UK gives green light to overseas trips

Travel operators have reported a big rise in bookings and inquiries about international holidays as UK holidaymakers rush to book Mediterranean breaks after the government gave the green light to overseas trips from early next month.

TravelSupermarket, the holiday price comparison site, said this weekend had been the busiest for searches since the lockdown was imposed in March. Price comparison searches for holidays were up 100% and “click outs” and bookings were up 50% compared with last weekend, it said.

Tui, Britain’s biggest tour operator, and Hays Travel, which bought out the majority of Thomas Cook’s high street travel agencies last year, said bookings were up by at least 50%. Other operators, including online travel agency On the Beach and Dnata travel group, which owns brands including Travelbag and Travel Republic, also reported a big pick-up in inquiries.

Destinations in Spain, Greece, France and Italy were at the top of holidaymakers’ lists after the government said it expected to announce so-called “air bridge” arrangement with those countries, cancelling the need for 14 days of quarantine.

The list of safe countries drawn up by the government’s Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England will rank countries as green, amber and red based on the risk from Covid-19. People will be able to travel freely to both green and amber countries.

Further details of the list will be given to Parliament on Monday and the full details will be revealed on Wednesday, when the current Foreign Office travel warning against all but essential international travel will be lifted from 6 July for countries deemed safe.

Irene Hays, the co-owner of Hays Travel, said inquiries had reignited over the last 10 days, but bookings jumped 52% on Saturday compared with Friday after the outline of the government’s plan emerged. “Its absolutely terrific,” she said. “The announcement hasn’t been made yet and the Foreign Office is advising against all but essential travel, so there is still hesitancy, but there is a burst of demand.”

Hays said that travellers were also looking at booking holidays outside Europe for late 2020, with New York, Iceland and Bali top of the list.

“This decision will save jobs and businesses. It’s been an incredibly hard time for the travel industry,” she said. Hays Travel has already brought most of its 3,000 staff back from furlough to deal with customer queries and expects to begin advertising for new staff this week. It will launch 700 apprenticeships in the autumn.

Andrew Flintham, managing director of Tui UK and Ireland, said bookings had increased by 50% week on week, with holidays to Spain and Greece looking the most popular this summer. “We know there were a lot of people hoping to travel and waiting for certainty that would be possible,” he said. “It’s a hugely positive step forward for the travel industry and I know our customers will be ecstatic that their summer is saved.”

Tui will restart its operations in the UK on 11 July, with the first flights departing from London-Gatwick to Ibiza and Birmingham to Palma. It will operate 44 flights a week to eight destinations between 11 and 24 July and will increase to 19 destinations from 25 July, ramping up its short and mid-haul flying from August. However, Tui has cancelled all Florida holidays for at least the next five months after a surge in coronavirus cases in the US state.

Simon Cooper, chief executive of On the Beach, said it had seen a “significant increase” in last-minute searches and bookings for countries expected to be included in the air bridge scheme, albeit from a low base. “We look forward to the government announcing further details next week,” he said.

The announcement has long been awaited by airlines and travel operators who have been struggling to stay afloat. Virgin Atlantic is battling to line up a financial bailout this week, while thousands of jobs have been cut at British Airways, Ryanair, easyJet and Aer Lingus.

Source: The Guardian –

Top 10 apps for remote working at home

With remote working sharply on the rise (50% of the entire UK workforce is expected to work remotely at some capacity by 2020), more people are getting the day’s tasks done at home.  According to Buffer’s 2019 State of Remote Report, despite having the freedom to work from anywhere, the vast majority of remote workers (84%) still prefer to get things done from home.

With this in mind, it’s important to consider the challenges of getting tasks done from the comfort of your own home – as well as any implications this might have on the rest of your home life. One of the key supposed benefits of remote working is achieving a better work-life balance and another one is that it boosts productivity.

This is all great, in theory, but reality shows us that achieving these benefits doesn’t come automatically. The same report from Buffer also lists the most common struggles remote workers say they encounter.

It’s telling that the most common problem cited is struggling to unplug after work and I can say this is something I definitely have problems with. However, I can also say this is directly linked to productivity when tasks take longer and then start eating into my personal time.

Communication and collaboration is an obvious barrier when you’re working in a different location to your teammates, but this is one area where we have an abundance of apps at our disposal. More challenging is the issue of distractions at home and this is something else I have to be really disciplined with.

I can also understand motivation being a problem when you remove all the gentle nudges of having superiors, teammates and that sense of being at work.

These are challenges we’re addressing in this article and all of the apps we’re looking at today will help you overcome these.

