What can Charles Dickens teach businesses in the era of Covid-19?
What can Charles Dickens teach businesses in the era of Covid-19? Part 1
Before continuing, I’d like to preface this article by saying the loss of life and emotional toll the Coronavirus has taken is far and away the most important part of this pandemic. The effects of this virus are so numerous it’s difficult to wrap your head around them. But in every conversation we have about it, the human impact is always at the forefront of our minds.
It was the best of times,
it was the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom,
it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief,
it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light,
it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope,
it was the winter of despair…
Wait! You didn’t accidentally stumble into an English 101 course. It’s just that the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities offers a perfect parallel for the situation we now find ourselves in — a post Covid-19 world. As businesses struggle for footing and employees try to maintain productivity, a new world has formed.
The tech industry is no stranger to dizzying heights and heartbreaking lows. Like the rest of the world, companies are facing an unknown reality. How they’re coping is as different and polarized as Dickens’ introduction, and unfortunately no one has the answers… certainly not us. But what this article does offer is some big questions to ponder as we try to find the balance we crave right now. Whether you’re a business leader or salaried staff in any industry, here are some things to think about you might not have considered.
“It was the worst of times”
Will jobs change because of Covid-19?
It depends. Obviously certain careers and industries are prohibited from even considering remote working, but that still leaves millions upon millions who are. This trial-by-fire has proven how many jobs can be handled from home. Some employees have joked this transition has highlighted just how many meetings can be reduced to emails. What else has changed?
Swapping desks with the team is definitely a thing of the past. Open plan offices will probably disappear as well, but rather than turning back to the isolating cubicles of decades past, offices may adopt smaller breakout spaces. Schedules may be drawn up to keep the number of employees in the office to a minimum.
While you probably perfected packing your carry-on for business trips, the pre-coronavirus face-to-face meetings will now be online. Humans, by nature, value these in-person meetings. It’s part of our psychology to build and maintain trust through these interactions, so it remains to be seen if video conferencing will become the new normal, even if the airline industry rebounds.
It might sound almost flippant given how desperate the situation is for some, but we’re in for some deep psychological shifts. Does bumping elbows carry the same weight as a firm handshake on introduction or to seal the deal? How about business negotiations? Non verbal communication like studying facial expressions, will be impaired by masks and protective clothing.
Is it the end of the office as we know it?
Maybe. Twitter announced that staff could now work from home — forever. This is a huge shift in corporate culture, leaving over 35 offices under utilized and perhaps largely empty. How long do you think the social media giant will continue to pay Silicon Valley prices to maintain empty desks? And they’re surely not the only ones.
Google and Facebook have both said that employees should expect to work from home until 2021, while Microsoft has issued a timeline that opens offices in October of 2020.
As businesses cope with a stuttering economy, it seems logical that they’ll look to reduce one of their biggest recurring costs — rent. Alternatively, this opens up another interesting opportunity I’ll discuss in my next post.
Okay, but is working from home good or bad for work-life balance?
One of the main things I’ve enjoyed about these weeks of working from home is the “found time” I’m collecting. I have no commute in the morning or evening, which frees up around 1.5 hours right away. I can catch up on chores during my lunch break, leaving my evenings free for fun activities that may have normally been neglected. The normal transitions between the different parts that make up daily life are lightning fast, leaving the feeling that there are more hours in the day.
Many people aren’t finding it as easy to switch off without the transition of commuting. Or their employers are expecting them to be available long after normal work hours, contacting them through email and Slack with a disregard for their personal life. As one CEO said in this article, “It’s not so much working from home; rather, it’s really sleeping at the office.”
Like most ways of living, there are pluses and minuses. What we gain in convenience we give up in communication. No commute can be great but not if we find ourselves never leaving the house. If — and that’s a big if — working from home becomes the norm, respect for our work-life balance has to be staunchly protected.
Wait, is my job safe?
Here’s an interesting — albeit sobering — website that’s tracking layoffs in the tech start-up world: https://layoffs.fyi/tracker/.
Uber, Lyft, AirBnB, and Yelp have all taken a hit. Virgin Atlantic, Boeing, and United Airlines are struggling. Even the most magical place on Earth isn’t immune to Covid-19 struggles — Disney has furloughed over 100,000 staff.
Right now, across the world, economies are shrinking at a rate we haven’t seen since the 2008 economic crash — and it’s still early days. Shockingly, in a recent survey, 37% of companies have already slashed their IT workforce, and a further 47% have frozen their IT budgets — right when they’re needed the most.
In the face of economic downturns, recessions, and depressions, it’s only natural to feel insecure. There’s no way to put this kindly: we’re in for a rocky few years. But the companies that will survive and even thrive are the ones who will take this time to plan for a brighter future. Cutting technology funding right when we need it the most? Probably not the best move.
It’s not all doom and gloom
Glimmers of optimism are welcome right now, so in my next post I’ll take everything we just discussed and see how it might ultimately lead to positive changes — not just in the tech and business world, but across all sectors. In the meantime, what other things do you think this pandemic will change? Do you see any opportunities hiding inside these new challenges?