Writing anything these days that does not relate to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) seems futile. Watching the virus spread rapidly throughout the United States and threaten to cripple our health care system has been shocking and humbling. The loss of life is devastating, as is the loss of livelihoods from the forced shutdown of businesses. Large parts of the global economy are offline, which will result in trillions of dollars in lost economic activity. It begs the question, why were we so unprepared?
Now that we are beginning to witness the death and damage that a modern pandemic can cause, investing to prevent a repeat becomes an obvious choice. Businesses are being pushed to evolve quickly, and the lessons learned from this experience will be long-lasting. Over the past two weeks, I have had more time than usual to think about the future and how COVID-19 will forever change the business world. Below are some of my initial thoughts on how things will change:
- A Remote Workforce Becomes Mainstream – Talking to some of my friends, it is painfully obvious which companies are ready for this decade, and which ones are stuck in the past. One of my friends told me his company insisted that he use his PTO if he wanted to work from home right before California gave the official “shelter in place” order. Now that companies in many states are forced to move to a remote workforce, I believe companies will realize (surprise!) that people can actually work from home and be productive. Now, the late adopters must evolve and join the revolution of a remote workforce.
- A Move to Virtual Meetings and Away from Work Travel – business travelers will think twice about flying overseas for an in-person meeting. “Road Warriors” — people that travel fulltime for work will become a thing of the past. More and more meetings will occur through video chat. For meetings where a more personalized touch is required, companies will move to VR experiences.
- A Move to Online Events and Away from Large In-Person Conferences – Large events like CES that attract 100s of thousands of people from all over the world will slowly (or maybe rapidly) disappear. Brands will realize that they can have a more personalized touch by leveraging AR and VR technology. Imagine sitting front row at the Playstation 5 unveiling in VR, or moving the console around in AR in the comfort of your living room.
- Health Checkpoints at Live Events – don’t be surprised if the usher at your next live concert takes your temperature while they scan your ticket. It looks like COVID-19 (and its future brothers and sisters) are here to stay, and monitoring and controlling outbreaks will likely become a paramount concern of major event providers.
- Government-sponsored, Real-time Big Data to Track Pandemics – I wouldn’t be surprised if a new agency or a sub-branch of the CDC is created to monitor viruses and their spread. The branch will develop a new national tracking system that plugs into multiple federal data sources to track the spread of disease. For example, taking temperatures at border crossing will become the norm. All of the data will be piped into a centralized tracking system to help predict when and how pandemics will spread, allowing more rapid border shutdowns and the tracking of community spread.
- Planned Shutdown Periods to Reduce Carbon Emissions – A side benefit of California’s “Shelter in Place” order is that the environment is receiving a much-needed break. The air in Los Angeles is the cleanest and clearest I have seen in my fifteen years of living here. I can see governments in the future adopting forced shutdown periods for their economies (or sections of their economies) to reduce carbon emissions. Perhaps countries in the future will collaborate on a global scale to help prevent rising global temperatures through planned shutdowns.
Before the pandemic and forced “pause” of our world, I was caught in the momentum of my flywheel. Marching forward toward my goals, I scarcely took the chance to come up for air before plunging back into my work. Many of my friends and colleges have expressed a similar view. The horror of the outbreak aside, perhaps the gift of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it compelled us to stop. It gave us the time for introspection. Now we can reevaluate our world — how we balance our lives with work, and how we conduct business on a daily business. What are old business practices from previous generations that we can now abandon?
The business landscape is in a constant state of slow evolution, and I hope that this pandemic will trigger a dramatic metamorphosis–for lack of a better term, a “great leap forward”–in modern business. Perhaps through this process, and through the re-evaluation of our lives and our business world, we can build something much improved: a healthier, happier, more modern world and workforce.
What changes do you see on the horizon? I’d love to know in the comments below.