Quite when things might return to some semblance of normality after the current coronavirus lockdown ends is still unknown, given that we are still trying to understand the virus itself, trying to discover how it can first be slowed, and then, beyond that, eradicated. Once this is achieved, the form that the new normality might take for each of us is, not surprisingly, even less clear.
There are some certainties however, at its simplest, our lives will be very different to how they used to be, pre-coronavirus. Forces will be at play at all levels, from how nations interact with each other, right through to the individual: how we continue to earn a living and, when we are working, i.e. “back at work” wherever that may be, what work will look like and which new processes and practices will be adopted, replacing the old ways of doing things.
On a global level….
Pre-coronavirus there was already a shift from globalisation to nationalism. Witness the trade wars between the US and China; and Brexit, with the UK and the EU failing thus far to reach any agreement, nearly four years after the referendum; and the lack of a consensus on climate change, with many nations putting their own self-interest before that of the world as a whole. It is this worsening international co-operation that has hugely contributed to our lack of global preparedness, the lack of a global response to this latest pandemic, unfortunately probably only one of many that will hit us again in the future.
Whilst the coronavirus pandemic has distracted us from these international challenges, it seems likely that nations will become even more inward looking following the recognition that global supply chains are so vulnerable to disruption. Coronavirus appears not only to have infected human beings but has also damaged the just-in-time systems that had become an underlying feature of global trade.
The move away from globalisation was already starting to take effect, again as an example the US and the perhaps not hugely successful attempt to bring production back onshore via the interference with free trade. No doubt accelerating this move towards national isolation will be our recent experience in the challenges felt when trying to acquire the medical and protective equipment necessary to fight the spread of coronavirus.
Countries in future will seek to ensure that they have the capabilities to produce at home what might be needed to combat further pandemics. Supply chain deficiencies will undoubtedly lead to more self-sufficiency and with that impact the nature and scale of global trade.
and for both people and organisations….
We had already started to see changes in the way we work. A growing number of organisations had already embraced remote working with an increasing number taking a closer look, with technology adapting to ease that transition. Amongst the workforce, more were expressing a preference for working outside of the office, particularly within younger age groups.
Forced lockdowns have left us with no choice other than to ensure that companies are able to operate with a remote workforce. Naturally, not all have needed to or can do so, health services being the obvious example, as well as transport and distribution.
One of the greatest fears of employers was a loss of productivity that might result from its staff working remotely. Those that had already adopted the practice would have known this not to the case providing the right systems were in place. In fact, numerous surveys had already shown that, on the contrary, productivity increased in the majority of cases. It seems likely that even more organisations will now be aware of this reality, and as such remote working now seems likely to be here to stay.
Premises – real estate
Along with the productivity experience, most organisations will also now have started to question the need to maintain expensive offices. If you think in terms of an office being used for only around a third of each day, it is already an asset being used inefficiently. With a workforce being remote from that office, contemplating whether or not a much smaller office, one that can accommodate maybe regular weekly face to face meetings, must be something many are doing. If the idea catches on, then, at least beyond the short to medium term, this will certainly cause significant disruption in real estate markets.
With many meetings now taking place online, companies will also start to question the wisdom of travelling, particularly to overseas customers and conferences. Sales and marketing methods will change – no longer will trips to customers be made unless their cost effectiveness can be demonstrated.
As a result, we will likely see less spending on travel, with the need for each trip being challenged every time. This in turn must lead to a response from those organisations that operate in the travel sector, seeking also to adjust the way they work together with the costs they incur, all to meet the resultant decrease in revenue they are likely to experience.
With a growing number of their workforce being remote from the office, team leaders will need to change the way they work, to change practices that have evolved to suit working in a single or limited number of locations. Coronavirus lockdown will have already exposed managers and team leaders to the challenges that come from managing a remote workforce.
