc will need to become a little more self-sufficient in certain areas – particularly with regards necessary medical supplies.  Who is to say that some forms of manufacturing won’t come back to our shores?
  • It will be an employers’ market – to a certain degree.  With too many candidates chasing too few roles the big challenge will be efficiently filtering applications.  This is where, as a recruiter, we can do our big value add to hiring managers and HR teams.   This will also mean that candidates will have to be more on point throughout the process than they have ever been, from their CV and covering letter, to interview skills – again, something we are well placed to support.  

Give us a call on +44(0)7918 653 877 / +44(0)7979 756 257 or email info@redtigerconsulting.co.uk if you would like to talk about finding talented individuals wishing to consider a fresh challenge to join your team.

Image: Photo by Mark Arron Smith from Pexels

The new normal (part one)

Coronavirus has impacted everyone’s lives over the last few months and I would imagine most people are well and truly bored of the subject. With lockdown slowly being lifted and we tentatively ease back into more flexible routines, I thought it would be an appropriate time to provide an irreverent summary of my thoughts.

It’s Only Words 

This crisis has certainly expanded everyone’s vocabulary and brought new meaning to a number of words and phrases: 

  • The new normal – typically a management consultant’s mantra, this phrase has permeated into all manner of writing and conversation in relation to Covid-19 to provide a catch all on what our world will look like post pandemic. It infers that there will be some changes to the status quo. One change will be that it will make its way onto the boardroom bingo list. 
  • Driven by the data – never before have I witnessed such a consistent emphasis with the public on the use of data to inform decisions.  The nation at large have had to get used to a wide range of graphs, charts, infographics and maps, albeit of varying quality.  It is interesting to see how some regular charts have dropped off the agenda – particularly the one that ‘compare’ the death rate across different countries.  What can also be seen is how merging different disparate datasets can help give a much clearer picture and that individual datasets must be understood in the context of what they include or don’t include (metadata).   It is also worth mentioning how terms such as algorithm and modelling/models have stealthily sneaked into the lexicon of healthcare officials.  It is a good time to be into data!  If you interested its worth checking out this BBC4 programme. Watch Contagion The BBC Pandemic 2018
Sales of Corona Extra dropped as people avoided it for fear of catching the virus
  • Coronavirus and Covid-19 – I do wish we had never heard of these two phrases and I would imagine that AB InBev the company that owns Corona Extra lager would say the same for the former commonly used phrase. 
  • Lockdown – When will it end?  What are the transition rules going to be?   Do we stay at home or stay alert or both?  I’ve seen some interesting innovations, such as a lockdown rave with strategically placed tape allowing for a socially distanced square to dance in, and restaurant concepts where everyone dines in an enclosed bubble.  What will ongoing social distancing restrictions mean for consumer businesses, their space requirements and their business model? 
  • The R number – This is the (R)eproduction number which measures the average number of people that an infected person will pass the virus on to.  More than 1 is bad, less than 1 and as near as possible to 0 is good.  I’m not entirely sure how we can accurately track the R number without thorough testing and tracking but I am sure that the contact-tracing app that is trialling on the Isle of Wight is one step in the right direction if we can get widespread adoption. 
  • Social distancing – A series of interventions designed to minimise the spread of the disease. This can be everything from not going out at all, to ensuring you stay a minimum of 2 metres away from people from outside of your own household (in Australia it is 4 metres!), and only going out for essential trips such as shopping, visiting the doctors/pharmacy and exercise.   Apparently Boris has been asking medical experts whether it is feasible to reduce this down to 1 metre.   Based on my experiences I do perhaps think there should be public training on what 2 metres actually is, oh no, I’m starting to sound like a:  
  • Covidiot – This has become a common phrase to describe those that clearly break the rules on social distancing.  I would argue that it should also be used to describe those who have nothing better to do than highlight how well they are doing with regards sticking the rules (are they rules or ‘guidelines’) and take great pleasure in highlighting situations where others aren’t being so strict. 
Durdle Door beach in Dorset, during coronovirus the pandemic
  • Video calls – A lot of people didn’t know what Zoom, MS Teams or Skype really were before Covid-19 struck.  Whatever your preference it is a great bit of technology when used in the right way, but there have also been a number of video call fails – from connection problems forgetting to unmute when speaking, speaking when someone else is speaking, spewing profanities when thinking you are on mute, all the way through to walking around in your altogether in the background whilst being blissfully unaware that your partner is on a live work video call.   
Coffee Break Zoom Call

