Unprecedented times. We've heard this phrase so many times this year we're sick of it. The curious part is, they're not so unprecedented, at least not in human history.
Quarantine, masks, and halt of economic activity have all been seen before. One can't help but look for similarities and predictions for possible outcomes, now that the future seems more uncertain than ever.
So, we'll offer a few predictions of our own, based on past events and a purely subjective train of thoughts.
What history tells us
One of the most immediate consequences of the pandemic have been lockdowns and the shutdown of all businesses that require physical presence. This is no different from what happened a century ago when the Spanish Flu was around.
What's different is technology, the number of people on Earth, and their behavior. Kudos to all those business owners who locked up their offices immediately and sent their employees home. Thankfully, modern technology lets us adapt rapidly to changes. Back in the 14th century and 1918, such changes weren't possible. The labor market was greatly affected. Fewer workers meant a greater demand for them, therefore higher wages, and a higher life standard.
The circumstances now are quite different, as the workforce remains virtually unaltered (the Spanish Flu had the highest mortality rate for those aged 18 to 40, while COVID-19 targets the same group the least), while available job posts shrink. Everyone is well aware that recession is inevitable.
The question is - how long will it last? History tells us some countries took 80 to 150 years to recover from the Black Death. One hundred years ago, the economic shock wasn't as long-lasting. The good news is, we now have the tools our ancestors didn't have, and we might have a better chance of recovering quickly. Boutiques can sell their goods online; restaurants can deliver delicious meals to your door; tourist agencies can offer their services to the locals.
All pandemics have one thing in common: the denser the population, the worse the disease's impact. People did run for the hills before. Now, they can stay there. Almost anything can be done online, which means we're no longer bound to a specific physical place.
What does the future hold?
Many have longed for a garden and a less polluted environment for ages. Some have dramatically quit their 9-5 jobs to live a quiet life in the countryside and let us know via blogs, magazines, documentaries all about their adventures. They were forced to flip their life upside down because remote work was often not an option. Why? Lack of trust, lack of belief it was possible to run an entire company this way, fear of losing control.
And now the tables have turned. The employers were forced to flip their businesses upside down and finally saw that it's still possible to complete projects without watching their workers closely every day.
Many countries tried to go back to normal and only saw the numbers of the infected rise again. Work from home is here to stay. Even Google says so. People can't keep on working from their kitchen table, breaking their back in an uncomfortable chair. Long-term solutions need to be found. Moving away from the city is something many consider as an option. A bigger house means more space (including an isolated well-equipped office), cleaner air, possibly a garden where children can play. The infrastructure needs to adapt to these shifts, too.
For those who don't like the countryside, a change in the workspace is necessary. Bigger apartments or very small co-working spaces become a necessity.
Wherever the employees are, the way we work, communicate, and collaborate needs to evolve as well. A functional software to keep track of everything is essential. No one has the patience to organize entire teams through spreadsheets.
Zoom fatigue, as we've all witnessed, is a real thing. Meetings need to be well planned out, cut to a minimum, and kept under control.
Written communication becomes exceptionally relevant. Misunderstandings and information slipping through the cracks reveal themselves as the biggest enemy.
Results beat presence. Asynchronous work is the new normal, as it's more important to get things done than linger in front of the screen 8 hours a day.
However, beware. The real danger isn't people not working, but working too much. Getting things done sometimes means staying up late until the task is completed. Once or twice is fine, but if tasks are not distributed adequately, employees may end up suffering from burnout. No one can benefit from that.
The spotlight switches to a life-work balance (in that order), which could finally become reachable as hundreds of hours and energy otherwise spent commuting will be saved for more important matters, such as family time, hobbies, health.
And yet it moves
The world will keep on spinning, only in a different way. We're lucky to have technology on our side and, unlike our unfortunate ancestors, the opportunity to jump back on our feet quickly. While we're at it, we can also grab the chance to change the quality of life for the better.