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COVID-19. Expect the Unexpected

Many people will have never witnessed a worldwide emergency like COVID-19. The banking crisis was twelve years ago and 9/11 nineteen. We all thought things would never be the same again. For the young, COVID-19 must seem earth shattering, but for people of a certain age age, well, it’s just another global catastrophe from which the commercial world always seems to recover.

However, seismic events do engender new behaviours and we never quite go back to our old ways, but the effects of these events are not always what we might have predicted.

When the PLO took to blowing up civilian aircraft in the late 1960s and 70s, we thought we’d stop flying because it had become so unsafe. That did not happen – there were 4.5bn air passengers in 2019. Instead, we created a massive new airport security industry. There were new jobs for security officers, expensive new detection devices became essential and airlines screwed more money out of us by creating Fast Track. A crisis is always an opportunity to make money.

In 1973 OPEC made oil prices quadruple. For a time, Americans resorted to buying smaller cars made by Japanese companies they’d never heard of, but once the crisis passed, they reverted to their old gas guzzling ways. By then the Japanese had a foothold in the market that they’ve never lost. Japanese cars subsequently destroyed Detroit and their manufacturing methods had a huge influence on worldwide manufacturing – all courtesy of OPEC.

Beyond gloves and face masks becoming fashion accessories, what might change thanks to COVID-19?

1. Air travel
Hundreds of passengers, cooped up for 14 hours, sharing the same air and spreading their germs offers a business opportunity. Imagine sterilised air becoming the value added. Business and First Class would be ‘Cleanroom’ clean, while poor old coach class breathes its own fug. Who is going to be ‘The World’s Most Hygienic Airline”?

2. Business meetings
For most telepresence is Skype or Zoom. Better than nothing, but a bit rubbish. Video conferencing will improve, but the real breakthrough will come when we feel we are really together. That transformation will happen when virtual reality meets telepresence. If you are sceptical, shell out £140 and try an Oculus Go. You will look an idiot wearing it, but things will never seem the same again – you are really there, in the jungle, in a Spitfire or perhaps, in a meeting.

3. Working hours and time zones
If COVID-19 proves anything, it illustrates just how strongly we are interconnected. With technology that lets us meet sufficiently well online, how long is it before we adopt more aligned working hours/days? It is mad that the UK and Europe do not share the same time zone. Should the US become a magnet for our trade, might we see a swathe of businesses running two shifts, one for Europe and one for the US? It’s called service and Americans swear by it.

4. Exercise
Do we really want to go to a sweaty gym and share unhygienic equipment? Peloton has paved the way for online training. Expect exercise to be done at home, with innovatively designed trainer devices that morph like Transformers into the exercise device of your choice that you can keep under the bed.

These are just some random thoughts and they probably won’t happen, of course. Please get involved and add your own comments and observations. Tell us what you think the consequences might be and remember…the exception to the rule is always the rule.

Author: Richard Williams