As life moves on towards a ‘new normal’, we hear from four people who have made significant changes to their working life or personal finances over the past few weeks. Perhaps there are new ways of doing things you plan to maintain?
Beneficial side-effects of the lockdown are starting to emerge. Workers are reporting lower stress levels working from home; some people have managed to save money while high street shops, pubs and restaurants were closed; and there have been huge benefits for the environment.
Here, we list some of the positive changes people have made.
With clothes shops, cafes, bars, cinemas, gyms and hairdressers all closed during the lockdown millions of consumers unable to spend money – other than on food and essentials – have found their bank balance looking healthier.
For those still earning an income and not furloughed or out of work, it has been possible to make savings.
“For many people it might be the first time they have had disposable income left over at the end of the month,” says financial coach Catherine Morgan.
“That’s a nice feeling and when you can put cash into a savings pot it soon starts to build up. This can improve feelings of financial wellbeing. The lockdown may have been forced upon us but for many consumers it has been a time to reflect and change spending habits by curbing non-essential spending.”
Rebecca Heaps, who turned 50 during the lockdown, has managed to save enough to pay off a £1,500 credit card balance and put more than £700 in a savings account over the past three months.
Rebecca, who lives with her partner and two daughters in Royston, Hertfordshire, is lucky as she has remained on her full salary as a director of a property development business. But the drop in her spending has made a significant impact on her bank balance.
“I have been really shocked just what a difference it has made,” says Rebecca. “All my incidental, spontaneous shopping and spending stopped overnight – the coffees and lunches out with friends, or impulse clothing purchases. I didn’t think it was all that much but it does add up over time. I have also saved £50 a week on my daughters’ school bus and lunch money.”
The family’s supermarket spend has risen – as has been the case for most households during lockdown as all meals have been eaten at home.
Analysis by consumer website TopCashback.co.uk found supermarket and food shopping was the main area of spending for people in lockdown, with DIY, gardening and leisurewear also popular.
However, Rebecca has lost money on Tentshare.co.uk, the camping equipment sharing website she runs.With camping prohibited during the lockdown, this extra cash source has dried up. She hopes that as the lockdown is eased there should be renewed – and increased – interest in camping if more people decide to holiday in the UK. But Rebecca says the situation has focused her mind on growing her savings.
“Things still look uncertain in the wider world,” says Rebecca. “That is why I want the cushion of savings. The past few months have shown me that I can better manage my money and stop unnecessary spending to be in a stronger financial position.”
The biggest change in lockdown for Matt Foster, 28, a digital PR strategist, was working from home every day. Matt, who lives in a house share in Hackney, North East London, believes there are many positives to working remotely and he intends to continue to work from home much more after lockdown.
“My company – Distinctly – allowed us to occasionally work from home before, but most days I was travelling, either to our London or Hertfordshire offices,” says Matt.
“It is possible the business may now close the London office, and employees will work from home instead. I would be happy with that –
I don’t miss the time spent or stress of commuting.”
Like most employees, Matt has become accustomed to using messaging apps and video-call platforms, such as Google Hangouts, Zoom, Guild and Slack, to stay in contact with clients and colleagues.
“Ideally, I would like to work four days from home and have some time in the office to meet colleagues and share ideas,” says Matt. “I am lucky our agency is open to flexible working. It sees the benefits of cost savings and a reduced carbon footprint if we don’t have a physical office.”
Jane van Zyl, chief executive at Working Families, the charity that promotes work-life balance, says the coronavirus crisis has shone a spotlight on the flaws of the rigid nine-to-five work culture, and the way businesses have adapted proves that greater flexibility is possible.
“Looking to the future, employers and government should work to harness the increases in productivity, talent attraction and diversity that flexible working will bring – long after the pandemic has run its course,” she says.
Nigel Davies, founder of digital workplace Claromentis, believes there will not be a mass return to the office when the lockdown lifts completely. He says that, where possible, many companies will be more open to flexible working.
He advises employees who want to work more flexibly to collect data on their working practice during the lockdown to build a case.
