Ariana Grande topped the charts singing about growing and learning from each of her partnerships. Each partner taught her something different and essential about herself. The younger generations will not have so many chances to grow; they will know nothing other than a post-COVID business world. Most of them will not ask too many questions; they will simply accept that things are the way that they are now because they will never have known differently. But the older generations will still wax nostalgic about pre-COVID times. On the flip side, there are many things that COVID has gotten rid of, at least temporarily, and we are crossing our fingers that they never come back. To produce this article, we surveyed businesspeople around the world what they hope does not rear its ugly head after the COVID crisis dies back down. The following is a collection of some of the most frequent and thought-provoking answers.
I. Required physical presence in the office
“Meetings that should have been emails” used to be the bane of many an office worker’s existence. Before COVID, a widespread frustration was having to sit through a 1-hour meeting that could have been written down, probably more effectively. People hate having their time wasted, and nothing is worse than doing something in person that could easily have been accomplished online. Now, we have disabused ourselves of the notion that many jobs have to be performed in person. Those who questioned the necessity of the 1-hour meeting are now questioning the necessity of the 40-hour workweek. Now that people are no longer used to sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic every morning and afternoon, it may be a hard sell to get people to commit to 40 hours at their desks every week.
Additionally, advocates for the disabled have been especially optimistic about this paradigm shift, because many perfectly capable disabled workers have real problems commuting and working in an office environment. But what many believe will be a decisive factor as to whether people are forced to work in an office environment is cost savings. We have a more detailed article about this topic, but suffice it to say that businesses can save a lot of money by having a significant portion of their workforce work from home.
In general, companies will try to convert what jobs they can to home office setups. Moreover, many jobs that still require a lot of in-person interaction may be less stringent about all aspects of the job having to be performed in the office. Companies that do not allow the flexibility to work from home will go from being categorised as “stiff” or “overly traditional” to “remiss” or “outdated”.
II. Face-to-face visits for paperwork that can easily be done online
Around the world, governments have begun digitising services that used to be done entirely in person. This was, of course, out of COVID necessity: government offices closed around the world, yet many government services are, by nature, quasi-essential. Take weddings, for example. In England, the Office for National Statistics posits that COVID caused the delay of at least 73,400 weddings.¹ At the height of the pandemic, the governors of California and New York legalised digital marriages. Throughout the world, many documents are now obtainable using online request forms that previously required in-person visits. This innovation is not necessarily without its risks, as it does increase the opportunity for fraud.
Online services fell into three categories during COVID: fully functional, poorly functional, and non-functional. Governments that started the digitisation process years ago mostly fell into the fully functional category. Others, who had either delayed the process or did it shoddily, fell into the poorly functional category. Many of them even drifted into the non-functional category, as we witnessed in the United States when the Payment Protection Program websites repeatedly crashed as small businesses accessed them en masse. Other business-essential functions, such as the ability to start a new business. In the United States, small business applications have “fallen off a cliff”² , an issue exacerbated by states without online options. This will absolutely have drastic effects on business and tax revenue.
Just like businesses, many governments will find that they can be far more efficient, and therefore save costs, by moving many processes online that once mandated face-to-face interaction. If done correctly, and that means keeping stringent cyber-security controls in place, citizens around the world will be better off for it.
III. Shaking Hands
This was one of the more controversial responses for our editorial staff. Most of the responses we received led to mild reactions like understanding nods, but this one produced much more heated debate. Maybe our internal debate is a microcosm, and it is a preview of what is to come. After all, mask-wearing has somehow become a political issue in the United States, so maybe whether one shakes another’s hand will become a way for people to judge one another in the business.
Proponents of handshakes (“shakers”) place great emphasis on tradition. They argue that trying to replace the tradition with workarounds (fist bumps, peace signs, head nods, or even foot taps), it is futile. After all, handshakes show all the intangibles that can decide whether we respect another businessperson: confidence, energy, and trustworthiness. A person can say what they will, but their first impression is dictated by the quality of their handshake, and it can make or break a deal. Because of that, the handshake will not only come back, but those who refuse to shake hands in the future will be judged harshly, even if silently.
Those against handshakes (“anti-shakers”) fall into three camps: social, hygienic, or some combination of the two. The social camp despises the archaic display of faux masculinity. It’s a way for people to assert their manliness, which they argue, has almost nothing to do with their skills in any profession. The hygienic camp is against handshakes for sanitary reasons. After all, handshakes have been proven to be super-spreaders of not just COVID, but many other illnesses. In fact, fist-bumps spread 90% fewer pathogens than conventional handshakes³.
While we recognise science is on the side of the anti-shakers, we remain unconvinced that handshakes are a thing of the past. They remain too entrenched in the business cultures of so many nations.
IV. Taking time off to head to the doctor’s office (Telemedicine)
For many businesspeople, going to the doctor is a huge hassle. A doctor’s working hours are typically the same as a businessperson’s, so it is hard to see the doctor without taking several hours off of work. Even for those with flexible schedules and understanding colleagues, it can still be frustrating to take an entire morning off for something relatively minor. Enter telemedicine: you can see the doctor from the comfort of your own home, or even your office, using video chat. If your case is relatively minor and straightforward.
Although telemedicine has been around for years, it took the COVID crisis to push it fully into the mainstream. According to McKinsey, “Consumer adoption has skyrocketed, from 11 per cent of US consumers using telehealth in 2019 to 46 per cent of consumers now using telehealth to replace cancelled healthcare visits. Providers have rapidly scaled offerings and are seeing 50 to 175 times the number of patients via telehealth than they did before.” Part of this increase comes from the fact that the US government removed barriers that kept telehealth from being reimbursed; so, COVID forced them to open the gates.
the cat is out of the bag. Telehealth is here to stay, especially in the United States.
V. The In-Person Early-Round Interview
This is a response that was popular among HR professionals. Now, most firms at this level have used some sort of early-round filtering before the first physical interview, whether it was a simple phone interview or a video call. Post-COVID, most firms are pushing their screening, first round, and even second-round interviews to the digital space, meaning only the later-round interviews are being conducted face-to-face. All this has resulted in far less “dead time” before and after interviews for interviewers and interviewees alike. Some companies have moved every single round online, including final rounds and contract negotiation, but those that have done so have admitted to being less confident in their final recommendations than they would have been had they vetted the candidate in person.
We asked around, and the interviewees tend to like this trend as well, though a few stated that they felt short-changed because their strengths are more apparent in person. Moreover, they have more to worry about nowadays, including things like camera height, lighting, backgrounds; factors they would not have had to worry about before. That said, it is a blessing for many interviewees. One staffer of ours is a former professional basketball player, and at 2 metres tall, he always felt that his height was mostly a disadvantage during the interview process, as it was a huge distraction.
In the end, the lion’s share of HR professionals and interviewees appreciate the more efficient process of moving early-round interviews entirely online. For both sides, it would be hard to go back, so we expect that there will be significantly more “virtual screening”.
While the rapid changes around us can be frightening, especially when so much of what is going on seems to be outside of our control. But one thing we do have in our arsenal is choice. In the end, COVID may make us realise how many options and solutions we have to some of our most fundamental problems. It is up to us to take advantage of our options.