The Future Is Not The Past

The overarching lesson for business is that the future will not and cannot be a replication of the past. COVID-19 is the latest in a long line of pandemics, including HIV/AIDS, Asian Flu, The Flu Pandemics of 1890, 1918,1968 and the Cholera outbreaks of 1852, 1911 as well as older Pandemics such as The Black Death and the Plague of Justinian (Bubonic plague) each of which killed more people than COVID-19 (at the time of writing). The end of COVID-19 is not the end of pandemics, it will merely mark a pause before the next one. Each and every pandemic has each changed the way we do things, be it water safety, our understanding of bacteriology or in the case of COVID-19, the way we work. The lesson from pandemics is that the world post pandemic is very different to the world pre-pandemic. There is no going back to how things were, only going forward to how they will be. Wishing things would go back to ‘the old ways’ is an exercise in frustration and disappointment. And some of these changes have the potential to be very beneficial. Let’s look at three.

Customer service is set to improve. Video technology is changing our expectations. We’ve all become used to video rather than phone calls. Thus far the emphasis has been on families keeping in contact or in business to business interactions. The extension of this change is business to consumer interactions. Instead of a faceless “chat” interaction on a company’s website or a phone call with a call centre, my hope is we move to video interactions. This will personalise the interactions more. The evidence suggests that when customers can see the chefs preparing the food they appreciate it more and when chefs see the customers they invest more effort in the preparation of the meal. In the same way, being able to see and hear the call centre agent will remove the faceless frustration that comes from waiting ages to speak to some unknown person in another part of the world in an experience that can feel very disconnected and remote. It will enable a higher quality relationship between the business and its customer, and positive relationships are the bedrock of being human. The medical profession has had to learn how to work remotely through video at a pace nobody pre-COVID-19 ever thought possible.

The Corporate world needs to catch up. Learning providers will deliver learning in more useful ways. The gig economy is going through a period of adjustment. Previously, service providers such as training companies would run full day or half day programmes and charge accordingly, this was the norm. In a virtual world these time periods do not work well. Much better are a series of short 90 minute sessions spread over several weeks. In the past the trainer would travel to a venue, set up their materials, deliver the workshop over half a day / day and go home. Now, the trainer needs to travel no further than from their kitchen to their study and they might deliver two or three or more sessions each to a different company, possibly on different topics all on the same day. The nature of how value is created and delivered has fundamentally changed. Even more importantly, this way of learning could generate a better return on investment. Outside of business, I know of very few areas of life where we think attending a one or two day intense training programme is all that is needed to improve the skills someone has. Best practice would suggest it is better to learn a skill, practice it and then build on this with the next bit of input. In a virtual session, delegates can spend 60 – 90 minutes getting some input and then the next week practicing the skill before joining the next training session. Whilst this won’t work for every aspect of performance, there are a great many areas ideally suited to this way of learning. Virtual conferences will be able to avoid the disruptive nature of attending face-to-face events and allow people to consider content over a longer period as no longer will everything have to be crammed into a short space of time to try and keep costs down. To make this work, training providers need to rethink their delivery model and to change the way they price the work they do, charging time in units considerably smaller than half a day.

The way we view property will change. For decades, the obsession in the housing market seems to have been the number of bedrooms and en-suite bathrooms. In reality we spend more time downstairs than we ever do upstairs or in bathrooms. Working from home has meant reappraising the space in the house to create places to work and a focus on improving living areas. In the future, people will be more interested in whether a house has somewhere suitable as a home office. As people become more comfortable working from home and learning how to make it work, so too will they reap the benefit. Heading out of the door early to beat the traffic to ‘hot desk’ in an office, returning late after a horrible commute is being replaced by a stroll from the kitchen to the study, to work in an environment that suits how you like to work and with your things around you. Rather than never seeing the kids, people are able to have a brief catch up with the children before they head off to school and see them as they return later in the day, perhaps stopping to sit with them for a while before returning to catch up with work later in the evening is now much more possible and acceptable. And when you need that time to think, heading out the door to walk on the local footpaths, or perhaps to sit in the garden to reflect have replaced trying to find somewhere quiet in the office. Many people haven’t quite got their home environment fully figured out yet to make home working as effective as it could be. And many employers, both large and small, are not yet ready to relinquish control over where and how their staff work. But it’s just a question of time.

Whilst there is much to dislike about the current pandemic, there are some positives. What is absolutely clear, is that there is no going back. A very different future is emerging rapidly and it’s here to stay (at least for now!).

Dominic Irvine © 2020 All rights asserted.