In the last weeks I very often heard the following statement: “It will never be the same again”. Most of the time, I noticed a lot of melancholy, doubt and even sadness in the voice and the face of the person rather than confidence or any spirit of optimism. I caught myself a few times how such feelings also have spread inside me. Of course, it is difficult to develop a positive thinking or even to look confidently into the future when you realize that somehow we did not make a lot of progress compared to six months ago, as far as the corona crisis and its consequences for the economy and our entire lives are concerned. Of course we know much more about the virus today. There is intensive research ongoing to find a vaccine and there are first success stories. We do not see any longer the very hard nationwide lockdowns like a few months ago, and we are trying to create something like normality again, although sometimes with dubious approaches. But otherwise not much has changed. In April I wrote an article with the title “We know that we know nothing”. Unfortunately, a lot of the content of this article is still true today. What we need now is change.
I am convinced that it will never be the same again, to stick with the title of this article. This is not to say that this virus will continue to control our lives as it has done in the past months. My assessment is that we will live and have to live with corona viruses similar as we need to live with flu viruses. There will probably be a vaccine. This vaccine will develop further every year, just like the corona viruses will mutate. We will be able to get vaccinated every year as today against flu, with the hope that the virus has not changed so much in the meantime that the vaccine is still effective. And yes, just as with flu, unfortunately there will be fatalities every year. All this sounds almost like the typical statements of the so-called corona deniers. I don’t really want to agree with them, but from a very objective point of view this is probably the most obvious scenario.
Even if we should succeed in eradicating the virus, I do not believe that our lives will look exactly the same as they did at the beginning of 2020. The big change has already happened in our working lives. In my opinion, this change is irreversible. Of course, there are many industries where a flexible model between home office and office or even a complete home office model is not really easy to implement or even impossible. You simply cannot produce cars or food at home. But a software company, for example, can easily operate completely without an office. It doesn’t matter if you work in sales, development or human resources. I am convinced that some employees even work more efficiently at home. In areas such as product development, it doesn’t matter when you do your work as long as you stick to your deadlines. Also in positions that require you to work with colleagues and customers in different time zones, working from home offers much more flexibility.
Many companies, especially outside the IT industry, have only learned just now to use software tools for virtual collaboration. They have also learned that you don’t have to sit in a plane for ten hours or more for every meeting on the other side of the world. I am even convinced that most politicians will continue to use these technologies increasingly in the future. Why does everybody need to fly to Brussels or another European city for every single EU meeting? I have been asking myself for several months now whether it makes any sense for me personally to own a car. In principle, it is dead capital standing on a parking lot, for which I have to pay a monthly rent. I know that several of my colleagues and friends ask themselves the same question. In this context, the discussion about electromobility almost loses its importance. This year we have most likely done more to protect the climate through working from home, reduced air traffic and cruise ships staying in the harbor than with all the half-hearted activities in previous years.
Another area that has now received the ultimate wake-up call is the education sector. In schools, where until the beginning of this year technology of the 80s was still being used, suddenly so-called iPad classes were created. I actually have my own experience with that. In my case, I still had to pay for my son’s iPad out of my own pocket despite billions of unused government funding. The fact that my son still has to carry heavy books around is of course absurd. But you also have to be realistic that it will probably take years until all content is digital, until there are appropriate learning platforms, until the necessary infrastructure in the schools is installed and until the teachers are trained accordingly. I only hope that in this context, serious thought will be given once again to the federal education system. After all, if you use technology, you have to define certain standards that should then apply nationwide or ideally even Europe-wide. The problems that a student already is facing today when moving e.g. from Berlin to Bavaria are well-known.
These are just a few examples of how we are already beginning to take advantage of this crisis. Much of this will certainly continue to develop even further in a positive way. But of course there is also the other side of the coin. What happens to your corporate culture when everyone works from home? Or how can such a corporate culture develop at all in start-ups? Will employees become nomads, so to speak, but they remain in one place, their home office, and only the world around them, i.e. the employer, changes more frequently now that there is no real bond any longer with the company? What other consequences does all this have for the aviation and automotive industries? Some of this can already be seen today.
As with everything, there are winners and losers. Some are already winning big, others have already lost everything. Some of the winners will continue to develop further, while for others it was only a short flash in the pan because there is simply no long-term strategy. Will we again attend a soccer match or an open-air concert in a stadium together with 70,000 people? For me, answering that question would be a bit like looking into the famous crystal ball. However, if my theory turns out to be true that controlling the risk by a vaccine will eventually become an accepted part of our lives, I could imagine it. There are still many unanswered questions that we will definitely take with us into the next year, possibly even longer. But we all should take the chance now to question a lot of things and accelerate positive developments like those described. This is the biggest change management project in decades and we should accept that things will never be the same again.