In February 2013, Yahoo’s new CEO Marissa Mayer sent a company-wide memo with the aim of increasing collaboration throughout the troubled tech firm.
Marissa Mayer had ordered an end to ‘remote’ work.
At the time, many saw the announcement as evidence of the collapse of remote working. It occurred at a particularly poignant time in my career because I had just started a new role and was seeking to build a decentralised global sales team with an estimated two to four sales representatives in each international market. About half of my team would be working from home, in different time zones, serving different cultures with localised content needs. The business was moving away from brick-and-mortar.
In the time of COVID-19, working from home is ‘the new normal’ for those providing professional services. Indeed, the term ‘the new normal’ suggests that the deadly coronavirus outbreak will change the world forever.
Upon a quick assessment, physical distancing has predictable implications – no handshaking, conferences, exhibitions, meetups, networking sessions or awards evenings, and it will undoubtedly mean fewer flights as borders remain closed and it will hit the spectator-based sports world hard.
However, I want to take a more in-depth look at the new norm.
A black swan event, by definition, is unpredictable and has severe consequences. However, as I recall, epidemics and pandemics were a common theme in school history classes. As Edmund Burke said, “Those, who don’t know history, are doomed to repeat it.”
In the last two hundred years, the world has experienced cholera pandemics, measles outbreaks, the 1918 Spanish Flu, the avian-borne flu that resulted in an estimated 50 million deaths, the 1957 Asian flu and in more recent memory severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2002 and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) in 2012. COVID-19 is not a black swan event!
If we are fortunate, the peak virus phase will pass in 2020. However, the repercussions will remain for years regardless of whether you subscribe to prevailing thoughts on a U- or V-shaped recession and economic recovery. Taxes will increase because debt-to-GDP ratios have risen globally. While keeping cash on hand is ideal, low-interest rates will mean that savings, if you are fortunate to have some, will return very little.
The new normal will see significant investment in biotechnology and healthcare and will hopefully result in overdue respect for scientists. At the intergovernmental level, Helen Clark, the former New Zealand Prime Minister, and Dr David Nabarro – who used to advise Ban Ki-moon on pandemic response are advocating that the United Nations establish a pandemic emergency coordination council with the authority and ability to respond promptly.
The ramifications of the Great Lockdown will keep The International Monetary Fund busy with smaller countries that were overly dependent on oil and tourism revenues now seeking access to its emergency lending facility. Alas, domestic tourism is unlikely to make up the difference in most countries.
As Warren Buffett said, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out”. I hope that governments block firms registered in tax-havens from receiving state aid. I also hope politicians avoid the “too big to fail” trap and do not lend to undeserving corporations that use taxpayer money to buy back stock.
The argument for 100 per cent debt forgiveness for the poorest countries will get stronger. It will be a way of alleviating poverty by directing freed up funds to go to the right causes. In the developed world, the argument for universal basic income will receive a substantial boost. Hull has already put itself forward as a pilot city for such a scheme in the United Kingdom.
In 2021 the inevitable formal inquiries into the lack of preparations will begin in many countries and judgement day will be harsher for some. Finger-pointing and political posturing will shape geopolitics for years to come. These will take shape in alignment with existing strategic alliances.
Global supply chains are flawed, and the lack of personal protective equipment (PPE) will provide the most persuasive evidence of this. “Made at home” will become a brand positioning statement despite increased costs.
As I draw on my degree in political science as well as Thomas Hobbes and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, it is worth mentioning that a person’s moral compass or civic duty is dependent upon a contract with the society they live. It is now more evident than ever that we are only as strong as the weakest in society.
There have to be questions about meat consumption. In particular, the growing appetite of the middle class across the globe. The spotlight should be on “wildlife markets” with close contact between humans and wild animals. Viruses spread with animals held in small and dirty cages. HIV and Ebola, are rumoured to have their origins in the connection between humans and wild animals.
As an aside, it is probably worth pointing out that wet markets, in contrast, provide an affordable destination for many Asian households and are more comparable to farmers or village markets in Europe.
The coronavirus has already proven to be a more significant test for political and business leaders than 9/11 and the global financial crisis (GFC) combined—now factor in new and increased migrant flows from the developing to the developed world.
In 2018, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), a regulation in European Union law was front and centre in the business world; no matter where you lived. However, I fear that this will now take a backseat. Instead, there will be a new level of acceptance of surveillance technology in the western world with smartphones used to deploy proximity-tracking apps. The pretext for data rights violations!
I feel for heavily indebted graduates who are coming onto the job market. My advice to students is not to be idealistic, take the job, or take a break or continue studying. Whatever you learn will contribute to your body of knowledge. Accept that some issues are uncontrollable and find a way to enjoy the time. On a related note, many disadvantaged school children do not have access to a computer or the internet at home, and this will have longer-term ramifications.
All this will occur at a time of accelerated media decline. A time when advertising revenues decrease because brands are cautious with budgets. A time when truthful, accurate, objective & impartial news is so important. In the age of disinformation, the fourth estate plays an essential role, but it too is struggling and may not be able to provide the checks and balances that society requires.
It is worth considering different mid and long-term scenarios. What are the likely implications of a second and third wave of Covid-19? My political views are shifting; I would not have written a post with such leanings years ago. It is time to challenge the prevailing thought.
And, in a sign of the times, Verizon the firm that purchased Yahoo recently purchased BlueJeans, a video conferencing platform that facilitates ‘remote’ work.