Top 10 apps for remote working at home

We’ve previously looked at the best productivity tools for teamsapps for distributed teams around the world and automation tools for small businesses. However, the focus of this article is the individual remote worker who calls their home their office. You work from home (or you want to work from home) and you need to maximise productivity so you can achieve that work-life balance everyone keeps telling you about.

Therefore, many of the tools I’m recommending here are free and the paid ones all come with a free version or offer reasonably-priced options. I’m not here to recommend expensive business-grade tools that your company should be paying. There are tools you can use to improve your own workflow, impress your bosses and turn remote working into a truly life-changing move.

Here’s a quick summary of the tools we’ll be looking at in more detail:

  1. Serene: A tool that cuts out distractions, helps you stay focused and complete tasks faster.
  2. Slack: Team communication, the way it should be for remote workers.
  3. Zoom: Video and voice calls for groups and one-to-one.
  4. Toggl: Keep track of how long it’s really taking you to complete tasks.
  5. Google Drive: Document creation, cloud storage, file sharing and collaboration.
  6. Calendar: Manage all of your calendars and events in one place, arrange meetings without dozens of emails.
  7. Spark: A smart email client that stops your inbox getting in the way of productivity and turns it into an asset.
  8. Chrome Remote Desktop: Access your computer securely from any device and screen share with teammates for stronger collaboration.
  9. Zapier: Save time on repetitive tasks and switching between apps by automating processes (eg: automatically saving Gmail attachments to Google Drive).
  10. Daywise: Schedule notifications to stop work interrupting your free time.

As you can see, each of these tools fulfils a different role so I’m not recommending 10 different apps that basically all do the same thing. Each of these recommendations will increase your productivity and I fully expect you’ll be using eight or more of these after reading this article (or similar alternatives to each individual tool).


Written by Aaron Brooks

A charity-run course that explores ‘what really matters’ is having joyful results in the UK

Taking a course that teaches people about happiness is more effective at boosting life satisfaction than finding a partner or landing a job, recent research suggests.

Academics from the London School of Economics, Oxford University and University College London conducted a randomised controlled trial on the Exploring What Matters course run by the charity Action for Happiness.

The donation-based course is taught throughout the country and is run by volunteers, who have no formal training but bring people together in supportive settings to explore “the things that really matter in life”.

The study found that satisfaction levels of those taking part increased by one point on the 0-10 scale, increasing from an average of 6.4 out of 10 to 7.4 after the course.

Researchers claim this increase is greater than the boost people would get from being partnered rather than single (+0.59), and being employed rather than unemployed (+0.7).

The trial also noted that the course helped with depression and anxiety, increased trust and made people more likely to act in ways that helped others.

“The course delivers large and statistically significant improvements in wellbeing and reductions in mental health symptoms,” said Professor Jan-Emmanuel De Neve of Oxford University. “Although further research is needed to understand the long-term implications, it is clear that this intervention has huge potential and really does work.”

So far, more than 6,000 people in the UK have enrolled on the eight-week course, which has been endorsed by the Dalai Lama. Participants learn how to cultivate happiness by taking positive action in their daily lives. They also learn about how to have better relationships and create stronger communities.

“I was quite sceptical to begin with,” said Jo Newstead, a retired health worker who enrolled on the course in London. “But I really enjoyed it. There were nice people there from all different backgrounds and we had really good in-depth discussions. It has made me focus on what I can do to help improve things for myself and for others.”

Dr Mark Williamson, director of Action for Happiness, was not surprised by the study’s results. “This new research backs up what hundreds of people have already told us: that taking part in these groups is life-changing,” he said. “But the thing we’re most excited about is that it also seems to make people kinder and more pro-social – you come out of this experience feeling better about yourself, but also feeling more connected to others and wanting to do more for others,” he added.

“This isn’t just about making a small group of people happier; it’s [about] making a small group of people want to live in a way that helps others, so it has this ripple effect to the wider community.”


Maximum Contactless Card Payment to increase to £45

The maximum contactless card payment will increase from £30 to £45 per transaction this week as part of measures aimed at helping Britain’s retailers who are struggling through the coronavirus outbreak.

Shops are to begin rolling out the change from Wednesday 1 April, although it will be a gradual process to update software on hundreds of thousands of card terminals across the UK. The move follows similar increases recently made elsewhere in Europe.

The British Retail Consortium and UK Finance, which represents the finance and payments industry, believe the change will make it easier for consumers to shop, giving a much-needed boost to retailers.

