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Post-Pandemic Scenarios – LII – Wrapping up

The pandemic’s effects on the business have been huge, as situation is slowly going back to normal the business readjust again but it seems from the first available data, as shown in this graphic that the “new” normal is not like the “old” normal. Image credit: McKinsey

Several parts of the world are -slowly- getting out of the pandemic and containment measures are loosened to various degree. The mass vaccination is working, even better than expected, and in a matter of months most people on Earth will have the opportunity of receiving a shot. The war is not over but we know how to fight and win it.

I am closing this very long series of posts on post-pandemic scenario with the first indications available on the way business is reacting to the end of the pandemic. The pandemic’s countermeasures (lock down, social distancing, increased sanitation, shift of value perception, automation) have induced a surge of digital adoption and a corresponding change of the way of working with most companies moving to remote working as much as feasible (and we learnt, in the process, that current technology can support remote working, can scale graciously to support the increased internet traffic, and people can adapt to the new working setting, some liking it more than others).

The graphic, created by McKinsey, analyses the changes in a few Countries in Europe and US during the pandemic in terms of increase in digitalisation and relying on remote access adding the most recent information on changes as the containment measures are being relieved. It makes for some interesting considerations. Notice that the graphics has been designed from the end user perspective (but also notice that a shift to remote access by the user/customerr steer towards delocalised work form the company perspectives since there’s no more a need of presence on the company premises to meet the user):

  • the first observation is about the leap that all considered Countries had in shifting to digital access and remote access (the y axes) on a scale from 0 to 6. The containment measures pushed the remote /digital access from around 2 to close to 5 with some Countries approaching 6;
  • the second observation is an increased use of digital channels to access companies, increasing from an average of 70% to close to 100%.
  • the third observation is that once the containment restrictions have been released (or loosened) the use of digital channels has decreased but not to the point they were before the epidemic, remaining somewhere in between (85%), whilst the digital remote access has decreased but not that much, remaining significantly higher than it was before the pandemic.

This users’ photography is reflecting (and steering) a change in the way of working and in the way companies are presenting themselves to the marketplace.

The remote working has meant a sharply reduced demand for office space and companies have been moving from the personal office space to a shared space, thus reducing the number of workstations required, dramatically reducing real estate cost and operation cost. This has become a very interesting proposition for companies bottom line and most companies that during the lock down had moved to telework are now reopening their premises with greatly reduced shared floors, demanding their employees to be back at company premises between 2 and 3 days per week, thus almost halving the need for space. At a cost of 500+$ per desk per month this rapidly adds up to big numbers (a saving of 3 million$ a year for a company with 1,000 employees) resulting in a few percentage points gain in productivity.

It is not just the companies bottom line that is steering towards a hybrid workspace, co.located and remote. Employees have appreciated the advantages of getting rid of commuting (although several lamented the office social space) and are pressing to keep the remote work option, at least part time.

In turns, this changed work modality is steering several of the Megatrends I have presented, with growing demand for better remote working support, increase in cloud functionality and seamless access, better ubiquitous communication facilities (in most residential areas the communications infrastructure has shown the capability to support any type of remote working but in rural areas issues have been present and need to be fixed).

The increased use of remote services are pushing towards better delivery and at the same time they have opened the door to an increased demand, investment funding and are resulting in an accelerated evolution, with healthcare leading the pack.

Most notably, the strong political consensus on leveraging the recovery as a way to steer the business and the societal culture towards a sustainable and green economy is changing the focus of research and technology adoption accelerating trends on clean energy, delocalised production, digital production and more.

These changes raise demand for continuous education and for a slate of new skills that will transform the education “industry” in the coming years as cooperation among human workers and intelligent machines becomes the norm.  The whole role of artificial intelligence, becoming pervasive and flanking human activity is changing, shifting from a blunt replacement to a cooperation, at the same time raising issues of accountability and responsibility.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.