Insights · March 11th, 2021
- The idea that cities were dead and would not come back. This will seem ludicrous in a year or two from now, as new entrepreneurs flood the now empty store fronts. They will re-invent the first floor of cities. People will flock back to cities so long as the rents stay affordable. All the advantages that cities provide socially, environmentally and economically have not been changed by the pandemic.
- The idea that office culture is dead as people will prefer, forever, working from home over Zoom. Just as when the ability to telecommute became possible in the 1990’s, we will discover that there is a percentage of people who indeed prefer to work mostly by themselves, and mostly from home if allowed. But they may represent 10-20% of the total working population, not to mention that only certain office jobs are suitable for permanent at-home work. What we will discover instead is that we will revert to pre-pandemic office culture more quickly than people expect. Of course some offices will downsize for economic reasons and encourage/enable flexible arrangements for remote work. The old forecast of Craig McCaw (pioneer of the cellular phone business) that in the future people will travel to get together but not simply to perform basic work may come true. Offices may be designed more for that getting together than for sitting in isolation doing basic work. But, bottom line, we will be shocked at the robustness of office culture in a year or two or three.
- Homes will become the permanent workplace. In reality this has been happening for a long time, certainly since the World Wide Web began Also in reality this takes us in many ways back to the future, to a time when most people lived above their shop downstairs or in the farmhouse on their land. We lived where we worked. But, while this is a trend, I think its a case where we need to “beware the permanent trend.” To “work from home” is another way of saying “to live at work.” And I will re-emphasize that a limited subset of people are comfortable doing this for the long term. Most will return to the commute and to the office/workplace when afforded the opportunity.
So, what is the real post-Covid pandemic future? You may not be pleased to learn that the honest answer is that we mostly do not know. A few years after the last great plague in London in 1665, it was basically impossible to tell the plague had ever happened in the city. I will not be shocked at all if, about five years from now, we look around and discover that life and work have returned to a style that seems more like life before the pandemic. Yes, I think many workplaces will be more flexible and that we will do more video interaction than pre-pandemic. Yes, we might commute a bit less and travel for business a bit less. AI and automation will replace work here, amplify human work over there. But the desire to return to a pre-covid normalcy may prove to be deep. There are, at the same time, three areas in which I think that long-lasting change has taken place, with as yet unknown consequences.
- Women in the workplace. The pandemic hit working women especially hard, as they in the age old pattern had to take on more of the increased responsibility for childcare and education, meal planning and preparation, and general home management, to the extent that reports are that more have left the workplace than have men. This decline in work-force participation will take some time to make up.
- The psychological and emotional toll of the pandemic is only now revealing itself. This has impacted single people and children most ferociously. When in the beginning we expected 3-4 months of disruption it all seemed an adventure. When the isolation dragged into a full year and beyond, only now are psychologists and educators and social scientists beginning to ask what the development toll has been and how long-lasting the impact may be. Consider, for example the baby born early in the pandemic, who knows only interaction with their parents and perhaps with some family members via a screen. As we reemerge into society post-vaccine I suspect we will discover many wounded.
- Fundamental scientific advances in understanding novel viruses, the use of RNA for vaccine development and possibly now other disease treatments. This will be, almost certainly, the sliver lining of the pandemic.
Final note. Some compare the pandemic to global warming, and say our experience with the pandemic is a rehearsal for how humanity must deal with climate change. Here the news is not so good, because, as noted earlier, we can see that humanity did not come together as one to deal with the pandemic but instead splintered. If we can learn to behave differently and in a more unified way as a result, then that may be good lesson after all. Also see more insights from futurist.com’s Chief Futurist Nikolas Badminton at nikolasbadminton.com.