If 2020 is Almost Over, What Comes Next?

By Kristen Harris

2020 is coming to a close. Did you hear that collective sigh of relief? Just like everyone else, I am ready for this year to wrap up. But, reality check, nothing magical is happening on January 1, 2021. This global pandemic-economic collapse-social change-politically divisive dumpster fire of a year will end. Still, we’ll be working our way out of these issues over time. How much time? No one knows for sure. 

What we do know is that with crisis comes change and, dare I say it, opportunity. While I would never have wished for any of this, 2020 has made everyone take a hard look at how they work, live, interact, and participate in their day-to-day lives. I recently attended a fascinating AdClub Cincinnati presentation with Valerie Jacobs from LPK. As a futurist, she’s been spending time thinking about the different ways we might emerge from the pandemic and how those scenarios could play out in the short- and long-term. 

Here is what each of her scenarios looks like and how they impact our world of creativity, hiring, work, and talent engagement. (Note, these summaries are my takeaways from Ms. Jacobs’ presentation; any misinterpretations or mistakes are purely mine and not a reflection of her work.)

1. Techno Heroes. 

What it looks like: Big tech saves the day! We regain mobility and connection but give up privacy and anonymity. Some East Asian countries are already here–using technology to track daily health, where citizens go, interpersonal interactions, and notifying of exposure risks.

How it impacts us: In the U.S., we might not accept this level of personal tracking, but technology is deeply embedded in our lives. For example, at Portfolio Creative, we use technology to evaluate in-office safety protocols at client locations and health checks for our talent.

2. The Year that Woke the World. 

What it looks like: Corporate leaders step up. A treatment or vaccine gets the virus under control, but we’re left with a broken economy and social challenges. Corporations and other organizations take the lead on solving problems from vaccines and economic plans to social justice and racial equity.

How it impacts us: People are becoming more hopeful as we see promising news about vaccines close to approval and distribution. Improving mental and emotional health impacts employees and the quality of their work on a day-to-day basis. Workers and employers can begin to plan to return to their regular worksite, schedule, duties, and routines. However, not everything will return to exactly how it was pre-pandemic. After having proven the ability to work from home consistently and productively, workers will expect more flexibility and options to control their schedule and work location. Also, while many large corporations and organizations made public statements about racial justice during the summer of 2020, people are watching for signs of meaningful action and change. Individuals will decide where they want to work based on both of these factors; companies that respond will attract and retain more top talent.

3. Arduous Transformation. 

What it looks like: Individually-driven recovery and change. Recovery is slow, and new norms take root. We seek different ways to connect and are skeptical of whether the outside world is safe. Economic recovery is slow and bumpy, responding to outbreaks and safety concerns. Our mantra becomes “resiliency,” applied to personal health and wellbeing, business planning, economic recovery, social causes, and more.

How it impacts us: Many people have been working from home for months. Having found it a better solution to their personal and professional needs, some people will seek a position that allows remote work or a more flexible schedule. By working remotely, we’ve become adept at using tools and technology to stay connected, which will continue to be used beyond this crisis. For example, conferences may offer a remote attendee option even when they’ve returned to in-person events, and companies may consider how much business travel is essential when client meetings can be held via video conference.

4. Choreographed Reclamation. 

What it looks like: People coming together. With no solutions from big corporations, tech, or pharmaceutical companies, people must come together to solve problems. Careful planning, design, and reimagining of spaces and interactions will happen at a grassroots level.

How it impacts us: Creativity and design thinking will be valuable in this scenario, as every interaction, service, process, and space needs to be redesigned or reimagined. Changes made in response to the pandemic, such as workspaces reconfigured to accommodate social distancing, increased cleaning and sanitation protocols, wearing masks during cold and flu season, and smaller in-person meetings or gatherings, may continue for years. These factors, along with increased remote work, will result in smaller offices and more flex or shared workspaces. Highly tuned to signs of illness, there will be less tolerance for people coming to work when sick. And parents won’t have to burn a PTO day when school is closed if they can work from home. Sorry kids, no more snow days 🙁

A top question Ms. Jacobs gets is, “Which of these scenarios is most likely to happen?” In truth, a combination of all of the above. Reading through the scenarios, we see portions of each happening throughout 2020 and signs of where we’re headed next year. We’ll need technology, corporations, individuals, and communities working together to move forward. 

We love talking to clients and talent about where they are now and how to get where they’re going next year. Contact us; we’re here to help!