Business as unusual.
So much has changed in such a short time. And it will likely stay that way.
I hope that when I look back at my blog posts in a year or two that these current weeks of isolation are, well, isolated. But I have a feeling that the reverberations of the virus will be felt long after I hit the “publish” button today. You can’t just shut down world productivity for two or three or six months and expect to go back to a booming economy and business as usual.
Things will change.
Prior to COVID-19, we had been experiencing a trend of massive urbanization. Bill Gates recently wrote that we are on track to add the equivalent of another New York City to the planet every month for the next 40 years. That’s a lot of concrete. A lot of jobs. A lot of gum stuck to the sidewalk. But the virus may make a lot of people rethink the value of living packed into a city apartment complex. Places like my home town of Nantucket, MA, surrounded by water and 30 miles out to sea, may become (I shudder to even to write this) even more popular. With the byproduct of driving the cost of year-round housing ($2 million median home price as of this writing) even higher.
Before the virus, the US had been trending toward nationalism, conservatism, elitism, and xenophobia. But if there’s a lesson that a global pandemic will teach us the hard way, it’s that when we don’t think, plan and act like one big, global family, our societies fall like dominoes. Pandemics know no borders and do not discriminate. Healthcare for everyone is probably a good thing. And when the going gets tough, it’s the workers making minimum wage in the supermarkets, subways, and delivery vans, plus the folks in health care— many of whom are women, minorities, and immigrants — who end up saving us all.
One has to wonder what impact several months of uncertainty, worry and sheltering in place will have on children and what that might mean for the next generation. Are we raising a new generation of humans who will be more frightened, cautious and risk-averse? The negative implications for global innovation and growth could be staggering. Will the generation after Gen Z be called Gen W — for worry? I hope not.
Also, before the ‘Rona, as the Gen Z-ers like to call it, many start-ups, service industry firms, and tech companies were working in shared, open office plans with large, communal tables, copiers and coffee makers that everyone touched 2–20 times a day. When the danger recedes, will we go back to working together, just in individual offices, each equipped with its own doorknob sanitizer? Or will many workers stay at home in their sweat pants and continue to work remotely, albeit somewhat inefficiently?
“Gordon, would you please mute your line while you’re eating that celery? Yeah. Thanks…”
Okay, here’s the thing. Businesses that have placed bets on long-term plans, rigid processes, structure, hierarchy and the collective organizational dogma I lovingly refer to as “corporate bullshit” are pretty much screwed. All of their rules, suspended. Their way of getting work done has been turned upside-down. Those brazen employees who saw no good reason to read the handbook HR gave them are vindicated.
For me, not a lot will change. I’m kind of used to this work style. Even when I was working as a CD for a larger agency, I worked remotely part of the time. Every day was different. Every problem needed to be solved in a new way. My current business is built around the concept of multiple, high-value skill sets concentrated in the smallest possible teams. Adaptation is baked into the business model. I can’t remember the last time I was actually in my comfort zone, so I’ve never had the occasion to rest on laurels, rely on a set process or commoditize what I offer. Which positions us well for change.
Unusual is probably the way business will be run for the foreseeable future. Back to work.
Grant Sanders is the founder of SAND — a firm that brings strategy, art, narrative, and design to personal and public transportation brands. And he doesn’t even own a pair of sweat pants.