It’s difficult to even think about the future when the present so dominates our lives, and our thoughts, but at our regular MEG digital meetup, we thought we’d give it a go.
Who Can Predict What’s Around the Corner?
The biggest lesson, or warning, about foreseeing the future, comes from the virus itself.
There have been warnings of the risk of some sort of pandemic, including a Ted Talk from Bill Gates as long ago as 2015. He said the world was not ready. He was right.
The arrival of the pandemic has rendered any previous predictions about the business landscape obsolete.
Consequently, any new predictions for the future must take the long-term impact of COVID-19 into account.
There are certain things which are very likely to happen, like the strengthening of digital infrastructure and more online business being conducted.
But much of this depends on whether living with COVID-19, and with prolonged social distancing, becomes the new normal long-term.
Would this mean a subsequent escalation in the use and development of robotics for instance?
And what would this then mean for the human workforce?
Does the current pattern of financial relief and furloughing point at some sort of future where the world of work and how people are rewarded for it financially is very different?
Technology as an Enabler
The new prevalence of Zoom represents a noticeable success story amid the coronavirus crisis. Early in March, its CEO Eric Yuan, predicted that it could lead to a fundamental and permanent shift in the way people work.
Where, in the immediate past, many of us would have immediately preferred a face to face meeting option, or even a phone conversation, to video, now Zoom is fast becoming the standard.
Whether Zoom remains dominant, or whether it has succeeded in simply normalising a technology for others to exploit, remains to be seen.
But it does look set to influence the way many of us will communicate for work, and do business, in a post-covid world.
Tools like Zoom have become instantly indispensable for remote working and, as more people have started to use them regularly, widely accepted.
But while Zoom use may stick and become embedded permanently in business culture, foreseeing the post-covid future is not easy.
What Will Happen to Productivity?
There are various opinions and theories about the way working from home (WFH) might have an impact on productivity.
A Stanford University economist, Nicholas Bloom, has suggested the pandemic could generate a slump in productivity worldwide, threatening economic growth for years to come.
Although previous research, by the same economist, has reported productivity benefits of WFH, conditions under coronavirus are different.
This is WFH without choice, and, in many cases, without having suitable conditions for working at home in place.
After all, schools are closed at the same time, so many people working from home must somehow try and balance work the demands of home-schooling and other issues.
Overall, WFH seems to work better for some things, and worse for others. It offers less office-based distractions, so might be better for applying a single focus to larger projects.
On the other hand, there can be a myriad daily interruptions which, cumulatively, have a negative impact on getting smaller, more disparate things done.
Is There An Alternative to Growth?
This is a big question, going far beyond the immediate concerns of technology and productivity. But coronavirus may, in the end, raise the profiles of new, alternative economic models for the future.
Growth at all costs looks increasingly unsustainable and, in the face of a natural, widespread disruption such as pandemic, vulnerable.
The economist Kate Raworth has written Doughnut Economics, her way of framing the challenge of supporting the planet while ensuring everyone has what they need of life’s essentials.
It is based on a framework of planetary boundaries, while incorporating demands for social justice. It is about creating a sustainable and equitable future, and the steps required to get there.
Our ingrained patterns of growth and recession mitigate against such different thinking, but perhaps the long-term impact of COVID-19 will at least open the door more widely to non-mainstream economic opinions.