There is always one who takes their mastery of the technology to another level.  Basic operators know how to join a call, switch video on and unmute the microphone.  Intermediate level operators take it one step further by showing they can raise their hand, chat to the group (or privately to individuals), record the proceedings, and change their background picture to something vaguely amusing for a nanosecond.  Advanced users take it one step further both in their attire (a professional looking headset may well be accompanied by a funny hat or wig) and their mastery of the technology.  This includes choosing a background video (I haven’t seen a roller coaster video with a fan on to mimic the blowing of hair yet), to suggesting the use of Whiteboards for that all-important group brainstorming session. I recently learned that advanced Zoom users can ‘touch themselves up’, read into that what you like.  I call these people Zoom goons and they can accelerate… 

Zoom fatigue  – When lockdown first happened it was an excuse for people to show off these skills for the sake of it, because for most it was a novel and new way of doing things.  People are certainly showing signs of this novelty wearing off and Zoom fatigue is certainly kicking in.  The problem is there is no escape, morning, noon and night, diaries are chock-a-block with Zoom meets (even double bookings), juggling work, catch ups with family, quizzes and virtual pubs with your mates.  Unlike pre-lock down – the organisers know that you will be in, so there is little escape!  It has been lovely to see various companies shouting about how they are continuing to do business and share their screen captures of team calls. Based on my experiences of trying to get an approved selfie with just my wife I do often wonder how many takes were required to get the perfect picture.  Remember to build in an extra 15 minutes to each meeting if you plan to capture the moment.

Shielding – This is used to describe the process of helping those who are particularly clinically vulnerable, with a pre-existing condition such as cancer, severe respiratory conditions or immunodeficiency problems, where the advice is to stay at home at all times.  These people got an additional letter from the NHS to say that they need to stay inside.  Shielding used to mean something I would try and do (and fail) when playing on one of my son’s fighting games on the Xbox. 

Herd immunity – This is best achieved by introduction of a vaccine but some theorists believe a managed introduction of the virus into the population so that between 70-90% gain immunity. This means that the virus can’t spread (containing the R rate) and it is really  a form of ‘natural selection’, resulting in high death rates and significant capacity issues with the NHS service.  We have already lost significant numbers of our ‘herd’ and this as a full-on approach would have made the losses to be in the hundreds of thousands. 

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) – We are all leading authorities on challenges with supply of equipment that is necessary to protect healthcare workers from infection by the virus.  Members of the public have been largely impacted by a lack of toilet paper and flour but PPE equipment has clearly not been in the right quantities in the right locations at the right time for our healthcare professionals.  It is a geographic logistics challenge that doesn’t seem to have been solved in the last 2-3 months.  I was speaking to a logistics professional who said that it is also a challenge to ensure the equipment is delivered to the correct location within a large hospital where there may be multiple PPE storage facilities and delivery points.  

Bookcases – The de-facto background to a zoom call, particularly for those speaking on national news programmes. Surely there must be more interesting places to choose than in front of a bookcase as a backdrop to your 3 minutes of fame?  I do recall Judy Murray mixing it up a bit and doing a Zoom call on BBC news in front of her fridge. It was a particularly nice fridge, I might add. 

The ultimate Zoom bookcase…

Finally, what do you think the ‘new normal’ will look like? What lessons will we learn and will we take forward new ways of working when we return to the workplace and normality!

We’ve survived the coronavirus pandemic so far and will all hopefully come out the other side a stronger nation. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you’ve learnt, what you will take forward and what you can’t wait to see the back of!

My home is where the heart is

Mark Thurstain-Goodwin of Geofutures Ltd published some insight on LinkedIn last week on the location of second homes and voiced his concerns about people leaving our cities to socially isolate in these second homes. Check out These are the areas at risk of in-migration from second home owners, and pressure on local services. 

This latest blog outlines two of Red Tiger Talent’s hypotheses on additional migrations caused by coronavirus. These are more qualitative observations, based on the conversations we have been having with candidates and clients over the last couple of weeks.

The current lockdown provides plenty of time for thought. I have been thinking back to my time at University. Yes, I have a good memory, as it was a long time ago! What would I have done if a virus pandemic had happened then? I was also thinking back to my time living in London when in my first job at DTZ and what I would have done in the same situation.

In any time of crisis, no matter how small, I would naturally seek comfort with my parents back in the family home. I suspect I would not be the only one doing that in such a situation, but appreciate I am fortunate in that I come from a good family home. My decision would be fuelled by a strong affinity to the home where I spent a significant proportion of my teenage years. Compared to student or rental accommodation where average length of tenure is much less. And the reality for me would have been that the family collective might be the best way to socially, emotionally and practically get through this.

Should I stay or should I go? 

The last few weeks of the coronavirus lock down will have seen movement of a significant number of students and young professionals back to their parent’s homes. I’m sure it has caused a bit of a conundrum. Go back home and risk introducing the virus to more vulnerable age groups, or wider isolated communities, or stay in often more cramped solitary or shared living conditions away from the comfort of your family home. The analyst in me would love to look at some of the mobile app data (provided by www.huq.io ) to see this assumed migration in real-time and try to understand how it varies by academic institution.

