Foresight 2021

We’re not even half-way through 2020, and yet it feels like the longest year ever, and with no end in sight.  The last few months have been hard, really hard.  Will it ease up?  Will my kids return to school in the fall?  Will my clients be ready to jump back in on the projects we’ve created together?  When will anything go back to normal?  These thoughts have been voiced in conversations I’ve had with friends, family, colleagues.  We’re all focused on looking ahead.  We’re all wondering what the future holds.  What can we expect later this year?  Next?  Even longer term?

I started jotting down the responses I received, recognizing many had an unusual take on things.  I agreed to share these, as a collection of ideas.  While the expression has always been, hindsight is 2020.  This is our collective take on what’s happening now and our foresight for 2021.

Innovation

Diana Darty of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), embraces the possibilities working from home has brought about.  She noted that even for HR, paperless suddenly became possible.  Certain functions can now be done remotely.  The shut-down forcing everyone to be creative, and thereby finding new strategies to accommodate change.  She sees more innovation and out of the box thinking as people become aware of their ability to create change.

Sarah Prince of United Agencies and an avid member of Professionals in Human Resources Association (PIHRA) keeps well abreast of all legal initiatives in the state of California.  She notes that about two dozen legislative items are being evaluated regarding hourly employees.  This, she says, has long been a restriction on employers interested in building a remote workforce.  But times are changing and with it our laws.

Our own Paulina Houldsworth has commented on the use and acceptance of telehealth as a key change that will transform our way of receiving medical care.

Technology

While Zoom has transformed our ability to “meet” face to face, people have mixed emotions about how it works as a replacement for traditional meetings and conversations.

Each leader I spoke with echoed that their teams are finding Zoom an essential tool for staying connected.  Tight-knit groups are using it to maintain their rapport and the bonds they held when working side by side.  However, at the employee level, the mood was different.  Some individuals pointed that online meetings have become exhausting, forcing them to maintain availability that interferes with their work.  They felt the effort to meet stealing away precious time, while not enhancing communication or decision making.  Others shared the challenge of never getting real eye-contact, being able to have a quick side-comment, or enjoy the feeling of true connection that in-person meetings easily afford.

Nevertheless, there have been remarkable changes in the way technology has touched older generations. Stacie Ocampo, of Episcopal Communities and Services (ECS), which operates several long-term and assisted living environments, noted how quickly the residents of their facilities transitioned to using technology for social engagement, scheduling, and more.  Many, who had previously only limited exposure, suddenly embraced the technology.  Ms. Ocampo expects this change in ECS’ communities to remain, helping relatives remain engaged with their loved ones.

Diana Darty too noted that the need for technology has helped to bridge the age divide.  Older employees are now embracing technology they long resisted, as younger employees are showing patience and helping their colleagues get up to speed.

Social and Health

Sharon Spira-Cushnir of Stephen Wise Temple in Los Angeles, sees social distancing lasting long term, impacting their congregation as it will other religious groups.  She believes we will see a rise in mergers and acquisitions, as some cannot survive the sudden downturn this has created.  But she believes we’ll see a positive change in the way businesses and companies manage the health of their workforce.  Sharon imagines businesses will maintain the currently strict rules of sending home a sick worker and having them remain out until fully well.  Remote work options will certainly help with that.

Our current lifestyle changes were a point of focus for Dr. Leslie Kasanoff, a health and wellness expert.  While it may remain important to sanitize our groceries, wash our hands for 20 seconds, and wear a mask, Dr. Kasanoff voiced concern if the paranoia continues long term.  She emphasized that “our immune system learns by doing”.  Over sterilization of everything, she stresses, will lead to more illness as our immune system is not challenged and will therefore weaken.

Personal Impacts

Sue Ben David, of Lewitt Hackman, imagines that we will see the impact personally, not from a change in our current behaviors, but from the deeper psychological impact of this situation.  While she imagines we will return to our old habits and behaviors, Sue also expects we’ll see a rise in divorce, post-traumatic stress symptoms, and feelings of loss.

As many voiced, our social-distancing has impacted restaurants, small businesses, and the travel industry.  Even if we can expect 90% of people to return to normal, that return will be slow, and may not be enough to resurrect the businesses and lifestyle we once enjoyed.  Many will remain unemployed, and our young adults will be especially hard hit, unable to embark on the careers they are ready to begin.

Barbara Doyle, of Loudoun Cabinets and Design, expects we’ll see a positive change too – in our values.  People stepping back and deciding what matters.  Re-evaluating what they want, need, and expect of life when things return to normal.  This was a sentiment shared by everyone.  There is a communal hope that we’ve learned to live differently.  To enjoy more family time, eating or cooking meals together.  To check in on distant relations with greater regularity.  To create better balance.  For those of us who have endured home-schooling, we recognize how valuable our teachers are, not only for our children, but for our families and our own mental health.

Opportunities

Some businesses have been fortunate to see growth, and the opportunity to capitalize on the challenges facing others.  Dan Fisher of Ball Corporation notes that their company has hired over 400 new employees during the past few months and are expecting further growth, perhaps hiring as many as 1,000 workers in Colorado, Arizona, and Georgia by year’s end.  Not only is their growth enviable, but with so many out of work, Ball has had the good fortune of being able to select from the cream of the crop.  They’re giving back too, donating $5 million to combat the impacts of COVID-19 in communities around the world.

Given the number of people newly working from home, and making do with unacceptable work-spaces, I expect there are exciting opportunities in design and manufacturing.  It seems there is a wide-open space and a growing need for transportable desk spaces.  Perhaps ones with a sit/stand option, self-contained power supply, and straps to keep everything in place as you move your “desk” from the kitchen, to the patio, to your car.

A Return to “Normal”

Whether we return to shaking hands and hopping on planes or not, the shared vision of our situation includes a belief that we will see a permanent increase in the number of remote workers.  I foresee that meetings will be held in-person, but day to day work, conducted remotely. That company offices will be smaller, and travel for work, minimized.  That commercial real-estate market will get creative, and fast.  We can expect to see a boost in shared workspaces, like WeWork, allowing people to work near their home, but a continuation of teams coming together for in-person meetings – which will be far more collaborative than in the past.  We can expect a boost in work-life balance, and that traffic and commute times will be diminished.

During the conversations I enjoyed as I put together this article, there was a consensus of hope.  Hope that businesses will find new ways to thrive.  That we will see a long-term change in the time we spend with our families, the value we place on our friendships, and the appreciation we have of our teachers and care givers.  That we will come out of this crisis different, but better.