Some 12 months ago, as news was breaking about a looming disaster and as the UK closed the doors of its homes, businesses and public spaces I was facing a very different uncertainty. My plan for 2020 was to launch ConeX UK - a portal to facilitate better connections in the UK’s manufacturing and engineering supply chains.
After several years of conversations and establishing some cooperative relationships within my own network, the value was clear, especially with the uncertainty of the Brexit deadline on the horizon. Cornwall has a long history of innovation and engineering excellence, and a reputation for creativity and tenacity. It’s also the county I call home since I relocated my business here in 2017. The challenges of operating in a largely rural location without a defined commercial ‘heart’ were another driver for ConeX, but as 2020 unfolded, the isolation worked increasingly in my favour.
This week the UK has marked its collective Covid anniversary, but as we prepare for a more integrated working and home life once again - are we all fed up talking about lockdown and Covid now? When I think back over the past 12 months my ears ring with an endless string of buzzwords. Words, keywords, phrases became headlines and memes that were supposed to give motivation and help push forward but which just cluttered us more and more as the months rolled on.
For example: How many agile businesses, who have built resilience and are sustainable in the new normal, supported reshoring programs from a pandemic pivot do we now know about? The list goes on.
A personal perspective
From my own family and personal network, I appreciate how terrible 2020 has been for so many individuals and businesses. So, it’s great to hear good news stories popping up all over the place as we move forward into a new year. Mark Weymouth, Steve Howard, Matt Chilton, Nick Peters...I’m looking at you.
There are many great things to come out of the past year, but what did we really learn? And will new habits stick, or will we just go back to our old ways? And while I’ve missed some contact, I’m sure I’m not the only one who will be continuing a Zoom subscription and using it to save time travelling to, and for, meetings.
I believe that the three valuable lessons I learned from lockdown are also really valuable when we consider the future of the supply chain and manufacturing in the UK. I will try and keep it buzzword free!
Lesson 1: Local experiences and community
- Digital communities have really come into their own this past year. As well as supporting one another through challenging times, the shared, personal stories have been uplifting and inspiring. Valuable connections and real friendships have been established.
- Cohesion: communicating digitally is not without challenge, but just like the UK’s collective manufacturing space, we need a sense of togetherness if we are to come out of this stronger. ○ I think we have seen what our future may look like and the potential of good things to come for our industry. There is a real sense of community within the sector, which I see growing stronger month on month..
- The value of local has never been important and together we ended 2020 being a lot more aware of what was on our doorstep than we were at the start of the pandemic. My message for 2021 and beyond is to find your local suppliers, support them and shout about the great things you are doing together.
Lesson 2: Slow down and plan
- Yes, things take time, and sometimes it takes longer than you thought you needed and a lot more than you would have liked. But that is no bad thing - there are always lessons to be learned along the way.
- Knowing your long-term plans but putting them into place as early as you can saves many long-term pains.
- Bringing a new product to market is no easy task. The challenges of launching a collaboration tool without the means of physically bringing its users together were huge. But the extra time we have taken over the last year has allowed for ideas to evolve and for robust planning - ConeX will only be stronger because of this.
- The world will go back to being 1,000 miles an hour in the next few years but taking time out to reflect every now and then is something that every business will benefit from.
Lesson 3: Build connections and relationships
- How many times this year have we read about the value of human connection? Yes, we all know that people deal with people, and everyone is looking forward for the face-to-face interactions to restart. But not every event is right for your business, or for you.
- Covid has propelled us forward in our readiness for and acceptance of virtual meeting spaces and events. Free from the constraints of location, collaborations have flourished across the whole country and there is a real drive to develop these relationships into something that is both sustainable and rewarding for the long term.
- We are now able to meet suppliers virtually instead of spending hours in our cars and as technology advances we will be more embracing of 3D, virtual reality and other tactics that give us a 360 view regardless of where we are in the world.
- Maintaining valuable, trusted connections will continue to be a balance alongside projects and plans. There will always be space for coffee with the right person, but we’re all a lot more aware of striking the right balance.
My pandemic story is certainly unique, building a community from a place of rural isolation - but I hope it is one of optimism and the benefits of that come from connections and collaboration. These two values are close to the ethos of ConeX - and searching for them without being certain where to look was one of the driving forces to bring my vision to life.
Now, we need to focus on the positive stories that continue to emerge from the pandemic. And as we keep moving forward we will remember these times of reflection because we may never have an opportunity quite like this again.