With Covid-19 vaccination in Britain proceeding apace, it’s time to accelerate your business thinking and planning. What sort of future should you be planning for? What is coming at the end of the pandemic? What key elements should you factor into your plans? What will the day after tomorrow look like?
First, the bad news
Expect no clear end to the pandemic. Zoom has become a part of life, but sadly the virus is likely to go on constraining a basic human need to meet people face-to-face, travel, and take holidays. Even if everyone in the UK has the vaccine – a big ask – the World Health Organisation reminds us there is a global population to vaccinate, many in poor, hard to reach communities. This is critical, the virus will go on mutating in unvaccinated populations if mass vaccination is not delivered in an effective international campaign. This points to continued regulation of gatherings and international travel for some time. Testing and track and trace will remain a fact of life and we could well see regular vaccination like the annual flu jab. Best to plan for yet more innovation to meet the pandemic’s ongoing impact on your business.
Physical and virtual
Those attending CES 2021 tell us to expect further improvements in video conferencing and mobile technology particularly in quality, reliability, and security. Even with some return to commuting and office life, the benefits and convenience of home working have been obvious. A CBI survey shows many businesses planning for a more flexible time in the office – 2-3 days a week, a move towards smaller workspaces in suburban areas with lower rental costs. More meeting rooms will be hired on an ‘as needed’ basis from outsourcing office providers. In short, plan to go on cutting your administrative overheads. As one student said to me: ‘even the technology dinosaurs are not quite so dinosaurish anymore.’
Business winners and losers
The losers were very clear – many self-employed slipped through the cracks and did not receive state support. The High Street has been replaced by online retail; air and rail transport have lost colossal numbers of passenger journeys. But the winners with money to spend are also obvious: tech giants grew stronger, as did many online business, big pharma and businesses related to home working – home office suppliers, online exercise trainers, Netflix. Perhaps only the lucky will survive, but more likely it’ll be those making their own luck, energetically refreshing their offering, becoming nimbler, smarter, more attractive. The most customer-friendly who renew and rebuild for the new normal.
Ask anyone what they miss the most, it’s the loss of human contact. Family members living a distance away, relatives in care homes, friends and colleagues at work – just to hug, chat, laugh and cry together. There is a pent-up need to re-engage. Although it must be reshaped with health protection in mind, expect a boom in all kinds of activities – dining out in cafes and restaurants, the performing arts, dance, music, cinema, theatre, mass spectator and participation sports – anything built on human contact and engagement. The Governor of the Bank of England has noted the huge pile of built-up savings ready to be spent. Plan for great business opportunities will open up to meet this huge pent-up demand to leave home and enjoy life again.
Is there life on Mars?
Many of us witness how things that were taking years now happen in days. Focus will turn again to other major impacts on business – of Brexit and international trade, climate change, and artificial intelligence – changes that were continuing under the radar. Expect rapid strides in environmentally-friendly opportunities – in renewable and efficient energy use, in electric cycles and cars and better waste recycling, in smart technologies like drones and intelligent machines. Particularly likely to impact on business is the continued growth in the ‘internet of things’ where artificial intelligence takes on more and more human functions – replacing or transforming them. Plan for business opportunities that align with automation, opportunities that make life easier, where humans work better with smart machines.
Plan to rule out any return to old ways of working: the new normal will be different. We can’t ever forget how many public services, businesses, and occupations from airline pilots to waiters, from coach drivers to sous chefs, could not opt for home working, and entire sections of the economy have had to survive with no work at all or by changing to mail order or take away. A return to work cannot come soon enough for them, but when it does, they will have to be patient, but also innovative and creative – to offer something fresh and different, something that catches the attention of customers – to be more relevant and more tuned into the brave new world.
Dr. Mark Pegg
MA (Oxon), D.Phil, CCMI, FCIPD
Mark teaches, consults, and researches in leadership and senior team development, and is the technical lead on serval leadership programs delivered by GMD People.