THE crisis caused by the pandemic has been urgent and insistent.

Like an inferno it has demanded the full effort of people working in government, the NHS, the care sector and business to help tamp down the worst of its ravages.

The fire is not out, we are still in danger. But we have been learning better how to manage it. Now is the time to start looking ahead to determine how we will live and work in the medium to long term, with or without the coronavirus.

Most believe that social distancing will be in place at least until the rest of the year or until an effective vaccine is found – which could be longer.

But as other countries start taking measures to ease lock down, businesses in Scotland have been telling us at the Scottish Chamber Network that it is time to start planning our next steps too.

For many, this is unlikely to be a return to “business as usual”. There is an increasing sense that radical changes to the way we live and work are here to stay – at least some of them.

Many of us have already adapted to working from home. But this is only suitable for a part of the economy. The workplace will need to be adapted if we are to see the return of hospitality, leisure, manufacturing, construction, engineering and other sectors.

Working practices in lockdown have also revealed the extent in Scotland of what has been called digital poverty. These are the people who don’t have smart phones and laptops or broadband. They won’t have been on Zoom calls with their friends, teachers or colleagues.

The latest figures from Ofcom show that in 2019, 13% of UK adults did not use the internet at all. This is not just the great-grandparents failing to be connected, either.

Working-age people in socio-economic groups (SEG) D & E were three times as likely to be non-internet users. In the same year, roughly 60% of Scottish households owned a laptop, around 50% a tablet, and circa 20% a desktop computer.

For SEG D & E, these figures fall to 40%, 40%, and 5%.

Scottish Government has been addressing this with a £5 million fund to connect vulnerable people during Covid-19. But it has become clear this is a much wider issue.

Scotland cannot afford to leave significant parts of the populace who lack sufficient digital skills and tools behind. This was always the case but the requirements of a post-Covid19 world makes it even more necessary to address.

As we seek answers and implement practical policy to get the economy going again, it is essential that time and effort is not wasted on recreating the wheel. When it comes to addressing digital poverty, a recent review of Scotland’s further education sector points the way.

The Cumberford-Little Report, written by Audrey Cumberford, principal of Edinburgh College and Paul Little, her counterpart at City of Glasgow College, identifies what is needed to ensure further education (FE) colleges can help us overcome some of the key skills development challenges we face in a practical and business-friendly way.

This is just one tool that needs to be in the box. As we rebuild the economy – in Scotland, the UK and the world – strategy must be aligned, with business, education, the healthcare system and government working together and in sync. We must include all sectors of the economy, urban and rural, from micro business to large corporate entities.

By doing this, we will have the full toolbox at our disposal to start work in whatever way we can, that is both safe and successful.

Liz Cameron is chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce