We are creatures of habit and isolation measures are changing our habits
People across the world are feeling the affects of the coronavirus called COVID-19. Whether it is directly as they suffer from the contagion, or indirectly through the various forms of social isolation, many individuals and families are having their lives changed.
Governments too are caught up in the maelstrom. They are, to varying degrees, financially, legally and morally supporting their health systems, their populations and the many aspects of their economies. Generally, these administrative bodies are taking part in global efforts to combat the pandemic.
Likewise, businesses large and small are affected. Retail facing enterprises have experienced precipitous falls in income and manufacturers have had supply chains interrupted. And, with health messages aimed squarely at driving people to work from home, the daily routines and work practices of many have shifted quite dramatically.
In amongst all of this are uncertainties about the medium to long term. Queries about what normal will look like on the other side of this pandemic. A time horizon that is familiar to strategic thinkers. To futurists.
Now, the questions a futurist seeks to provide guidance on are those that are long term in nature. This is the context for this article: the long term impact of CIVID-19. For this coronavirus has the potential to influence how people, governments and businesses operate throughout and beyond this next decade in quite profound ways.
How could the future unfold
Consider this. There are several ways the future could unfold. The following scenarios briefly describe different outcomes for daily life, for economies and for governing policies and practices.
For example, observe how governments are currently reacting. Leading politicians in many countries are quite openly resting upon the advice of scientists and other experts in constructing their responses to this crisis. Thus, to be consistent after this event, they would seek similar sources of wisdom for other problems. So, in the decade ahead you could make the argument that politicians would turn to scientists and experts to solve the challenge of climate change. Another problem that could be solved in a similar manner is the issue of social inequality.
A second way the future could pan-out is through the rejection of CBD-based employment. This scenario is based on the continued use of remote working technologies together with the ongoing threat of an outbreak of COVID-19 or a similar pathogen. As a result, people would gravitate toward living and working in the community they call home.
However, rather than focus on how things could turn out in a decade, let’s look at what could happen next. While either of the two scenarios outlined above could be realised over the next five to ten years, we need to consider how businesses could be affected over the coming 12 to 24 months. For governments around the world are talking in a timeframe of at least six months before returning to “normal” is even considered. Even then, the issues of the efficacy and availability of both anti-viral medicines (repair) and vaccines (prevention) may not be settled until well into 2021.
So, apart from the initial reaction of configuring remote working and communication options, and the triggering of business continuity plans, there are strategic matters to reflect on. For we do need to consider the likely affects of this pandemic on business models and on human resources over the medium term.
Impacting a range of industry sectors differently
For retail businesses, bereft of any foot traffic, significant efforts are currently going into establishing both online operations and home delivery options. The collection and use of customer data is critical here as is the use of internet-based tools for growing the business. While our current habits are aligned with shopping and being entertained in a physical environment, consideration must be given to shift to digital-only operations and virtual retail environments. A second-order effect could be the further emptying of shopping areas and all that this entails.
For professional services firms, with face-to-face contact a rarity, the way clients and staff are managed could well shift significantly over the next few months. Regarding clients and prospects, all facets of hospitality and meeting locations become moot. For example, if handshakes and the stereo-typical corporate box to watch a sporting event are off the table, what distinguishes the nimble young from the stable and mature one? Likewise with aspects of human resource management. As people are spread between physical locations, trust by management in staff, and trust within teams themselves, becomes a key factor in the productivity
Let us not forget education services, government services, logistics, transport, manufacturing, agriculture and so on. The personal interaction component of each of these sectors will be affected as well. For education, the distinguishing feature of an institution for the next intake will be the quality of the online offerings and the suitability of assessments. For manufacturing, it may well be about maintaining the cohesiveness and productivity of design teams and operational units. As with professional services, the issue across a range of industry types is the question of generating new clients. Where the answer may not be found through traditional patterns.
In summary, its all about people skills and digital skills. Regarding people skills: we are experiencing shifts in how business relationships are conducted. Regarding digital skills: we intuitively know that business is increasingly reliant on digital technology. Finally, we also recognise the long-term effects that significant global events, such as the September 2001 terror attacks and the global finance crisis, have had on business. This COVID-19 pandemic is no different.
The point is this: those that respond to what may unfold are those that will reap the rewards in the new landscape.
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