By José Luis Romanillos, Consultant, Agent & Introducer at J.L.Romanillos Ltd
After finishing my series of 12 articles and anecdotes "Notes from Abroad" last Christmas 2019 with the piece entitled "Connectivity is the Key", I now ironically find myself locked into my flat and island home, isolated and physically unconnected to my habitual world of family, friends, colleagues, partners, clients and business contacts. I now stare out to a new and more uncertain horizon. Planet earth is now being assailed by the pandemic virus Covid-19, that is destroying lives and economies. As governments urgently try to find the solutions on how to combat this virus and protect us all from harm, I strongly believe that life will in fact never be the same again. In this, my first piece in a new series of articles called "Notes from Home" , I consider where we will be by Easter 2021 and the changes that this pandemic will have brought on society. And not all of them for the worse…
I called my friend Peter the other day on ZOOM, to see how he was keeping during the new lockdown period in the UK. Always impeccably dressed and very dapper, it was somewhat disconcerting to see him on the screen in a casual t-shirt, his hand clutching a mug of coffee. Unshaven and looking very tired.
"How are you, my friend?", I asked.
"Hi José. Not brilliant", he replied. "Business activity has virtually stopped dead and I have my mother on a ventilator in hospital as we speak".
"Oh my God! So sorry to hear that, Peter", I said, not really knowing quite what else to say. This was the fifth case I had heard about that week, from within my own network of people, who had been hit by Coronavirus. A very debilitating illness that is extremely dangerous for elderly people, especially if they have underlying medical conditions such as diabetes, asthma or a heart condition.
Peter and I then had a long discussion about how his business world had come to a dramatic stop and how he was trying to find solutions and new ways of working. We both agreed that the digital, "remote" model of working was likely to be the way ahead...and then he told me about a journalist friend of his who had recently made some interesting comments regarding his employer, a large publishing house in the UK. The publishers had a workforce of over 2000 staff and they had all been sent home 2 weeks ago to work remotely.
"Do you know what?", said Peter. "The publishers noted two immediate and dramatic improvements in the workflow. One - the deadlines for copy and editorial were all being met without any of the usual delays or last-minute rush, as is the usual way in the world of journalism. Two - the quality of the work was generally so much higher than had been produced when staff were tied to their desks in the office. Significantly so. Even though these people were now working in an environment surrounded by partners, children, pets, illness and daily chores."
"I can well believe it," I replied, " because I feel exactly the same. I can still hold all my meetings virtually, and don't have to waste time, efforts and resources commuting."
"And, of course," Peter continued, "the employers are now thinking to themselves:
"Do we really need to rent that £2.5 million a year office in Cambridge?"
At that point, a lady suddenly appeared behind Peter carrying a phone. "It's your brother. He needs to speak to you urgently", she said, with a worrying tone in her voice.
"Sorry José, but I have got to go. Talk soon, my friend". And he left the meeting…
I left that virtual meeting somewhat concerned about what was going on with Peter, but the discussion also got me thinking about the new world that we were suddenly confronting. And what would this new post-Covid world look like, once we came out of what could be quite a long and dark tunnel? I started to jot down some thoughts, and after some interesting discussions with other contacts and friends, have come up with the following list of 20 predictions. These conclusions are based on the fact that I believe that customs and habits will change over these confined periods, some of which will become ingrained as part of the "new normal". I will monitor, check and report back by April 2021 to see just how many, if any, come true…
- Death of Cash - the old adage of "Cash is King" will no longer apply, at least in the physical sense. Society has already been moving in the direction of cashless, card payments. The fact that supermarkets and stores in the crisis are now refusing to accept cash over the till for reasons of possible contamination means, for me, the likely and imminent demise of cash.
- Social Kissing - no more "4 kisses" from my Parisian friends. In my brief periods of allowed daily exercise I have a good walk with my wife. We have noted that people stay well away from each other, and will go significantly out of their way if walking anywhere near on the same footpath. We are the same. People will become used to being more distant physically, and the kiss is the ultimate personal contact method - and potential transmitter of disease.
- Friendly Faces - conversely, the separation and isolation will mean an increased appreciation of people and relationships and the need to smile, sympathize and engage with people. We will become "smilier" people.
- Public Servant recognition - the extraordinary efforts, dangers and sacrifices currently undergone by our nurses, doctors, teachers, soldiers and police can only ensure that society will view them with enhanced status, kudos and due reward. I would advocate that all Public Servants have increased rewards, including enhanced pensions, salaries and even monthly credits at all supermarket stores. £250 per month on their shopping, for each and every one, tax free, for the rest of their lives. Minimum. Something will happen along these lines.