Davies says: “Show how much time you have saved by not commuting. Have you been able to increase your workload? If so, try to quantify it. Where you are using new technology and you have used it to automate a repetitive task, try to work out how much time it has saved.”
Mike Oldham lost his job in events management just a few days before the lockdown and was not eligible for the government furlough scheme. But he has used the past few months constructively as a way to pursue a different career path.
Mike, 37, from Earlsfield, South West London, had been offered a new job with an events company in February and was due to start in March. But when the pandemic hit, the company had to let Mike go before he had even started.
“It was a surreal time.” he says. “I was really worried about having no income and also what I would do with myself. I quickly decided I needed to do something in lockdown – as much for my own sanity as earning money, so I started a podcast.”
Mike has a background in journalism and radio, he writes a blog (Neudad.co.uk) and has his own show on local station Riverside Radio. He had some basic radio equipment at home so after contacting various potential subjects his podcast, What Happens Now?, was launched.
Mike has interviewed a YouTube influencer, television presenters and an Extinction Rebellion campaigner, among others, to find out how the crisis has affected them – professionally and personally. There is a small fee to listen to the podcasts and Mike has donated 25% of the money to NHS Charities.
“I have managed to make a bit of money from the podcast – around £1,200 – but really this project has been more about me exploring a different line of work,” says Mike, who lives with his wife Catriona Stevenson, a jewellery designer, and their three-year-old son Marley.
“I would love to be able to pursue a career in radio now. I sent the podcast to producers at BBC Radio 5 Live and have had some positive feedback. I have been offered some paid freelance work – podcasts and interviewing – in the education sector and I am pursing other opportunities.”
Research by trading platform eToro found one in three people used the lockdown to learn a new skill or do training to boost their career,
And Stuart Lewis, founder of Restless.co.uk, the over-55s jobs and careers website, says visits to the site have doubled during the lockdown, with many people searching for more altruistic and rewarding career paths.
He says: “Amid the chaos of the pandemic, people are taking the time to reconsider what they want from their lives and work. Those who had put off a career change have used the time to research their next steps.”
Adapting a business
Many self-employed workers and business owners have had to be flexible and innovate to survive.
When lockdown came, Joanna Grandi, a self-employed dealer of mid-century furniture, was anxious about the outlook for her business Upperton Interiors, which she set up 18 months ago. Business had been strong, but Joanna feared consumer spending would stop.
“I knew I would have to adapt and look at new opportunities,” says Joanna, who lives in Eastbourne, East Sussex, with her partner and two daughters.
“I have had to rely solely on online marketplaces including Facebook and online auctions. I moved out of my comfort zone of mid-century pieces to look at the Art Deco period and also 1980s furniture, which is becoming popular. Things have gone so well I am now planning to continue working in this way and branching out to new design periods.
“As an entrepreneur I am always thinking of new and different ways to move my business forward,” Joanna adds.
“I am concerned about the future. If we head into a deep recession, consumer spending will drop. But I will try to stay nimble and keep going.”
Greener, cheaper commuting
Fears about the spread of coronavirus on public transport are forcing more workers to change how they get to work. And while cars are the number one choice, more of the workforce is looking to greener and cheaper alternatives – walking and cycling. Bike sales soared during the lockdown. The Government has also announced £2 billion in funding for cycle lanes, safer junctions and wider pavements for pedestrians.
Primary School teacher Helen Simpson, 42, continued to travel in to work during the lockdown. Her school was open for children of key workers and for vulnerable children.
But Helen, who lives in South East London with her husband and seven-year-old son, has steered clear of her usual commuter train. Instead she has walked, jogged or cycled the five mile round trip to school. As well as getting fit, it means Helen is saving around £50 a month in train fares.
“It has helped that the weather has been so good, but I will definitely continue to cycle to work,” says Helen. “I won’t go back to using the train. There are so many benefits to cycling for health, the environment and my bank balance.”
If you are an employee, you may be eligible for the cycle to work scheme, which offers discounts (25% for basic-rate taxpayers) on new bikes.Visit Cyclescheme.co.uk for more details and talk to your employer.