As the world focuses on ‘track and testing’ whilst medics internationally race to prove their CV-19 vaccine/ treatment stops people dying or suffering badly, there are many positives emerging from this damned pandemic – especially given it probably won’t be the last one, and some in the future may even be man-made
Creative destruction of our ‘old norm’ way of living, both socially and at work, has gained massive impetus in just about all quarters of our lives – Schumpeter discontinuities abound – the status quo is being challenged – ‘custom and practice’ has been forcefully questioned – work processes have widely and successfully adopted new technologies in a matter of months, not years as expected
We undoubtedly needed a massive shock to our system – the one we’d all got used to and followed – the one where most people lived the same way, worked the same way, produced the same way and served the same way – we’d become averse to radical change, to any rocking of our comfortable boat
Hence, up until now, the full benefits of identifying and removing obvious waste from our systems was largely ignored
The same could also be said about the benefits on offer from making much better use of existing resources – resources we’d already paid for – and when a few tried to ‘do something’ in response to competitive threats, say, some of them would call in outside experts, only to be peddled latest, leading-edge and expensive ‘management fads’, not the business common-sense they needed
Consider where we are now today:
- The fact is most developed economies have (rightly) run up devastating debt to counter the pandemic, the effects of which will last for decades, not a year or so – and sclerotic productivity growth rates before it struck have inevitably worsened since, not improved
- But where’s the long term economic plans which all can find inspiring, exciting even – what might the population be enthusiastic to put our shoulders behind? – where’s the light at the end of the tunnel?
- In particular, where’s the panacea for those sectors and regions which have been particularly scarred by the pandemic?
- Overall, where’s the ‘big ideas’ to get national productivity growth back on the upward slopes again – and not just to ‘level up’ everyone, which hardly inspires the vanguardians we all rely on, but to benefit all, unequally included?
- All we ever hear about are latest numbers on Covid, latest firefighting rules and latest failures to stall it
So what next?
- A fundamental societal change is under way – ‘old norms’ of working are no longer ‘acceptable norms’
- Workers will be judged mostly on ‘results output’, not ‘hours input’ i.e. effectiveness, not presenteeism
- The previous wish for a better social/ work balance will become widely implemented, at least for most office workers viz:
- 2 to 3 days working alone from home (or a boat or beach?)
- 3 to 2 days working in an office, with others – for casual meetings and conversations, developing relationships, assessing others, socialising and gossiping, sparking new ideas etc.
- Keynes’s forecast, that we would be working a ‘3 day, 15 hour working week’ by now, will become a reality for many, recognising knowledge workers are effectively ‘switched on’ 24/ 7, not for the hours they’re paid for
- Hours wasted commuting, on business air travel, or in pointless meetings, will be decimated:
- Less road capacities and developments will be needed – rush hour volumes will be less, rush-hour periods will be widened – rail travel will be greatly reduced, the need for HS2 must be revisited
- Business air travel to ‘press flesh’ and sign deals will be unnecessary – Heathrow’s third runway may be redundant
- And the lockdown has clearly demonstrated that most meetings at work achieved little or nothing, so most will be cancelled in future
- In addition, inefficient or non-use of costly resources will, at long last, become a major concern i.e. resources already paid for but often left idle e.g. skyscraper offices, hospital operating theatres or school classrooms and sports facilities for most of the 24 hour day
- There will be a growing exodus of ‘townies’ who will grasp the opportunity to live where they want to, not near their work – many Londoners will cash in on their ‘grossly inflated’ house valuations and move out
- Demand for city and town-centre offices will thus plummet – likewise, thousands of small businesses, which rely on serving those office workers, will fail – but much of the surplus office space will be converted to meet housing shortages, and new demand for pied-de-terres, so a whole new set of small businesses will be needed to support them
And that’s just a sample for starters!
Indeed, one might say CV-19 has become a massive ally of productivity improvement – so long as none in your family catch it