Welcome to Part 1 of The Big Switch segment - a series of articles aimed at analysing the impact of remote work has had on individual employees, managers, leadership and organisations. In this episode we’re focusing on the bigger picture, circumstances that brought us to our new ways of living and working, concluding with some sense making of the possible scenarios for the future (but maybe don’t quote me on any yet, please and thank you). In the parts to follow we will be dissecting the perspectives of aforementioned groups to better understand what we’ve learned so far and what are the ideas we should be exploring as the nu normal persists to improve the why & the how of our day to day in the workplace.
Happy 6 months anniversary Y’all (quite literally)! We’ve been remote for half a year now. In March of 2020 the working world as we knew it had been cancelled. Even though some would still have to perform their jobs in the physical space, and to all of those people we need to extend our gratitude for delivering our food, maintaining our plumbing and most of all taking care of those sick in the hospitals, most of the workforce had opened new offices in the corners of their living rooms and bedrooms. Our Taylored modus operandi had been put to the test and as a result had to be replaced, changed - some would say upgraded - to a new, socially distant, OS.
Excuse me, what just happened?
Likely, given how the events have unfolded - the spreading of the SARS-CoV-2 (aka covid-19) would grant 2020 a spot on the podium of the so far most perplexing periods in the 21st century - among 09/11 and its aftermath and the financial crisis of 2008.
There’s many theories on how this virus had even come to life - none of them really confirmed or more plausible than the others. Some say it might have escaped The Wuhan Institute of Virology, others that it just appeared at the fish market there carried by bats, and there’s a growing group saying it doesn’t even exist (the latter being quite hard to prove I reckon with almost 29M human bodies infected this year). Nevertheless, the origin as of today is still not confirmed, but if there’s one sure thing about it it’s that it’s not going anywhere just yet. In fact, the infection rate has been going up again and is at its new peak in Germany since April when it was last seen breaking daily records in terms of new cases. Globally, it’s flared up in new parts of the world such as India or South Africa, after being super timid in the first months. First cases of reinfection have also been confirmed in Hong Kong, Belgium and the US.
Bitte Abstand Halten / Please keep your distance /
The pace of spread of the novel virus has very quickly made the world and its decision makers freaked out to the point that most countries saw physical lockdown as the the fastest and likely most effective solution to stopping the spread of the disease. That's how quarantine mode gave birth to the nu normal of mostly remote work era, economic downturn and face mask fashion. Many didn't think much about it then assuming it will pass, but - in hindsight - we are now painfully aware, it meant the end of life as we knew it. The world has been flipped on its head overnight. Operationally, habitually and mentally we had to adopt very quickly.
In the old normal circumstances there would be a natural opposition to such an abrupt change of lifestyle (later materialised in the mostly peaceful protests against the restrictions of social distancing). However, at the the time, the rate of obedience, at least in Germany, was extremely high. Why? Well, there was the element of fear, that’s for sure, but there was also the misunderstanding that It would all be very very temporary.
Today, as we're approaching mid-September, we still have no idea for how much longer will the R-factor stay at the dangerously high level, if the vaccine is coming our way early next year or later, and if the businesses that materially suffered as a consequence of the lockdown rules will ever bounce back.
In Berlin, the party mecca of Europe, clubbing scene has officially been pronounced dead with Berghain turned into an art gallery - an endeavour most of the Sunday morning crowd would laugh off just a year ago - definitely a sign of the times. Sure, there are illegal raves and parties in parks, but from the business standpoint, there’s no actual revenue being made, leaving the art creators pretty hopeless. The rest of the economy is somewhat functional with travel picking up over the summer and restaurants and bars open again with minor inconvenience of having to sign in or wear a mask on your way to the bathroom. Kids are back at school and some offices are partially reopened if employees wish to come back.
The status quo is very different however depending on the country and continent. In Europe, France and Spain are suffering from huge spikes of new infections, but cannot afford another full lockdown, just like no other country can. From one day to another, countries are imposing stricter rules of entry depending on the latest infection rates.
Most of APAC, excluding India, where the virus is largely out of control, has been reopened for business (with travel restrictions in place that is) keeping the virus tamed for the time being, while Chinese military is working on the vaccine that might soon be approved for a widespread use. Australia remains in full lockdown.
With the strict social distancing rules in many states still in place, the riots and looting in the last few months, the US is sliding towards economic recession topped with unresolved wave of social unrest (not to mention another wave of fires in the west), though not reflected in the financial markets performance at large driven by the buy all tech and utility stocks bonanza.
Going on one of my many tangents here - James Altucher wrote a very interesting piece on NYC, painting a rather grim picture of the Big Apple’s future. Since then however, Andrew Cuomo announced new indoor dining rules for restaurants at 25% capacity, allowing to bring back at least some normality to New Yorkers’ life.
Overall however, the more time passes and the more money is being printed, the global implications of weakened dollar as well as the recent tension between the EU and the UK over the new trade deal, are not looking promising for the world economy as a whole.
The Ambiguity Era
Back in college, my Econ professor Grzegorz Kolodko, used to say: Things happen the way they happen, because they all happen at the same time, meaning the greater the interdependence (economical, environmental, social) between countries and markets (and we’re pretty much at the peak of globalisation already), the stronger the domino effect; and since the reaction to the virus was in many cases mismanaged, we should definitely brace ourselves for what’s to come.
Which brings me to my final thought - that even within this suboptimal setup (to say the least), we need to find a way to thrive and persevere, as individuals, teams, organisations, and communities. This is why in the following posts we’re going to unpack the risks and opportunities of the nu normal, with the intention of uncovering helpful tactics and strategies to better serve the organisations and communities we function in, while the craziness continues.