Coronavirus crisis

How the coronavirus pandemic will change business culture forever

Enterprise and business technology (and how we use it) is about to change – in permanent, society-altering ways. It’s our generation’s Great Depression.

statue of liberty covid-19 surgical mask coronavirus us quarantine by vladone t kimura getty images
Vladone / t_kimura / Getty Images

Coronavirus crisis

Show More

The people who lived through the Great Depression were... different.

A colleague and I used to compare the behavior of our depression-surviving grandmothers. When I pointed out that my grandmother bought the cheapest tea at the store and drank only one cup per day, she countered with the fact that her grandmother would reuse teabags until the bag could no longer add color to the water.

Both these women were scarred and changed by the trauma of the Depression, and their perspective on life was changed by it for their whole lives.

The coronavirus pandemic is our generation's Great Depression -- a society-altering, life changing shared event that is forcing us to change how we live and work. And it will change us.

Long after the crisis is over, for example, we'll all spend more time washing our hands than we did before the pandemic. We'll wear face masks when we get sick. And we'll always hoard toilet paper. Our grandchildren will laugh at us.

More significantly, however, the way we work will change forever. It will change how we think about our work and our careers.

The biggest change, of course, is that more people will work from home. But what does this change mean, exactly?

I think the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 will change our work lives in profound and unexpected ways.

The great shift to remote work

When we first started hearing about "smartphones" back in the 90s -- we conceived of a smartphone as a cell phone that could also let you browse Yahoo and search on Altavista -- even when you're away from your desk! Wow!

Nobody imagined selfies and TikTok and surveillance capitalism and Uber. Smartphones changed everything, and ushered in mindsets and habits nobody predicted.

Likewise, the mass migration to remote work will also usher in the unpredictable.

Before the pandemic, Global Workplace Analytics estimates, some 3.6 percent of the workforce works from home half time or more. Afterwards, that number could increase by nearly 10 times -- from 25 percent  to 30 percent, they predict.

Global Workplace Analytics estimates that companies save about $11,000 per person per year by allowing them to work from home. Those savings come from "a combination of increased productivity and reduced real estate, turnover and absenteeism" costs.

Employees would benefit in both time and money. They'd save between two and three weeks by not commuting, and between $2,000 and $7,000 in transportation and other work-related costs, according to estimates.

Remote work was a powerful attraction and retention strategy before the pandemic; afterwords it will be necessary.

The pandemic is forcing us all to try mass remote work. But once we all get a taste of it, there will be no going back.

Today, in-demand professionals crowd into cities and urban places, driving up the cost of living. They do it for employment. Business centers like the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, San Diego, Los Angeles, Boston, Arlington, Seattle and others are expensive places to live, but they're also the places where professionals can earn a great living to pay for that high cost of living.

People have already bristled at the high cost of living in these cities. The median home price in San Francisco, for example, is $1.4 million. And now, with the knowledge that we'll have future pandemics, the coronavirus generation will have another reason to move out of cities.

And so millions of people will choose to not only work from home, but choose a home far away from headquarters -- in rural areas or in another country. In other words, people will become more like me. I live mostly in Provence, Northern Italy, Eastern Spain, Mexico City and Morocco. That's weird now, but normal in the future.

The link between location and employment will be broken forever. And this has profound implications for how we'll all work and run our businesses.

Today, companies generally hire locally, often paying very high salaries in order to attract employees in high-cost area. In the future, both businesses and employees will enjoy global employment markets.

Because enterprises and even small businesses will be able to hire globally, they'll be able to potentially higher better employees at lower salaries, while simultaneously paying less to employ each person.

Employment will become far more flexible. Freelancers and consultants will choose to live wherever they want and service clients globally. Freelancers and independent contractors will flee states like California, which recently enacted a devastating law called AB5 that was intended to bring benefits to workers (like Uber drivers) in the "gig economy," but which essentially makes illegal millions of jobs in the state. Businesses have responded to AB5 by firing Californians and hiring independent workers in other states. After the pandemic, California works will move to other states as well.

Meetings will be usually and normally be conducted over video across multiple time zones. And that's going to change radically as well.

The real goes virtual and Zoom gets exposed

One huge change is the shift from business travel and in-person meetings of all sorts to videoconferencing.

It looked as though Zoom would run away with the market. At the start of the pandemic and work-from-home trend, Zoom became the most visible tool people were using to interact with co-workers, clients, colleagues and even friends and family. Zoom boasted more than 200 million daily users.

Now that status has been undercut by damaging reports of vulnerabilities, hacks, exploitable default settings and third-party tracking.

The Intercept caught Zoom's iOS client sending secretly sending unencrypted user data to Facebook (even data belonging to users without a Facebook account), and exposed the company's false claim that videos are end-to-end encrypted. BleepingComputer found a bug that enables hackers to steal Windows passwords. A "Company Directory" feature leaked user email addresses And "zoombombing" started to trend as Zoom sessions were crashed by trolls taking advantage of Zoom's default setting that allows anyone to join a call.

The company's CEO has apologized and promised fixes.

It's not clear if Zoom's growth will continue, or if its bad reputation will sink usage. Alternatives, which include Teams, Hangouts, Skype, Meet, Netmeeting and many others have different feature sets.

To date, leadership in the gigantic videoconferencing market is still up for grabs. The same is true of remote working software in general.

The rush to videoconferencing and the competition to lead the category will drive fast evolution and transform the quality of group video conferences.

Increasingly, workers will designate, design and decorate rooms in their homes specifically and exclusively for videoconferencing. Ambient computing sessions may keep video chats running during the normal work day, enabling employees and executives to collaborate as if they were in an open office. One major application for virtual reality, augmented reality and 360-degree video will be remote work collaboration.

We can expect all kinds of innovation that connects remote teams in powerful and unexpected ways. And we can also look forward to fiber and 5G networks to be fast-tracked to enable global remote connectivity.

Great shared traumas like the Great Depression and the world wars changed how people thought about the world. Our own current crisis, the Great Coronavirus Pandemic of 2020, will change how we think about work. And the biggest change is that the link between work and location will be broken forever. Our "workplace" will become not a building, but a room in our homes that offers a virtual window that connects us to our co-workers, clients, partners and customers.

So wash your hands and strap in. Massive, tech-driven change is coming to your professional life.