The world is in crisis. Simple, short-term survival is everyone’s top priority, whether that’s as a nation, a government, a business, a family or a lonely and forgotten self-isolating individual. But the overwhelming necessity to endure has always been the mother of invention. Human ingenuity is quickly finding new ways to accelerate vaccine testing, make face masks or turn craft breweries into hand sanitiser factories.

Countless awe-inspiring examples hit the news every day. I’ve watched with admiration as my Cambridge Consultants colleagues have responded heroically to assist in the development and manufacture of life-saving ventilators at breakneck speed.

We’re all dealing with the seismic shock of what’s hit us and figuring out how best to survive. And just as natural is the instinct to contemplate ways to pick up the pieces later. Regeneration will take time, and in many ways the world will never be the same again. It will be traumatised, poorer and much more uncertain. Yet one thing is certain: the pandemic and its repercussions will spark a forceful wave of invention and discovery. 

Where will the crisis take us? 

Technological innovation over the next decade will echo the potent response that COVID-19 has driven in these past short few months. The era will see the acceleration of trends that were already forming and the creation of entirely new ones. What are the implications and where will it take us? It would be foolish to try to offer too many answers immediately, but it is certainly the time to start formulating the right questions. 

The global team at Cambridge Consultants has initiated an action plan to begin the process. We’re marshalling our COVID-19 thinking to build a strategic framework that will help our company, our clients, our partners and the wider communities in which we work to respond. Our aim right now is to consider thought-provoking questions across markets, sectors and geographies rather than offering definitive answers. But the debate assumes significant economic disruption that will certainly lead to specific, technology-led commercial responses. 

We’ve split our thoughts into four vital areas of everyday life across the world: work, wellness, retail and leisure. With our work continuing and evolving rapidly, here is a quick snapshot of some of the key questions already bubbling to the surface. 

Work 

The shock of the pandemic has been profoundly felt across the working world. We’ve all had to cope in ways that we couldn’t have really predicted only a few weeks ago. But just because we’ve had to behave in particular ways doesn’t mean that we want to. Which of our enforced behaviours are going to stick? 

It’s undoubtedly true that what already felt like a breathless pace of digital transformation is only going to accelerate. The technologies that many of us have only now begun to embrace are just the start. The digitised workplace will be transformed with more remote and flexible working. We’ll need to consider the advantages and potential problems for our employers. COVID-19 could be the shove that slows the inexorable growth of business travel, or it might just make us hungrier to meet face-to face. 

The crisis has also been a profound stress test for practically every worker and every organisation in the world. Just how resilient have we been to strategic shock and how can we do better in the future? It’s not so long ago that plenty of big organisations viewed the cost of cyber security as a necessary evil. Now, it’s rapidly becoming a positive discriminator. Will companies make a similar shift in thinking around investment in organisational resilience? And how will we all feel as individuals as we, probably gradually, go back to the workplace? The labour market will be under the spotlight, perhaps at a time when job security is prized above anything else.

Click here to find out more about how the way we work will be affected after COVID.

Wellness 

Personal wellbeing is in the spotlight like never before. Lockdowns, social distancing and self-isolation have forced us to change our lifestyles. Many people have welcomed the change in pace, and a slowing to a more contemplative state-of-mind that is conscious of the natural world. But remote interaction may have health impacts caused by prolonged isolation. Technology might be leveraged to enable greater remote support to vulnerable people. Strain on healthcare systems might prompt the adoption of long-postponed telemedicine technologies. There might even be increase state control through mass surveillance of health-related patterns. 

Isolation and distancing are likely to exaggerate some of the causes of mental health issues, but it might be that with more people affected, a sense of community will develop to help overcome them. Will there be an increase in anxiety when meeting face-to-face? Will there be a lack of trust in strangers, or outsiders from certain places? Will there be an increased use of devices and platforms to reduce stress and anxiety and improve relaxation? Will there be an increase in services that improve mental health, including yoga and alternative therapies? 