It will reduce the number of occasions when people need to input their pin, speeding up queues – a change that will be particularly welcome in UK supermarkets which had their busiest month on record in march as shoppers stocked up on supplies.

It will also mean more payments can be made without the need to handle cash, which should cut retailers’ costs.

An increased limit was already being considered but the process has been accelerated as part of the industry’s response to Covid-19.

However, the benefit will not be felt for most shops until the government eases current lockdown conditions. Only shops designated as essential by the government are open as the UK attempts to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Consumers spent £80.5bn via contactless payments in 2019, up by 16 per cent on the previous year, according to UK Finance.

Increasing the maximum value on contactless purchases may cause concerns about fraud but UK Finance’s figures suggest the amount lost is relatively small.

Fraud equates to just 2.5p in every £100 spent using contactless technology. UK Finance said contactless fraud on payment cards and devices represents just 3.3 per cent of overall card fraud losses.


Working at Home Through Difficult Times

Lockdown, self-isolation, quarantine… they are all words that weren’t in our everyday vocabulary just a few short weeks ago but are now so sadly commonplace. So, with a new vocabulary comes a new way of thinking, a new way of living, and a new way of working.

There is no doubt the world is facing critical times and no less so in the business world where travel has crashed to a trickle as borders are closed and whole countries are on lockdown. Business travellers affected by coronavirus are having to come up with new ways of staying connected and it is fueled by staying positive during the crisis.

There is one thing that is not in short supply at the moment and that is time. Travel took up so much of our time and while it’s not happening, it can be an ideal time to think creatively. Using time to look for new opportunities, keep contacts updated, and make new contacts through the existing ones can make the difference between success and failure.

New overseas business opportunities can take a long time to find and establish and this might be the ideal period to investigate that avenue. There’s a growing understanding in the world that we are in it together and now more than ever we might be able to open up communication as travel closes down. The most important part of establishing successful business relationships, especially international ones, is to start from a place of respect and acceptance. Taking time to learn about the lands and cultures we are connecting with might not seem high on the agenda for business success but people from all over our planet recognise genuine understanding and interest. It goes a long way toward creating bonds.

A deep relationship that is founded on openness and trust isn’t established overnight and building that up in difficult times can mean a mutual loyalty that lasts. Conversations about planning and strategy can turn business contacts into partners and friends. Talking regularly and effectively and showing a personal as well as a business interest can benefit all involved. The technology has been there for a while now to talk from the comfort of our homes and we might not have made the best use of it. But ´needs must` as the saying goes. The world has become a smaller place due to the ease of travel but with technological advances, the world can fit into our living rooms now!

Remote relationship management is crucial for this new way of doing business. Chat apps such as WhatsApp and Slack and video conferencing apps such as Skype and Zoom mean that workforce and business-client links can still happen. Frequent and open lines of communication will undoubtedly require more planning to avoid communication breakdown within a business. Video calls are more effective than just email or phone calls. We are social creatures and seeing the person we are talking to can help reduce feelings of isolation, something remote workers might feel after a while. Such feelings are not good for us mentally and emotionally and can lead to a lack of motivation and productivity. Apps such as Zoom need not be used solely for work meetings either. Non-agenda meetings or ´zoomialising` over a coffee during work hours can help keep up morale and help that collaborative spirit. Fixed times for video conferencing can be set into the working day. Maintaining these new methods of communication can become increasingly challenging as the days, weeks and months roll on but sticking to a routine will help maintain cohesiveness.

Personal routines are important too. Cutting out commute time can reduce stress and increase energy levels so that more is accomplished from home, but not having this transition time can create problems if not managed properly. Having a designated area for work that is away from areas associated with relaxation is a good start. Having an established time for starting and finishing work is also an effective way of managing enforced remote working. Dressing for work and then changing back into casual wear after work is another suggestion to help switch on and off from work matters. It’s so important to create physical and mental boundaries that establish a clear line between work and home-life that will make working from home productive and even enjoyable.

It’s not one size fits all, so get to know what works best for you in your new working life. Making it clear to others within your workplace and family what your new schedule is and sticking to it, is a good start. However, it requires a certain amount of discipline to work effectively as a full-time remote worker so it will take time and possibly trial and error before you establish what is right for you, your family and your workplace.

At a time when roads are being blocked in some countries to prevent people from travelling, the business world has to work harder at building bridges to ensure future success. Anticipating how our lives and our needs are altering and being ready for when situations change will mean a certain degree of normality can be maintained. Business, as usual, might not be on the agenda for many, but business, as circumstances permit, is seeing results.

More than ever, it is crucial we plan today and help towards a better tomorrow.