Over the past six months, most of us adopted more new behaviors than we ever thought possible. Some – like the Covid haircut – we are eager to leave behind. But others will endure to define the pillars of the “next normal.”
We interviewed more than two dozen executive leaders about the future – after Covid. In those conversations, and many more that followed, 10 “pain point” themes emerged. As long as they persist, they will continue to drive innovation.
1. Virtually There
“Zoom” may be the most popular new verb, but video conferencing tools still fail to inspire and invigorate collaborative tasks.
On workshops and white-boarding sessions, the CEO of an international management consulting firm asserted, “It’s harder to take cues from somebody. You have to hear the side conversations, to smell the sweat, and to sense the kindness.”
Video conferencing technology is only the beginning of the reconstruction of a dismantled office. Innovation will continue here and extend to countless workplace improvements, including a far-reaching interrogation of yesterday’s more condensed “office of the future.”
2. From Home to Hub
Covid surfaced compounding unmet requirements of the home, prompting the National Board of Realtors to declare, “Where you live has never mattered more.”
Innovation starts with new architecture that builds more modular, individual spaces into family homes.
Destinations are being repositioned for extended stays for remote workers. Technology will optimize the user experience of connectivity for social, work and entertainment at home. Theaters, health clubs, places of worship and schools will continue to rethink offerings to allow for meaningful distance participation and solutions that work anywhere.
3. Digital Isolation
Before Covid-19, medical researchers had documented how digital platforms fail to meet basic psychological needs for “real” human interaction. Feelings of isolation and the resulting mental health impact can be severe.
Coronavirus did not create this pain point, but Talkspace.com broke the silence during the lockdown. Employers took notice, one observing, “It takes a different style to inspire people at home and to see into the wellness of the person.”
Executive leaders will call for change in how remote supervisors are hired, trained and rewarded. Developers must create better, user-friendly platforms for people to communicate their emotional well-being. Smart tools for filtering negative content and conversations will likely be part of the mix.
4. Corporate Agility
Crisis-mode behavior, which the pandemic abruptly forced upon organizations everywhere, tested previous assumptions about agility and strategic planning.
Covid issued a clarion call to executives to find innovative ways to “de-risk” the future, ranging from value chain, marketing and distribution re-sets to culture building and corporate purposing.
The CHRO of a bioscience company found guidance in Nassim Taleb’s concept of “antifragility” (HBR, 2012), which may be even more apropos today.
5. Clean and Safe
Beginning in 2020, some people will change their view of physical contact – from handshakes to hugs – forever.
The CMO of a global lodging company wondered, “Will people be comfortable at a salad bar or breakfast buffet ever again?
Consumers are taking control by cautiously returning to some familiar activities – like road trips, for instance – with new requirements and safeguards they will enforce themselves.
This safety-first consumer mindset demands an innovation strategy reboot across categories. Hilton’s recent collaboration with Lysol and Mayo Clinic is one case in point. Researchers alerted developers to the germ-resistant properties of copper and the Aeris copper phone case was born.
6. Community Conscious
Covid has made some people feel the weight of responsibility for taking care of others, as well as themselves.
The CMO of a national fitness club explained, “It’s hard to work out in a mask. But we are asking our [fitness club] members to be more cognizant of other members – to be kind and considerate, to be mindful.”
Wearing a mask to prevent the spread now defines a new segment of consumers and says something about the products and services they will prefer.
It is a mindset that may accelerate instore-online synergy (evolving slowly for decades), alternatives to congregating and healthier travel behaviors. Insurance and financial services may reconsider risk assessment algorithms. Pharmaceuticals may include contagion control among efficacy claims. People may display badges of immunizations with pride.
7. The Essentials
In cities everywhere, people were moved by the cheers for essential workers every day at 7:00 PM. The gratitude is heartfelt. It is also potentially disruptive.
Elevating the importance of essential roles will challenge existing employment models, beginning with compensation and benefits. In turn, this will drive higher expectations and standards for performance, new regulations and increased competition for jobs.
Change will extend far beyond health care, to stress margins throughout the value chain. An educator predicted narrowing job scope, “With the increased time commitment of remote learning, teachers will no longer have time for public health, policing and family counseling.”
8. The Luxury of Comfort
The stress of living with a pandemic – shown once again in recent reports of an increase in teeth-grinding – is shifting consumers’ idea of the ultimate luxury from rich experience to comfort.
A premium skin care CMO reminded us, “High touch is what differentiates luxury from mass. Luxury [in the beauty category] is built on makeovers and demos.”
For luxury brands ranging from consumer products to retail experiences, premium cues must be re-invented. Technologies like AR will play a role. Solutions will vary widely and a theme underlying many of them will be a new, augmented experience of comfort.
9. A Surveilled Life
Covid has shown people new ways they can exchange their personal data for tangible benefits, but lack of privacy is an ongoing threat.
Earlier this year, Google and Apple announced their collaboration to use aggregated data to gauge the likelihood of virus transmission by individuals and, in August, the Virginia Department of Health launched COVIDWISE. The app promises anonymity. But it reminds users of the tension between safeguarding their privacy and benefiting from their PII data.
The challenge for innovators comes down to trust. As one executive reflected, “We are living in a powerful trust crucible. It is shocking how little we trust sources of information.” Solutions must contend with who should own the data exchange, how it should be regulated and what the consumer should control. The best solutions will deliver tangible benefits with transparency and trust.
10. The Equality Mandate
Before Black Lives Matter brought some people out of Covid-shelter for the first time, the pandemic was already taking a disproportionate toll on the lives of Black and lower income people – an eloquent example of systemic racism.
Institutional racism issues a mandate for innovators to remove bias from the technology-driven systems and processes that leaders need in order to operate. College entrance exams serve as just one small example. Some educators will not miss the SATs. But many universities will still need a system for filtering an unwieldy number of applications. New solutions – probably machine-learning enabled – are overdue.
Across categories, diverse organizations are consistently the most productive and successful. Innovation will be needed throughout the business systems that support them.
In every industry, we must continue to prove the adage, “Diversity is the mother of innovation.”
Please share your insights and ideas. And we welcome you to click below to download the full report.FULL REPORT