This data has been used on a range of retail related projects and could certainly be a way to identify a sample of students (or at least people attending academic institutions), determine where they live during term time and what they have done since the onset of this pandemic. My assertions are a departure from my typical quantitative approach and are based on a handful of conversations I have had over the last few weeks where I am often speaking to people who are not currently in their ‘main’ residency.

These people can be summarised into two distinct cohorts:

  • Students – With Universities on lockdown and a move to online teaching this has meant that a significant number of students have moved back to their parents’ home.  Universities are trying to get to grips with which of their students remain at University and which have returned home. 
    Speaking to academic staff, some halls of residence are now shut, which forces the issue, but some remain open.  This is a significant student health and wellbeing issue for Universities and Colleges as some of the students may not be able to get back home (particularly overseas students) or may not have a suitable home to go to.   It does seem like there are a variety of approaches across different academic institutions.   
  • City Renters – These will usually be people who are young professionals yet to get on the housing ladder, as they often work in the UK’s major cities where property prices are typically higher.  I have spoken to a large number of London based candidates who have used the directive to work from home and the prohibition of travelling to work unless absolutely necessary, in order to relocate back to their parents.    
    This could be for the reasons I outlined earlier, more often than not ‘home is where the heart is’. However other reasons could be to get out of the London ‘Covid’ hotspot, reducing the chance of contracting the virus and potentially moving to an area where there is currently less stress on our medical services. Or just to get to a less claustrophobic environment where there may be more garden and open space. 

The Risks vs the Benefits 

What will be the impact of these movements? The truth is no-one knows. I certainly mirror Mark Thurstain-Goodwin’s concern about asymptomatic virus carriers transmitting the virus to other locations, particularly those areas with higher concentrations of high-risk individuals.

There is also the on-going issue of having the right medical resources in the right locations. For areas with a large in-migration of people, there may be a lack of adequate healthcare resources to support a strong local outbreak as a result.

My main hope is that those who have done this migration have adhered to the recommendations about social isolation for a period of time to ensure that you are not an asymptomatic carrier before re-introduction into the family home. The recommendations are also to try and travel back via personal rather than public transport which is difficult to do if you are one of the many city dwellers who solely rely on public transport.

I read of a family funeral that recently took place (presumably before tightening of attendance at funerals) which infected a significant number of family members where a number of other deaths have also sadly resulted. Whilst there should never be blame (or proof) attributed to virus ‘introducers’ I personally would find it very hard if I knew that I was responsible for introducing the virus that had resulted in a fatality.

The benefits to going back to your parents are significant, otherwise no-one would do it. The biggest benefit to me is the emotional support and the feel-good of being at home. There may be more space (unless your parents have downsized), so it allows you to have more opportunity to lock yourself away to study or do work. There could also be more public or garden space to get outside without the risk of meeting other people. My thoughts flash back to the photos, post lockdown, in some of London’s parks where the sheer volume of people was astounding! There is the strong likelihood that most of your meals will be made for you – a bit like a hotel but without the fees! I for one have struggled with being in the right ‘headspace’ to plan our meals for a week and then there is no guarantee that the items you require will be in stock.

There are social isolation benefits – larger households mean less people shopping. The rationing being put on certain items does make it a challenge for larger households, although the likely shopping destination may be a larger supermarket, which should have more space and more staff to help with disinfecting, rather than a convenience store.

My wife can vouch for the fact that on the rare occasion I am ill I am a terrible patient – I just want to be left alone. My only memory of being a good patient is as a child when my Mum used to pat my forehead with a cold flannel whenever I had a fever. That is what I would crave if I was really sick. Sadly, this would not be the recommended approach unless you know that your Mother has already had Covid-19.

This is fundamentally a geographic challenge. Firstly, we need to understand migration patterns (memories of Prof Phil Rees!) Secondly, there is a location-allocation problem; forecasting demand for goods or services. We are experiencing this on a daily basis at the moment with the NHS and support services. They are struggling to ensure that physical resources, be it trained medical staff, ICU beds, PPE, Ventilators etc. are in the right locations at the right time to service demand. As traditional location planning practitioners, we are often dealing with relatively stable inputs to the location-allocation challenge. Demand is relatively stable, supply is relatively fixed and easy to forecast. Resources needed to service demand are relatively easy to come by, but with something like a virus we are witnessing first-hand how the situation changes in real-time to make the challenge much harder.

If any of what we discussed here resonates we would love to hear from you, particularly if you are from one of the two groups identified above. We would love you to share your thoughts on measures you have implemented to minimise risks and also any other benefits of being back at home.