With many people using exercise to stoke their resilience, it could well be that technology is leveraged to create a culture of exercise on an even bigger scale. Will there be increase of monitoring at societal as well as personal level? Will the gym generation spend more time exercising at home and online? Will that spark an increase of sports community platforms and will personalized regimes based on data become the norm? 

Click here to find out how wellness and productivity will change in the post-pandemic world.

Retail 

The oft quoted ‘new normal’ has significantly shifted consumer channel habits and a big question has arisen over how the retail value chain will adapt to forced online adoption. How will it affect supply chains and stock holding, and how can we plan for future crisis scenarios? What industries will switch to delivery business models and how will online services adapt to meet demand? Other possibilities include greater nationalisation to cope with global supply chain volatility. 

Panic buying and the closure of manufacturing and distribution facilities has led to shortages and delays in many regions and industries. Those responsible for supply essentials and key products will be under increased pressure to be better prepared in future. We might well see greater use of automation in distribution centres to reduce the need for human workers and a focus on local partners and improved in-country ability to produce goods. 

In-store retail has been struggling is many regions since well before the outbreak. It could be that the pandemic kick-starts a reimagining of retail space to satisfy people’s demand to get out of the house. Will stores become increasingly experience-driven? Will there be greater use of brand apps to provide added benefits to in-store shopping such as discounts, and more focus of in-store as a marketing, rather than sales, channel? 

Click here to find out more about retail disruption and a global preview of the service model future

Leisure 

Fear of infection, travel bans, and enforced isolation have hit the tourism, travel and events industries hard. But the limitations have also led to innovation in online entertainment and communication platforms. Sustainability will be under focus, with the possibility the positive impact on the environment that’s already been seen will inspire real change.

Travel is unlikely to recover quickly and may face permanent change led by changing consumer behaviour and collapsing industry players. Will we see low prices for holidays in the short-term, but higher ones in the future because of reduced competition between fewer operators? Experiences are seen by younger generations as a greater show of status than traditional measures like home ownership. Will organisers be able to create more remote experiences of destinations, festivals, galleries and museums to stay competitive? 

Spending more time at home and perhaps not being able to work at all has led to an increased uptake of hobbies to fill the spare time. Will this spark an increase in online social communities of like-minded people, with the collaborative online tools and forums necessary? Streaming services for online gaming could see a boom, while there could be a greater awareness and use of social digital technologies by non-traditional users. 

Interested to learn more?

Watch this space, and join the debate 

Whatever happens, and whatever unfolds in the coming weeks and months, the world will have a lot of work to do. We’re looking forward to doing our bit, and we’re planning a series of articles to keep you posted as our thoughts and plans develop. Watch this space, as the saying goes. Colleagues are also swapping ideas with our clients to help shape agendas – so please do drop me a line if there is any topic you’d like to discuss in more detail. 

Infographic References: 

Work: 
More than half of firms ... (British Chambers of Commerce, April 2020)
Zoom related hacking threats... (threat research analysts from Webroot, April 2020)
Reuters Business travel sector... (industry group, Mar 2020)

Healthcare: 
75% of GP appointments remote ... (Royal College of GPs, Mar-Apr 2020)
84% of Americans are uncomfortable talking ... (mentalhelp.net)
Interest in home fitness ... (Google Trends Apr 2020 vs Apr 2019)

Retail: 
US companies lead times ... (Institute for Supply Management, Mar 2020)
36 million US jobs ... (Brookings Institute, Mar 2020)
Tesco CEO says stores have changed … (Thisismoney.co.uk, Apr 2020)

Leisure:
Air quality advertised feature, (travelperk.com, Mar 2020)
Australian estimates…, (The Guardian, Apr 2020)
Facebook calling 1000%, (BBC, Mar 2020)

 

Media downloads

The COVID questions – shaping our response for an innovative post-pandemic world.pdf
Author
Bill Hodson
Consulting director

Bill has more than 30 years' experience in technology strategy consulting to government and industry around the world. He's worked across a range of markets including energy, transport, defence, security, aerospace, healthcare, manufacturing and construction. His focus is on helping clients achieve technology-driven change.