How might the COVID-19 crisis change how we all live and work?

June 18, 2020 James Hayward

The COVID-19 pandemic has turned our world upside down. We all began the year on one track and we’ll end it on another. 

Yet while our lives are on hold, the future is racing toward us. And though we can’t decide when change will happen, we can decide how we shape what comes out of it. 

During our spring virtual summit, Paradigm Shift, our CEO and Co-founder, Christian Lanng, gave his take on what might change and the opportunities that lay in front of us to build a better world.

Living through a paradigm shift

Paradigm Shift isn’t just the name of our virtual event, it’s something we’re all experiencing, says Christian Lanng, CEO & Co-founder at Tradeshift. 

The term is summarized by the philosopher, Thomas Kuhn, who says that: paradigm shifts arise when the dominant paradigm under which normal science operates is rendered incompatible with new phenomena, facilitating the adoption of a new theory or paradigm. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to shift our mindsets,” says Lanng. “And it’s leading to more change happening in just a few months than we’ve seen over the past decade. Just look at how we’re all now working from home and collaborating digitally using tools like Zoom.”

Unraveling the sweater

These changes might just be the tip of the iceberg. In fact, Lanng hopes that they are. “When we’re forced to change one belief, it liberates us to question and challenge all other beliefs,” he says.

For instance, companies are quickly discovering that they can enable their people to work from home. And because of this they're asking whether they need office space at all.

“The shift towards remote work won’t be undone, companies like Twitter are setting the standard and others will follow,” says Lanng. “Work in the future will be office optional.” 

And this shift will cause ripple effects and consequences far beyond simply where we do our jobs.

Just a single change that’s forced upon us has the potential to reshape our whole world. “It’s like when you pull that first thread on a sweater," says Lanng. "If you keep pulling eventually the whole sweater unravels, giving you the chance to create something entirely new.”

5 pillars of change

While impossible to predict all the changes the COVID-19 crisis might induce, Lanng sees several areas where shifts are already happening. 

How we view digital will change

For the past 15 years, companies have talked about digital transformation. Yet very few have digitized their business processes. Instead, they’ve put a fancy front end on very manual, very complex, back end processes. But COVID-19 has revealed that companies cannot continue to invest in ‘fake digitization’. And because of this they'll now accelerate investment in technology that makes their companies truly digital. 

What we consider a job will change

What is a job? If we’re working virtually why must we only have one job? Why can’t we spread our skills across multiple companies? These are questions more individuals and businesses will ask as the shift to remote work accelerates. And it’ll lead to a massive revolution around how individuals view work and companies utilize talent.

Where we live will change

Most people live in cities because they need to be close to their jobs. Nobody wants to deal with hours and hours commuting every day. So many of us compromise and live in cramped city apartments that cost the same as a big house in the suburbs. But as offices become optional people will rethink how they live and where they live. This may well lead to a mass exodus from cities and a reimagination of suburban living.

How we produce goods will change 

As companies accelerate their adoption of technology, robots will complete more and more of the production process. Does this mean millions of jobs will disappear? Not necessarily. Instead, they’ll be redistributed. For instance, companies that digitize their production lines will likely still employ workers to oversee the robots and step in to control them for certain complex or specialised tasks. But these workers won't need to be in the factory, or even near it. They can be based anywhere in the world. 

How we deliver services will change

The shipping container was the catalyst of globalization and many of the major changes we saw in the 20th century. In this century, tools like Zoom and Google Translate will have the same revolutionary impact on services. With these tools companies can deliver services from anywhere in the world to anywhere in the world. It's been possible for a while, but it has taken an event like COVID-19 to prove it works at scale.

Riding the waves of a paradigm shift

All these changes won’t occur in isolation. Each will have ripple effects that may transform how businesses operate, how we live our lives, and even how society functions as a whole. 

What does this mean? We don't know yet. Nobody does. 

“We can’t decide when a revolution will happen, or what it’s impacts will be,” says Lanng. "But we can decide how we respond to it. This is a massive opportunity to drive positive change to happen. The question is will we take it?.” 

Interested in learning more about the changes Christian expects to see in the years to come? View his full keynote presentation here.

About the Author

James Hayward

James is a Senior Content Marketing Manager at Tradeshift, focused on crafting compelling stories that provide supply chain professionals with unique insights and actionable advice on how to take their organization to the next level. A journalist by trade, James was previously the Global Editor at Treasury Today magazine.

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