As the world goes into economic hibernation, it has inflicted a number of changes in the way people are likely to interact. Here’s a taste of what we might expect:
The trend for employees to go to work even when they’re sick as a sign of loyalty and commitment is being tested by personal concern over the virus and companies now insisting staff stay at home. Going to work with even a mild cough or sniffle is now enough to draw suspicious glances. An increasingly common feature in work places is a face mask, once limited to industrial premises, it’s now not uncommon to find office workers covering their faces.
Face to face meetings
The number of people working from home has doubled in ten years to about 1.5 million and is expected to rise sharply in the coming weeks. It is predicted up to a fifth of the UK’s workforce could be sick during the coronavirus peak, with more than 20 million people working from home.
Demand for video-enabled connections through services such as Skype, WebEx and Telepresence has risen, as has interest in teleconferencing. Will this impact on demand for offices and on rentals? Perhaps, but the desire to meet with colleagues and clients will remain. Expect more flexible workspace and hot-desking.
It is also affecting recruitment interviews as more candidates are screened online, especially at the early stages. New figure reveal the number of companies undertaking video interviews for prospective hires increased by 67% in the last four weeks, as firms swapped face-to-face interviews for remote digital solutions.
It has become a conference opener: what form of greeting shall we adopt? The handshake is now a big no-no, along with cheek and air kissing. Alternatives include knocking elbows, foot-kicks and bowing.
It will take some getting used to as none of these is a substitute for a firm handshake, and Prince William told his wife Kate that he found the ban ‘awkward’. His father Charles, attending the Prince’s Trust and TK Maxx & Homesense Awards at the London Palladium, forgot the new policy and was seen offering his hand to Sir Kenneth Olisa, the Lord-Lieutenant of Greater London, before switching to a namaste (palms together like praying) sign instead. Maybe it will catch on.
Conferences and exhibitions
As with the home working versus office debate, there will always be a need to look someone in the eye, build personal relationships and take advantage of making contact with that visiting speaker or potential client.
However, one of the big casualties of the coronavirus has been the conference and exhibitions industry and it could be facing a big shake-up. Webinars and virtual exhibitor halls, assisted by augmented reality mean people can connect, view products and share views without meeting anyone or leaving their office.
With climate pressures making companies rethink the wisdom of sending delegates half way around the world, the virus might just prompt a change of policy, not least to claw back some of the lost income all businesses will suffer from the downturn in trade.
Growing evidence that the virus has spread through people travelling may prompt the biggest change in behaviour. Many staff already return from holiday with bugs picked up on planes and at resorts. No surprise that travel bans are among the first actions taken by a number of nations to halt the spread of coronavirus.
Business travel will be costed against using technology to connect, while over-tourism was already an issue in cities like Edinburgh. An age of exploration and taking several holidays a year may be over, along with ever-expanding routes and airport expansion.
Climate change has already created ‘flight shaming’, and it now seems that the virus is doing Greta Thunberg’s job for her by reducing the number of planes polluting the skies. Tour companies say millennials have grown accustomed to demanding holidays in exotic locations to impress their friends on Instagram. Sorry guys, in future you’ll get more respect by spending a week in Margate.
After three years of division over Brexit, Boris Johnson promised to bring the nation together. The virus seems to be doing just that as people unite on a ‘war like footing’ to beat a common enemy. It has also brought the political parties together in a way unimaginable just a month ago. The Cobra emergency meetings, attended by leaders of the four constituents of the UK, may provide a model for further UK-wide policymaking.
Adding to the comments above about the spread of disease through travel, there is an issue of supplies being disrupted for months because of quarantine measures, factory shutdowns, even permanent closures of some businesses. Some downsizing is inevitable and both producers and consumers will source locally.