Beyond the difficulty of adapting or the immediate economic impact, the sudden measures have reduced activity and travel, achieving in a very short space of time what environmentalists have so far been unable to achieve, despite a huge effort. Perhaps this global crisis will recalibrate our approach to many things that we take for granted and, like trying to quit an addictive habit, this unwelcome and deadly event may help us change our ways for the better.
Thinking beyond the immediate situation and considering how the workplace and the industry that serves it will be once normality returns, it is reasonable to assume changes will be felt in the workplace. Momentous events always leave a legacy. Airport security has never been the same since 9/11. However, the current crisis is more than an economic slump or a conflict of ideologies. It is going to cut to the core of modern life, and the behaviours we are used to will inevitably change.
The economic crisis of 2008 exposed the tendency for financial excesses. In the office furniture industry, a number of companies questioned the cost and commercial value of exhibiting at large trade events. Some decided to stop attending. Interestingly, the many design festivals, such as Clerkenwell Design Week, that have grown since 2008, are an improved way of showcasing an industry. CDW – and events like it – allow manufacturers to exploit their showrooms, which is a costly resource they have all year round. With fringe activities around the periphery, district-wide events create civic benefit and (in the case of Clerkenwell) have encouraged the furniture industry to cluster. So for those who decided not to exhibit at trade shows, was it commercially damaging? I doubt it.
In this time of imposed isolation, we need to reflect on the actual priorities that will provide new opportunities when we emerge on the other side.To that end, does the past provide any clues?
Each recession I have experienced over the past 30 years has shaped the workplace and the furniture industry. In the mid 1990s there was an economic downturn, very modest in comparison to now or 2008. However, I remember at the time a headline in a trade journal. It was a quote from the CBI addressing an industry conference. I may be slightly misquoting here, but it said that ‘the challenge the (furniture) industry faces in difficult times is that furniture is the ultimate deferrable purchase!’ Sobering thought, but true.