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2020 Re-Vision: lessons from the long year of a pandemic

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The world in which we live and work is changing, and not only because of the global pandemic.

Our 2020 Vision special way back in December 2019 looked at the various predictions over the decades made for this landmark year – from steel houses and flying cars to living on Mars and teleportation. As we near the end of 2020, many of the 20 predictions we examined remain as science fiction, but not all. Sometimes crystal balls underestimated progress. It’s not always easy to spot the truly revolutionary; think the car versus the horse. Conversely, they fail to see the real attraction of an innovation, like gramophones for music rather than speech. Or in focusing on technology, it's sometimes amusing to see they assumed everything else would stay the same, from the fashions people wear to who goes out to work. 

Another reason we can underestimate technological change is unpredictable events – they may be good or bad, but we just don’t see them coming. This year, it was a global pandemic, the kind of catastrophe they didn’t see coming and that changed so much in 1914 too. As most of us have experienced, Covid-19 and lockdown are changing how, when and where we work, for starters. According to management consultancy McKinsey & Company, we had five years’ worth of consumer and business digital technology adoption in just a few weeks. Companies are also adjusting to new customer expectations. A CBI survey found most companies expect more people to shop close to home and online from now on, for example. They also expect people to work from home more, commute less and take fewer business flights.

These developments are sometimes in line with the aims of social action this year, which has been busy changing people’s minds too. Protests over environmental issues and racism have pushed these topics up the agendas in the media – traditional and new, in politics and public authorities, as well as in corporate boardrooms and strategies. A survey for the CBI shows most firms plan to do things differently when they rebuild, with seven out of ten aiming for a net-zero carbon target, for example.

In its report ‘Culture Evolution in the Workplace – A Silver Lining to the Pandemic’, the Pecan Partnership found that changing workplace culture is improving innovation (90 per cent), engagement (79 per cent), effectiveness (71 per cent) and customer experience (70 per cent). “Talking with UK leaders it is clear that, despite the extraordinary challenges, there is a silver lining to this pandemic,” says Pecan director Ella Overshott. “Many workplaces are listening more carefully to customers’ needs, they are becoming more empathetic, more democratic and quicker to adapt.”

It’s a lot to come out of just one year, and Chris Edwards discovers some more – perhaps less obvious – changes, from how medical trials are done to the prospect of a global economic reboot.

McKinsey Innovation In A Crisis Survey result bar chart, April 2020

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Image credit: McKinsey / E&T

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