The New (Not So) Normal (i4cp login required)

Several years ago, I suggested to my co-founder that I adopt the title
“futurist.” I got cards printed, added it
to my bio on the i4cp website, even updated my LinkedIn profile. I thought it
was a great idea at the time—not so much anymore. This became very apparent
when he said to me the other day, “Hey futurist—now would be a good time to
write about the future.” 

Writing about the future is always precarious, even in the best of
times. Today, however, it is virtually impossible. We are living in an
unprecedented, historic period that will most likely have a profound impact on
(and might permanently alter) how we live, work, and play. What makes this task
even more difficult is the lack of information, the unknowns, and uncertainties.
 

The coronavirus pandemic, and resulting global economic crisis, have
produced more questions than answers. 

When will it be safe to fly?  Go
on vacations?  Attend a sporting event,
concert or conference? Go to a restaurant or bar to socialize?  When will schools and colleges open again?  When can I go back to work or go to the
office?  Will our health care system
collapse due to shortage of medical supplies, equipment, and professionals? And,
what about the economy? How deep and
long will the impact of the pandemic last?
Will unemployment go to double digits? Or will it skyrocket to a range
not seen since the 1930s? Will
we tumble into another deep recession, or crash into a depression?  

In other words, will we ever return to our normal routines, or should
we just accept that there will be a new normal 

The answer to these and other questions is, we don’t know. Sorry.
Not great insight for someone who is a futurist 

A huge hole has been blown into the global economy as nations shut down
local, national, and global commerce in order to enforce social distancing. And
the economy will only start to return when the pandemic recedes, and no one
really knows when that will occur. Right now, because of a severe deficit in
testing, we do not have enough data to build accurate predictive models. Testing
is currently focused on those who show symptoms. We don’t know how many people
are asymptomatic but contagious, or, more important, how many have had mild or
no symptoms, have recovered and now have antibodies.  

As a result, we don’t have accurate data on how infectious the virus
is, or what the true mortality rate is, although this novel coronavirus strain has
shown itself to be highly infective and very deadly. In addition, we know that it
will take a while to have a working vaccine, despite a rushed schedule by the
FDA and other overseers. It could be
June, or maybe September or even February 2021 before there is relief from the
pandemic and the economy opens again.  

When that happens there is some good news. Humans are social animals and there will be a
desire to go out and be with other people.
But even then, the economy will probably be slow to come back: 

  • It will take time before we feel comfortable and
    safe to fly, take a cruise (particularly) or even go on a vacation, especially
    where large crowds gather, like Disney World.
  • Business travel will be the first to return in
    earnest, but it will be tempered for a while, and there still could be travel
    restrictions between countries, regions, or even states.
  • Attending any event where there are large groups
    of people will be slow to come back.
  • Even going out for a meal, movie, or to just to
    socialize with friends will be slow to return. How many restaurants will have
    survived the economic crash, and will we feel comfortable and safe in such
    tight environments?
  • Will we feel safe in someone else’s car?  Or taking public transportation? Not knowing how clean it is or who was in it
    before me will be a concern for some time.
    As a result, calling Uber, Lyft, hailing a taxi, riding a bus, train, or
    subway will be slower to come back.
    Driving your personal vehicle will likely have a resurgence. 

When the dust settles and the economy begins to hum along again, we
will also see that the world of work has changed and a new normal has
developed. It doesn’t matter if you are a for-profit, NGO, or government
organization—the work, the workplace, and the workforce are likely to be very different.  

Now, humor me while I act more like the futurist I’m supposed to be, and
offer up some predictions: 

  • In a post-pandemic world, we will lessen our
    dependence on other nations to supply essential goods, particularly medical
    supplies, to have more local control of the supply chain.
  • Contingency planning will go to an entire new
    level, and there will be closer collaboration between complementary companies
    and industries to prepare for the next potential crisis.
  • Office buildings that are designed for open
    space for groups to gather, or closely packed cubicles (think of your typical
    WeWork office) will go away as more employees will want offices that create
    distance between their colleagues.
    Indeed, in the last couple of weeks you can bet that many CEOs and CFOs are
    even questioning the need for large office spaces that bring the workforce
    together.
  • In addition, executives are beginning to
    understand that the glue that holds organizations together is not the brand-new
    corporate headquarters. The new corporate currency is the organization’s
    invisible qualities of purpose, culture, and brand.
  • Now that thousands of executives have been
    forced to work from home for an extended period for perhaps the first time in
    their careers, organizations will be more comfortable with employees working
    where they want and when they want. Many
    organizations that resisted flexible work arrangements in the past now must accept
    new ways of working. While productivity fell in the first couple of weeks of masses
    moving to working remotely, performance is beginning to improve once
    individuals and teams adopted a routine.
  • Because of the new flexible work arrangements,
    managers are becoming more comfortable using platforms like Zoom, Slack, and
    Teams to communicate with their direct reports. It’s became evident that managers who are
    successful with remote teams are utilizing more softer skills.
  • Measuring performance and productivity of remote
    workers is still in development, but there are many companies making progress.
    Technology will play a huge role in this measurement.
  • HR will adopt new technology more effectively; during
    this crisis there has been no other option.
    Many of the HR activities that used to be done face-to-face had to be
    quickly redesigned, which has affected recruiting, interviewing, onboarding,
    performance reviews—all have had to move to a virtual format.
  • Providing learning and development for the
    workforce has also evolved. Many have
    found new appreciation for virtual instructor-led and other forms of online
    learning, and companies have rediscovered their LMS or new LXP platform. 

Beyond all of that, my biggest prediction is that despite the changes
to come, we will adapt just fine. The
human species is very innovative and resilient. Children will return to school,
colleges will reopen, workplaces will rebound. We will begin to gather and socialize
again. The economy will work its way out of the crisis.  

But it will never be exactly the same as it was. There will be a new normal. And maybe I’ll even keep my job as a
futurist.