Clearly the traditional HR department will need to transform itself. In the same way as for real estate and travelling expenses, companies will be questioning the effectiveness of existing HR practices, the costs involved and how they might operate more efficiently.
Working remotely has meant that most of us now have experience of video conferencing. Zoom, for example, has seen huge increases in the number of people using its service. This not only applies to work-related use, as it may well be that meeting socially online will remain popular after current restrictions on movement end. On the other hand, it seems just as likely that this will make people appreciate the importance and value of real-life, face-to-face social interaction in future, with there being less reliance on social media the result. In addition to video conferencing, other methods of communicating have become widespread, instant messaging, WhatsApp and Teams are now more popular along with the everpresent, dependable email, especially where the collaboration of teams is facilitated.
With so many currently wearing masks and gloves, we all must now be aware that touching things, equipment, anything, carries with it a risk of infection. This awareness will not disappear once the current crisis comes to an end. Many will think to themselves that if this can happen once without warning it can easily happen again. Coronavirus, whilst not causing us all to become OCD, will make us question the wisdom of exposing ourselves to such risks in future. Fewer touch screens and more voice and vision interfaces will be the norm. Whilst this development was always coming, its arrival will now probably be sooner than expected. In a similar way for consumers, the continual growth in contactless payment methods, with fewer cash transactions seem a likely consequence of coronavirus.
The growth in online shopping, in preference to the usual bricks and mortar, was already taking its toll in the High Street. Coronavirus sadly appears to have speeded up the demise of numerous well known brands: Debenhams, Cath Kidstone and Laura Ashley being some UK names that have collapsed in the last few days. Even those organisations with efficient online operations, such as Next, again in the UK, have scaled back their orders as a result of warehouses becoming congested. Businesses will therefore either introduce online services if they do not already exist, or make their current operations more efficient, making improvements to logistics and systems such that they can accommodate not only changing preferences but also the peaks in demand seen during the last few weeks.
As individuals have become infected and those with symptoms have self-isolated, businesses in recent weeks have seen their workforces decimated. In the medium to long term this experience will lead to more automation of processes, the use of AI will be widespread and, wherever possible robots will be used, these, after all, not being susceptible to viruses such as Covid-19. This means that more creativity will be seen not only when designing and making intelligent robots, but also in the ways they are used.
Covid-19 is causing us great hardship at present, and no doubt will do so in the years to come as economies struggle to recover. It remains to be seen how nations will act after this crisis ends, and whilst we may have some influence at home through our own democratic process, we can only hope that others behave in a responsible manner. Unfortunately the current damage seems likely to re-enforce the move towards nationalism, but maybe at least some common-sense will prevail, and that the importance of collaboration on the big global challenges we face is recognised by all.
Ending on a more positive note, coronavirus has presented us with a huge number of different challenges, ones perhaps we never even realised existed. We can be sure that individuals and organisations will rise and overcome these challenges – an obvious example being the way most of us are now successfully working from home in such a short time, a situation totally unforeseen even just a couple of months ago. Hopefully all this will make our lives better in the long run, and in the words of Sean Rowe:
“Maybe the mountain in our eyes will look like a molehill from the other side”
A few words about CompassAir
Creating solutions for the global maritime sector, CompassAir develops state of the art messaging and business application software designed to maximise ROI. Our software is used across the sector, including by Sale and Purchase brokers (S&P/SnP), Chartering brokers, Owners, Managers and Operators.
Through its shipping and shipbroking clients, ranging from recognised World leaders through to the smallest, most dynamic independent companies, CompassAir has a significant presence in the major maritime centres throughout Europe, the US and Asia.
Our flagship solution is designed to simplify collaboration for teams within and across continents, allowing access to group mailboxes at astounding speed using tools that remove the stress from handling thousands of emails a day. It can be cloud based or on premise. To find out more contact us at [email protected]. If you are new to shipping, or just want to find out more about this exciting and challenging sector, the CompassAir Shipping Guide might prove to be an interesting read.