Author: Steve Halsall

Header Image: Photo by Kelly Lacy from Pexels

The Vinyl Countdown

Vinyl nearly died in the mid 2000s, but today it accounts for nearly one in 10 of all physical purchases in the UK.  The ubiquitous music streaming services are now responsible for the majority of music consumption and CD sales are on the decline, but Vinyl has bucked the trend and found a niche, accounting for 4.1m new album sales in 2017 (up from just 210,000 in 2007). Part of this may be due to an initiative called Record Store Day that started in 2008. For anyone who (like me) is a complete noob (this is a fairly recent addition to my vocabulary gleaned from my oldest step son) on this subject, this is one day a year when over 200 independent record stores (and they do have to be independent) join together to celebrate vinyl culture. 

Generation change

Music consumption has changed significantly between generations – I recall with great fondness the excitement of visiting our local record store (sadly now defunct) as a teenager and getting the latest release on vinyl with my hard earned money.  The whole thing was an experience, from the planning, the saving, the buying, to the consuming.  Consumption started with the return home on the train: admiring the artwork, reading the lyrics and liner notes, and finally, in front of my turntable to spend some undisturbed time listening to the record at least a couple of times (no skipping, in the order the album was designed to be played). Fast forward to today and my children do not really understand the concept of an album, never mind the use of physical media. They live in a world of Spotify playlists and skipping to the next track before the current track has finished – it’s sadly become so immediate.

Digital vs vinyl

My re-engagement with vinyl in 2018 was thanks to my wife getting me an excellent Christmas present – a new turntable (how many people still have and use the separate hi-fi systems that were all the rage in the 1980s/90s?). This allowed me to retrieve my vinyl collection from the garage and re-familiarise myself with it. It also gave me licence to buy some of my favourite albums released in this millennium, most of which I do already own on CD. I am now to the tune of £20-30 lighter for each of those vinyl – the record company and presumably artist are happy!  The main challenge now is finding time to sit down and listen to them, and I admit digital has made me lazy, it’s so much easier to navigate to tracks or albums on Spotify but is it as pleasurable?

Record store day

So back to Record Store day – in a previous blog about Christmas shopping, I referred to Record Store Day as an initiative to drive footfall into independent record stores.  This year the big day is Saturday 13thApril.  It will be a fairly prestigious event, with artists releasing special limited edition vinyl one offs just for that day, and many shops and cities hosting events and artist performances for the day.   Participating stores have to sign a code of conduct which includes no pre-orders, no selling it online for a week, not permitting people to buy multiple copies and to sell at a fair price.  I am reliably informed that the organisers have mystery shoppers who do check that stores comply with the rules.

The only down side I can see to the initiative is those people who inevitably try to profit by selling their purchases on e-bay.  My limited research shows that for a selection of just 6 releases from RSD 2018 the cost to buy all 6 releases on RSD should have been £133 but now the same releases purchased online will set you back £212 (a 59% increase) plus postage.

To help other fellow noobs to navigate record store day I’ve compiled some top tips to help:

Do your research

Determine which local stores are participating and ensure that you are going to a city destination where there is more than one store to maximise your chance of success.

Plan your day

Participating stores will have different opening times so plan a route and also plan what vinyl you require, ideally in a priority order.

Phone ahead

This will ensure the store has the vinyl you require on order, and it’s also worth asking how many copies they secured (some releases will be strictly limited to 1 or 2 copies per store).

Start early

Some of the more popular stores are open early (the one I’m off to is open at 7.30am!) and people can be known to queue from the night before. It all depends how much you want a particular record.

If in the queue with a friend, it could be advisable to survey the people in front to determine what vinyl they are after – this way you will at least know if you have a chance!

If all else fails, try online a week later!

Drivers of demand

What has this to do with retail or spatial analytics?  It’s a great initiative that serves to drive footfall into Record Stores, although one day’s worth of inflated footfall and trade is hardly going to ensure the store is solvent for the year ahead.  Clearly there is a spatial element to the distribution of participating stores and there will be local skews to the demand for specific artists.

My analytical mind has also been speculating on what the drivers of demand for the growth in vinyl are.  Is it dominated by quantities of nostalgia seeking, middle aged, middle class, along with the 20 something hipsters?  You would think that there would be disproportionate under-representation from the under 20s – given the cost of a single vinyl album will typically equate to at least 2 months subscription to unlimited tunes on Spotify at home and on the move. However, it may once again become a bragging point of the teenager, or student who is in the know, as to what album or new release they have managed to bag on vinyl. After all they are the generation whose parents grew up with vinyl and appreciated the sound quality and aesthetics of a record.

Click here to find out more about record store day.

Image: Siebe Warmoeskerken, Negative Space