The current pandemic is a true tragedy, particularly in the UK, and I don’t want to downplay the seriousness of it – but it is also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for a rethink.
It’s incredible how things we took completely for granted – from freedom of movement to shaking hands – have gone, perhaps for a long time. Things that were a given, things we thought we couldn’t change or couldn’t live without: sitting in a crowded café, commuting to work, sharing a tightly-packed workspace or budget flight – have all been shaken to the core, because many of us can still live and work without them.
We’ve all seen the silver linings: from happy jellyfish swimming in central Venice to clear skies over Heathrow and the Taj Mahal. Road traffic fell massively over lockdown, but most of us coped. So, do we really need to drive that car today, or own one at all? Cities including London, Milan and Berlin have taken the chance, since April, to redesign streets ‘for the foreseeable future’ to better cater for cycling and walking. Friends who travelled massively for business are now finding those flights may not all be needed. And if we really need to move around, maybe we can find a better, lower carbon way to get to work, visit family or take a holiday?
For once we’re appreciating what we now call keyworkers: we always subtly admired doctors and nurses but, as we realise how broad this moment’s ‘front line’ really is ,we now salute supermarket workers, bus drivers and teachers. Let’s hope we re-evaluate and put a new, higher value on some humble but important roles that make our lives work, such as zero-hours community care workers on minimum wage: we’ve realised just how much it matters that our older and vulnerable people are happy.
Seismic shifts will find their way into business: I’ve never had so many virtual meetings or pitches before, but they do work. Like millions of us I’m obviously ordering more and different things for work and privately online. Some of these new habits will stick, permanently changing what’s OK to buy online and how we procure. I do miss our office – but office spaces, and the way we use them, may never be the same and that could be a good thing. Suddenly some fundamental assumptions behind our business models are being tested.
If ever there was a time to re-evaluate your business, this has to be it – as Einstein said, ‘nothing happens until something moves’ – and some fundamental things have moved, many that we thought immovable.
Sadly, some businesses will never recover because of these shifts; but most will. As artist Mary Engelbreit put it: “Don’t look back, you are not going that way”. Let’s take the innovations, the lessons and the good surprises out of today, record them, and take the time to look at where we can innovate in our own businesses: what we do, how we can re-imagine our business.