21 Apr 2020
A New World Disorder: Preparing for a future beyond the pandemic
Uncertainty has been a common theme for markets in recent years. Now, a new world disorder is here, raising even more questions. Futurist Martin Raymond tells us how coronavirus may shape our future.
'Disruptive' is perhaps a word that's overused in business. But few people will disagree that COVID-19 fits the bill. The unprecedented impact of the pandemic on society will be remembered for a lifetime.
And while we're confident we're in a temporary cycle rather than a permanent state for markets, the crisis is likely to transform the way we live our lives and do business for generations to come. It'll be a new world. A world that brings fresh opportunities and challenges while reshaping many existing ones.
The changing world of work
Understanding how to build resilience and prepare for unpredictable twists and turns not only helps you chart a course for today's crisis but also positions you better for future growth.
Anticipating the trends of tomorrow is never easy though, which is why we spoke to Martin Raymond, co-founder of futures consultancy The Future Laboratory. His business combines trend forecasting, brand strategy and consumer insights to help future-proof organisations.
"COVID-19 is acting like rocket fuel," Martin explains. "It's fast-tracking trends that would have perhaps taken 3-5 years for innovators to adopt and another 3-5 years to begin entering into mainstream thinking."
What trends? Our relationship with the workplace, for one. Remote working is hardly a new phenomenon, but the sheer number of people who are currently working from home, many for the first time, is unheard-of.
Zoom, Google Hangouts and other corporate technologies are now being used by people of all demographics, both professionally and socially. As working from home becomes easier and more familiar, how will people feel about returning to an office?
"There were already questions being asked about lengthy commutes and the nine-to-five routine." Martin says.
"What we're already seeing is workers wanting to stay local, work local and live local, while remaining a part of a larger corporate structure. That's going to have a huge effect on how we want our houses to look, our businesses to behave and our towns to be shaped."
"COVID-19 is acting like rocket fuel. It's fast-tracking trends that would have perhaps taken 3-5 years for innovators to adopt and another 3-5 years to begin entering into mainstream thinking."
Building regional strength and the role of businesses in society
Many regions, particularly in the north, were promised extra government funding in the Conservative manifesto. COVID-19 means this money could flow through to areas much more quickly to protect businesses and jobs.
Leeds, Cardiff, Hull, Manchester, Belfast and Edinburgh are just a few examples of cities that were already benefiting from the UK becoming less consolidated. But according to Martin, a transformation in how people approach their work and home life will accelerate the ongoing shift away from London and the South East.
"The regions are challenging what they find in London and doing things their own way. That means more co-living, co-sharing, campus style and mixed-use neighbourhoods. It means the demise of the traditional shopping centre, and the rise of hybrid spaces and community hubs," Martin says.
"The COVID-19 crisis could greatly compress the time it takes for these changes to happen."
Businesses will also need to play a far greater role in the community. Positive civic action and corporate social responsibility won't just be desirable, they'll be expected.
Ideological debates over welfare, the NHS, education and other public services have largely been set aside for now. Most people accept that anything less than massive government spending will be insufficient to support nations and their populations through the crisis.
But the impact this has on our collective conscience could linger long after the immediate threat of coronavirus has receded.
"The core values of investors and the core values of the brands and businesses they should be investing in are hugely different now to how they were even six months ago," Martin explains.
"Brands will have to be more engaged at local and regional levels. You'll see a far greater shift away from them behaving purely nationally."
Adapting to the new normal
COVID-19 has caused a paradigm shift that could quickly become the new normal.
Various industries are already setting new standards and adapting to this disruption. Many of them are industries that already touch on the home, such as health and wellness, video conferencing, DIY and home deliveries.
As more homes evolve into both work and leisure spaces, fewer people will be tethered to the big cities. Development opportunities for green, sustainable living in the spaces between city-centres and the suburbs will likely grow.
"We're going to see building projects at local, regional and national levels that must understand these new tropes if investors want to attract a new generation of buyers," Martin says.
Investors and businesses are already discovering opportunities at the crossroads between overlapping trends. And it could be the perfect time for wealth creators to prepare for future growth.
"For the first time in history, there is a captive global audience simultaneously contemplating the future. Now is the chance to do things differently," Martin says.
He believes the key to building resilience and preparedness requires the right combination of talent and culture, innovation and agility, technology and customisation. He says SMEs and entrepreneurs are particularly well placed; they're less likely to be weighed down by corporate bureaucracy and legacy infrastructure.
"The potential for investment is huge. But people need to accept that the traditional way businesses traded in the past were already dying and Covid-19 has only accelerated that."