Predictions for a post-Coronavirus world where digital is king

Profile picture for user ddpreez By Derek du Preez March 27, 2020
Summary:
We are still in the early days of a long fight against the novel Coronavirus, but we consider what the world might look like once we come out the other side.

Image of a man holding a newspaper with the headline 'the world is changing'
(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay)

As the global health crisis surrounding the Coronavirus pandemic worsens in the USA and the UK, and as lockdown quickly becomes the new ‘norm’ for many of us, it’s quickly dawning on people that this may not be a short term thing. The general consensus amongst experts is that we will probably be dealing with the immediate threat from COVID-19 for the next 18-24 months, in some way or another.

And even then, the rebuild and the lasting impact will no doubt be felt for years to come. There’s a growing realisation that even once Coronavirus is ‘over’ in the immediate sense, it will have changed the shape of the world forever.

In other words, when we come out of this and life is able to go back to ‘normal’, it’s likely that our new normal will not look the same as it did just three or four months ago.

What will this look like and what does it mean? Don’t let anyone fool you into thinking that they have the answers - because they don’t. It’s all guesswork at this stage. And that’s fine, it’s fun to speculate. And this week I’ve been mulling what that future ‘new normal’ may look like.

My key message is that we are now living in a world where if business models *rely* on real-world, face to face interactions - they will be deemed riskier than business models that can largely be carried out via digital tools and technology (albeit, with some caveats).

So, here we go…

  1. People will still want real-life interactions

This may seem counter to what I’ve just expressed above, but it’s an important point to make. We may all be social distancing on and off for the next year and a half, but I can guarantee you that a lot of people will still be desperate to see the people they care about and have been forced to avoid for months. Humans are social beings and real-life, physical connections will still be important. I refuse to believe we will all solely be socialising or working through Zoom calls once this is over.

  1. Stability, digital and agility will be priorities

I think one thing this very odd period of time has taught us is just how precarious our global systems and economies are. Huge chunks of the economy have been completely wiped out for the time being, whilst others have been able to carry on - precisely because they are digital at the core.

Obviously this cannot be applied to everything, because of point 1) on my list of predictions (I’m thinking particularly in areas such as social care, which will keep in-person interactions). But I think going forward investment decisions will be made based on digital-first and stability. Could you keep operating if this happened again? How stable are you, exactly? How rapidly can you adapt if something in the market changes and you need to switch up how you do things? The world was moving towards prioritising these things anyway, the impact of Coronavirus has just accelerated the need to get there.

  1. Platforms that enable local sourcing

I have a feeling global trade is going to change post-Coronavirus. I could be wrong, but it’s been incredibly interesting to me that in this time of crisis it is local suppliers and distributors that have come through with the goods. Whether that’s local supermarkets, breweries, farm shops, butchers etc. Why? Because they all source locally. What’s been missing is that they haven’t been able to utilise a digital platform to easily enable the huge uptick in demand. It’s mostly being done via email, social media, calls etc.

I could be wrong, but I think the global supply chains we currently have in place will suffer because they’re so unstable when something goes wrong (unless you’re one of the Amazons of the world). Maybe those supply chains will get stronger in the aftermath, but I’ve got a feeling that platforms that enable local sourcing are more likely.

  1. Work from Home gains credibility

For a lot of companies, in the past, there has been some sort of mental barrier to letting people work from home - being ‘seen’ IRL is what counts. Well, not anymore. I think a lot of organisations will see how well their business copes (if they get the right digital tools in place) with huge chunks of their employee base working from home. I can imagine a situation where some organisations will want to keep some face-to-face time an option (perhaps a much smaller office space), but I’d be surprised if we go back to mass scale working spaces with everyone in one place. It’s just not necessary a lot of the time.

  1. Your value will be determined even more so by what you produce

Seems strange to say, doesn’t it? Surely this is the case now? I think we all know, however, that that’s often not true. Some people, for whatever reason, are able to succeed in the ‘old world’ environment just by being seen and knowing how to work their networks. I think one thing that working from home requires is evidence of what you’re producing. To some extent that’s also true in the ‘old world’ situation, but it’s amplified in a WFH scenario. Your outcomes, the value you add and what you produce will be brought to the fore simply because people can’t ‘see’ you.

  1. Soft skills will win big

Digital brings new possibilities and new ways of doing things, but it does change the way that we interact. The people that can navigate the Zoom calls, the social media, the collaboration online will be the ones that are particularly sought after. Why? Because it makes the organisation feel ‘alive’ when you’re largely using digital tools and technology to operate. It’s also worth noting that this is often an opportunity for people that may consider themselves ‘shy’ - online communication gives you the ability to pause for thought, edit, and carve out a voice for yourself. But, equally, it’s much harder to tell what someone is really going through when they’re not sitting next to you. Using ‘soft’ skills to navigate these situations will be key.

  1. Virtual events will be a permanent feature

It’s funny to think that virtual events were looked down on by many people just a month or two ago (including me!). And I get it, they’re not quite the same. But as we’ve noted on diginomica, the tools are there and you can actually replicate a pretty good experience online. It’s not the same - you do miss some of the networking and the ‘accidental’ conversations you get at events in real life. But you can get a big part of the way there. And actually, because the cost is drastically reduced online, you can bring more regular events, with great content, directly to people that need it, when they need it. Not only that, but those events are then rewatchable and shareable.

I think IRL events will still be a thing, but I think they will be less frequent, more targeted, specific, and very high value. I’m not sure that post-Coronavirus, people will see the value in flying to San Francisco for a week every few weeks to go to an event when they’re getting a lot of the value they get there throughout the year. Relationship building will be more challenging, but that is also possible online.

  1. Business travel will become less essential

Consider this a huge pilot for doing most of your work and your networking online. And I think people will realise that it’s mostly possible. Of course business travel will still be a thing. Some things just are better in person. But I think this enforced period of reflection will show people that a big chunk of time they spend traipsing around the world isn’t entirely necessary. It really is necessary if all those events *are* happening and you’re not there - but if they’re not happening and everything is on pause, then I’m not so sure.

  1. Precedents are being set that we haven’t yet anticipated

A final word of warning. I think because of the panic surrounding the economy effectively coming to a halt overnight, regulations have taken a backseat somewhat. I think governments and the private sector are now doing things that would normally have privacy experts and regulators up in arms. But because these times are unprecedented, they’ve been given a pass in many respects. However, this does mean that we could accidentally be setting precedents for the future, if this becomes the ‘new norm’. I’m not sure what that looks like yet, but we need to be careful that in our panic we don’t fully give away our rights to digital privacy.