- Globalization - the global world has just revealed its global Achilles heel. Globalization itself.
- Commercial Property - as companies and corporates downsize and rationalize, there will no longer be a compelling reason to have large or even medium-sized offices. I see a major contraction and realignment of the commercial property market, with offices being reduced to basic HQs with a few meeting rooms and senior management offices.
- Remote Workforce and BD Travel & Meeting Expenses - if companies have been able successfully to relocate their staff to a home operation model during this crisis period, with the bulk of their staff working remotely from home, then why change that when "normality" is restored? The costs will fall off a cliff and efficiencies rise exponentially. So no need for everyone back in the office, and definitely no need for BD travel, face-to-face meetings and conference budgets.
- European Union - Coronavirus represents the second and more powerful existentialist crisis for this collective of European states. Brexit has already forced the EU to look at itself very seriously. Covid-19 is far greater an issue and will cause a fragmentation and inevitable break up. Sadly, I see Italy no longer being a member by next year, and possibly others.
- Health - we will all become more health conscious and in need of our daily exercise routines. This can only be a good thing. However, until a tried and tested vaccine is found, whole swathes of society, including the elderly, those with immune system deficiencies and people with other underlying health issues, will struggle to get back fully in society.
- Global Warming - the evidence is already there to show the planet is cleaning up, as we stop using our cars and planes.
- Electric Cars - many more of us will be in electric vehicles, if we can afford them.
- E-Sports and E-events - the recent digitised running of "The Grand National" steeplechase horse race will open the digital doors to other sporting events.
- Virtual Meetings & Webinars - this aspect of society is growing at a phenomenal rate and will form an indispensable part of our future lives. ZOOM, WHATSAPP, FACEBOOK, SKYPE, FACETIME, HANGOUT. All here to stay and grow.
- Cleanliness - we will carry on washing our hands and faces methodically, and many will continue to wear face masks on planes and trains. Like me.
- Travel - although many will miss the excitement of discovering and travelling to new places, and although that group of "bucket-listers" and sun-seekers will continue to pack their bags and head off, I sense that there will be an increased group of people "staying local", travelling in the comfort of their own spaces and exploring their local sites and attractions. Local will become good. PS. I anticipate the need to produce some sort of COVID Immunity Certificate when and if we all eventually are able to resume our travels again. Personally, I will struggle to set foot on another plane again.
- Community & Society - the friendly local shops, corner stores, post offices and pubs will make a big comeback. So will the neighborhood of local friendly people helping and supporting each other. Society (big Government), however, will evolve into a more watchful and controlling animal, that holds an even closer watching eye upon its citizens and those coming in and out of its jurisdiction. George Orwellian, even.
- Pace of Life - everything will be slower and more considered. The frenetic pace of life we have been leading has been brought to a thundering halt. We now have time to consider, pause, rethink and reconsider. This mindset will continue. In fact, people who have started to relax and enjoy the new way of living may really struggle to return to the old ways. Or may even refuse to do so.
- Clothes & Make-up - there will be less clothes to wash and less make-up to put on if we are staying in at home in our baggy shirts and jogging bottoms.
- Family & Friends - we will talk to them more than ever before. And we will keep doing so.
- Hope, Creativity & Ingenuity - although we find ourselves in unsettling times, and although mental health issues will come to the fore in the coming weeks and months as people's finances and personal circumstances get tougher, human grit and resilience will find ways to get us through this darkness. Creativity and humour will also be to the fore. Images of people playing music together on ZOOM and on their continental balconies is an example of how people can be creative and work together. I also believe that some truly great inventions will come out of this period. Not only the antidote to this modern plague, but wonderful ideas and creations that will enhance all of our lives. "Hope springs eternal in the human heart". Alexander Pope.
I called Peter back the following day to see if things were OK as I fe red the worst for his mother. He was pleased to take my call, and he reassured me that my concerns were ill-founded. In fact, Peter had received a call that morning from his brother about his mother, which was why he had to quickly cut short our discussion. But the news was good, not bad.
"She had a good night. Her first in over a week, and is now breathing better. Thank God! We are so relieved." Peter looked genuinely better than the last time we spoke. Colour in his cheeks and a broad smile on his face. "And I cannot thank enough the nurses that looked after her and helped her pull through," he added. "They deserve a b....y medal. Each and every one of them".
Amen to that, and may we all be as fortunate...