The corporate life we have become accustomed to is changing. What used to be the “norm” is not going to be that anymore. The outbreak of COVID-19 and the subsequent quarantine we find ourselves in has forced the majority of every city’s workforce to work from home. You have recently replaced your corporate office with a desk in your spare room, replaced that morning coffee you buy from your favorite coffee shop with one made in your kitchen, and replaced that meeting room with a digital form of “meeting from distance”, or “Virtual Meetings”.
A “Virtual Meeting” is not a new concept. In fact, when I began my career with the Highway Agency in the UK over 20 years ago, video conferencing/teleconferencing was available in almost every corporate office in the country, but it was seldom used. The social aspect of meeting face-to-face was recognized as being the main driver for travelling and ignoring video conferencing. In some cases, travelling hundreds of miles a day to hold a 1 or 2 hour meeting was an accepted practice. In fact, facilities were put in place to cater for just that (such as hiring a car, or booking a train ticket). Over the past 2 decades, virtual/on-line meetings have gained some traction, but not to the extent that it challenged or replaced the “norm”.
Challenging the “norm” is often linked to major global events. For example, the 2004 SARS pandemic in Asia helped fuel the online shopping industry when people were forced into staying at home and ordering their goods online. Similarly, the market / economic tumble of 2008 saw a surge in people looking for cheaper / temporary accommodation which aided platforms where people could rent their summer homes or spare rooms.
It is my opinion that the COVID-19 outbreak will be remembered as the pandemic that changed the way we do business, for good.
The extraordinary experience we are currently facing is forcing us to realize the benefits “virtual meetings” can bring. Doing away with the travel and the social aspects of face-to-face meetings makes you more efficient, and focuses you on the matter at hand. You would have made your coffee ahead of time instead of at the beginning of the allotted time of the meeting, you would have kept the “how are you” and “nice to see you” to a minimum. What could have been 1 or 2 hours in a meeting room has suddenly been reduced to a 30 or 45 minute conversation, freeing up your time to concentrate on other (dare I say, more important) things.
On a similar note, and as we seek to make our travel greener and less harmful to the environment, and we see cities gear up to introduce disruptive technologies such as Autonomous Driving, Hyper-loops and the like, one aspect is mostly overlooked – The NEED to travel. The majority of the workforce in years to come will now ask themselves “do I need to physically be there? Or can I meet remotely?”.
Most corporations and government agencies have, over the last 3 to 5 years, developed a digital transformation strategy of some sort. These exceptional circumstances have now forced these entities to put their strategies into play, with little or no resistance. As time goes on, the benefits realized from this rapid, unexpected, digital transformation will be felt by every employee, so much so, that it will be difficult to go back to where we were a few months ago, even if we wanted to.
We will probably never completely ditch a corporate office or a meeting room, and we will probably never completely do away with face-to-face meetings, however, I believe that this experience has shown and proven to us that there are better, more efficient means of communicating, and that it would be remiss of us to fall back into our old ways once normality resumes.