This has happened before, not to us, but to previous generations from Ancient Greece to 1918 and there are consistent patterns of human behaviour during and post pandemics that we are following even now in 2021.
We all want to move on from the Covid world to one where we can at last start to get back to normality, do the things we want to do, achieve the things we want to achieve. What people want to do, to achieve and what’s possible, and how has changed in a way that means we can’t revert to the pre-Covid world, there is a new world we have to embrace for our own benefit.
To move into this new world and move on we need to understand what we have just experienced on a deeper level. Experience is not the same as understanding and we need to dig beneath the surface of some of the Covid impacts on key areas of our lives.
To help you achieve that I’m going to do a series of short video blogs and supporting in-depth articles like this, published every 2 weeks, each focused on specific areas that Covid has impacted, what are the key things you need to know about those impacts – the high level tends – and what are things you can do to be more successful in 2021 – potential specific actions you can take at once. The content will be relevant to individuals, leaders, teams, and organisations.
Here are a few taster thoughts on the areas I am going to cover :
People – For a majority of people, Covid has been a significant hidden stress driver, worse for some it has brought financial crisis and personal tragedy. But Covid has not been just one event but a number of different events as we respond to the initial shock, move to dealing with the immediate crisis, the adaption to that into a longer-term tolerance, the expectation that things would get better and then the subsequent peaks and arrival of new variants which created a “lost hope” followed by hope returning with vaccines. Each of these phases has produced different responses, but most are predictable as seen in studies of people who experience disasters of some type.
The peaks and troughs of people’s responses are directly linked to how much the disaster impacted them and how long for. In any terms, Covid has been long drawn out. It’s also had invisible impacts that we might not think affect us but which do, even if mainly subconsciously. The restrictions on personal lifestyles from mobility to social contact have effectively blown away a significant number of our long-established behaviours and removed elements that we psychologically need to have eg personal contact. We need to have a plan for our new future not just let events control us
Work – Covid has obviously changed the way we work, from the requirement to work at home to those who sadly have lost jobs.
Those who are still at work are lucky. Unemployment has rocketed in most developing countries to around 15% and that’s excluding those who were self-employed now unable to work who did not feature on the official numbers. At a day-to-day level, it means that roughly every 5th person you walked past on the street pre-Covid is now out of a job. The impact on women has been greater not through economically driven job losses but through the closure of schools which has meant one parent has to give up work to be at home with their children during the day.
For those in work, the enforced massive rise in remote working has led to a wide-ranging debate from the pros and cons of this but what is interesting is that this showed the real opportunities for remote working that were being held back by culture and mindest more than technology.
But also these debates have to some degree ignored the vast majority of the workforce who cannot work remotely. They have to be present to do their jobs, and as a result, they have suffered disproportionally from Covid.
What is optimal post-Covid is a different question to what Covid enforced. But in any event, Covid has forced not only changes in ways of working but also thinking. Form many people perceptions of what’s important in life have changed and many people have re-evaluated their priorities with work being less of a focus.
Leadership – Covid vastly ramped up the pressure on leaders when it hit, requiring an almost heroic like response to the situation. Within a few weeks in many organisations the difference between good leaders and those who had shortfalls became clear in a way that normal pre-covid working failed to expose in such a stark way. My training as an Army Officer was indicative of the principle that as the pressure builds the quality of leadership needs to be able to match that pressure.
In this initial period agility, quick decision making, effective delegation, and constant communication were key to keeping things moving. But what escaped many was that these capabilities alone were not enough, there also had to be a foundation of trust which had been built prior to Covid that powered the belief people had in their leaders to give their best.
Covid demonstrated that it was people’s emotional interactions with their leaders that delivered success perhaps even more than the job-related process elements. But we already knew that 80% of the emotional element of an employee’s decision to give high performance was driven by their line managers’ behaviour pre-Covid so the increase during Covid is hardly surprising.
Customers – Covid has changed dramatically how we as customers behave. We have reduced our buying of non-essential products, focused in on brands we trust, reduced frequency of shop visits when possible, reduced “on the go” consumption as travel and work reduced. It’s not just about the obvious switch to online rather than in-store but a deeper change related to the impact of the whole pandemic on us as people. We have become more health-conscious in what we buy and why, we have questioned the sustainability of the way we live in the future, we are asking questions that have moved us from just assessing products for their consumption value to asking significantly more often if they align to our values and beliefs about ourselves as people. Some have suggested there is a need for a more “spiritual” approach to meeting customers’ needs.
Tech – There have been many technical advances in the tech world since Covid, eg by q2 2020 cloud infrastructure investment was up 35% year on year, but my focus here is how we have changed our use of digital. That said the sudden expansion in our use of tech has spurred the acceleration of these tech developments. Overall Covid has driven up the adoption of tech in our lives telescoping previous trends that would have taken years into months. Yes, there is the obvious remote working growth, of about x 20, the growth in online shopping, online entertainment, a massive switch to online learning, and even a 10 x increase in the use of telemedicine. All of these occurred in just weeks, not months or years. This shows it’s not only an expansion of tech use in existing areas but also the adoption of tech in new areas, eg telemedicine, and online fitness training. That is now probably irreversible.
Business models & strategies – the response to Covid has been varied, a majority of organisations engaging in activities that bring efficiencies or lower costs, such as boosting process automation. But that’s only making the existing approach more efficient. Covid revealed that a key success factor is the ability to change the whole process in response to the environment, more process reimagination, and transformation than automation. That also links into creating resilience for future rapid adaptions.
But the challenge in this context is not what is technically possible but what is mentally possible. Can the senior leadership move past their current models and thinking and imagine the future? Clearly, much of this potential will be digital but in the real world digital needs to integrate with real people both in conception and implementation and that’s where some great ideas have foundered.
What about me?
Covid has changed in some way our fundamental perspectives and motivations, about work, our behaviour as customers, relationships with family, friends and colleagues, and perspectives on wider society and government. The challenge for the rest of 2021 is how can you best assess where you are now, decide what’s important for you to achieve, and start your journey to do so. Maybe a great starting point for 2021 is to reflect on 2020 and think about what really are the true priorities in your life, what do you really want to achieve by year-end who can help you get there.
Good luck until next time!