For many businesses, Q4 may be the next best time to launch an innovation, internally or externally. But now is the best time to focus on what comes next.

For millions of people sent home from the workplace, the COVID-19 crisis might be providing their first experience of working in a physically isolated space. For others, it’s business as usual. While media threads suggest that working from home lifts some of the pressure and makes life easier, many of us are working flat out – not only coping with the uncertainty around business contracts and trying to ensure we deliver on promise, but also managing around those business enablers we took for granted – like the post office and stationery suppliers.

Opportunities

Despite all this, it’s more critical than ever, in this unusual time, that we don’t miss the opportunity to plan ahead. If now is all about keeping things going, Q4 may be the next best time to make a significant leap and to plan what comes next.

On current signals, it looks like mass gatherings may be part of the landscape again around October. It may have been speculative, but the London Marathon and several festivals have plumped for this revised timing.

We’re probably all looking at a long summer of working, and playing, from home. At room44, we’re continuing to watch how trends are developing, and where the land lies on the things that were important before everything changed. Here are a few random readings:

Bush fires et al

Remember the Australian bush fires? They’re still burning, despite COVID-19. Recent swings in weather patterns have slackened their spread, but they’re still blazing across the country. Environmentally, the reduction in travel has begun to benefit our environment but mega trends are still hurting. The Amazon is still being deforested and plastic waste hasn’t gone away. Popular media may have taken its eye off the environmental ball – you shouldn’t, as you plan ahead. The part your business plays in that context will come back to the top of the agenda.

Brexit

Remember that? It’s still a job to get done and, according to the UK Prime Minister in one of his early COVID-19 press conferences, it will still be done by the end of the year. Will it be a ‘hard’ exit? Is anyone watching?

Consumer goods

Amid the crush of the national craving for toilet rolls, Britons did not cover themselves in glory by adopting an ‘everyone for themselves’ attitude, stripping shelves before key workers could even finish their shifts. Department stores are reported to have had a run on sales of fridge-freezers so, logically, many people should be able to feed themselves for weeks if restriction on movement freezes. But what does this lead to? Huge spikes in demand during periods of shortage result in the supply chain becoming bloated. Later, as demand levels out and over-capacity leads to a glut, will prices fall? If petrol and diesel are a measure of this the answer is, yes. If you haven’t filled your car for a week or so, the price of a litre may surprise you.

Digital tech

Predicting demand patterns and behavioural trends has been an important skill as health experts model the spread of COVID-19. Traffic monitors and street cameras tell the authorities where and when people are moving. From China, there have been reports of facial recognition being used to identify persistent curfew breakers.

Combine this data with algorithm development and it becomes possible to predict where outbreaks will occur, supporting the call, from some quarters, to increase surveillance across countries.

Watch this trend. Some countries are using mobile phone tracking of its citizens to anticipate outbreaks of COVID-19 and enforce ‘stay at home’ Hefty fines (@$7,000) have been reported for non-compliance of social distancing rules and with second spikes and re-infection being discussed, these measures look set to stick around.

…and VR?

The use of digital technology to help communities stay in touch has become a part of normal life across all age groups. While gaming and eSports may take a step forward if we are isolated for long periods, the signs are that most people still see everyday personal contact as more important than virtual environments. That’s not to say that VR doesn’t have its place, but here’s an extract from Ray Bradbury’s 1957 novel Dandelion Wine that paints a picture.

And then, inside the Happiness Machine, Lena Hoffman began to weep.

The inventor’s smile faded…

There his wife sat, tears rolling down her cheeks.

“Oh, it’s the saddest thing in the world”, she wailed. “I feel awful, terrible.”

She climbed out through the door.

“First it was Paris.”

“What’s wrong with Paris?”

“I never thought about being in Paris in my life. But now you got me thinking, Paris! So, suddenly I wanted to be in Paris and I know I’m not.”

“It’s almost as good, this machine.”

“…Leo, the mistake you made is you forgot that some hour, some day we all got to climb out of that thing and go back to dirty dishes and the beds not made.

While you’re in that thing, sure, a sunset lasts for ever, the air smells good, the temperature is fine. All the things you want to last, last.

But outside the children wait on lunch, the clothes need buttons and let’s be frank Leo, how long can you look at a sunset?”

After COVID-19, the new ‘normal’ we adjust to will likely be quite different from how things were before. All the more reason to start planning for what comes next, don’t you think? Now is the best time to focus on what comes next.

Future thinking. Future-proofing. It’s what we do.

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