So says the investment firm Baillie Gifford, Tesla’s third-largest shareholder, in a recent Forbes article. This investor also owns shares in two flying taxi companies, indicating a new mode of transportation beyond electric cars and trucks.
One is reminded of a passage in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland:
“‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’
‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to’ said the Cat.”
The coronavirus is impacting the world in more ways than are obvious, and things may indeed seem as unfathomable as Alice discovered.
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently acknowledged this acceleration, noting that “[…] we’ve seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in two months.” One can be tempted, seeing this rapid change, to also quote the White Queen from Alice in Wonderland: “Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”
The continuous closure of physical businesses has spurred all manner of online services. Companies that are agile, flexible, and innovative in reacting to the current crisis using digital platforms. are the ones likely to succeed in the future.
The Covid effect on businesses
As companies struggle with sales and cash flow, it is also likely that the larger ones with more assets will acquire smaller competitors, while others may simply vanish. We have seen many retailers and restaurants close their doors already, with bankruptcies of renowned retailers such as Neiman Marcus and J.C. Penney, entertainment firms Cirque du Soleil and CMX Entertainment, and even that car rental stalwart, Hertz. Few are out shopping, dining, and travelling. Instead, Zoom, WhatsApp, Facebook, Netflix, and Amazon are the communication platforms and vendors of choice.
“There will be significant disruptions in the economy, in terms of the speed, scope, and depth,” says Rafiq Ajani, partner in consultant McKinsey and Company, who leads its Global Knowledge Centre. He expects the recovery to take 12-18 months to return to 2019 levels and job losses and erosion in consumer spending are major issues. Recovery, he believes, will be “uneven, with certain industries, healthcare, technology, manufacturing, etc. rebounding a bit more quickly than others, such as retail and travel.”
What will be the potential impact on technology from this economic disruption? “Covid has stirred the inertia, and accelerated the adoption of certain technologies, especially digital,” says Rafiq, adding that “Certain trends are continuing, such as digital communications. Collaborative meeting platforms have accelerated exponentially as many now have to work from home and everyone wishes to speak to friends and families virtually across the globe.” Telemedicine is here to stay, he believes, and online shopping will continue to threaten the survival of many physical retail stores.
Automation and Artificial Intelligence
Artificial Intelligence and automation may be the winners of this pandemic. Saif Ajani, CEO of the Toronto-based startup Keyhole, the world's leading hashtag analytics tool, says there is a focus today to either automate repetitive tasks or make decision-making easier for individuals. He says, “This applies to every industry - from large logistics processes like shipping, to smaller tasks like typing. Even email services now 'guess' what you're about to type next, and often get it right!”
Even more remarkable is the innovation by Microsoft’s Azure AI, which allows someone to deliver a keynote speech anywhere in the world, in one’s own voice and with one’s own holographic image on stage, in any language….even simultaneously in different places. This sort of mixed reality technology is likely to become more prevalent and reduce the need for speakers to travel while getting their message out in a “real” conference environment to more people.
As repetitive tasks are reduced, people can focus on more complex decision-making. However, this also will pose a risk to any job that can be automated. With the uncertainty of employees returning soon and the potential liability of contracting the virus, automation is on the rise. As an example, Flippy, the burger-flipping robot, is being used at some fast-food restaurants. The advantages include a greater consistency in the cooking, no hours or days off, and no payroll and other associated expenses - all at less than a quarter of what an employee would cost.
The BBC has estimated that 200 million people will become unemployed as a result of Covid-19, primarily the least skilled and most vulnerable in society. McKinsey Global Institute has suggested that one in seven global workers would need to be upskilled by 2030 as automation, digital, and Artificial intelligence (AI) impact the way we work. “Covid has accelerated that timeline as companies will pursue these technologies more aggressively and more urgently. The shift to greater automation and virtualization (e.g., cloud) will accelerate,” Rafiq notes.
Clearly, this trend has implications for students at university in their choice of careers, as well as professionals who wish to remain relevant and in demand for their skills. Some traditional jobs may decline and new ones appear in more demand. Those without tangible or upgraded skills may have greater difficulties, as may seniors out of work for a while. To plan for one’s future, it may be necessary to enter fields that machines cannot do and need human intervention and reasoning.
Travel and Hospitality
The travel and hospitality industries will probably be among the last to come back. Whether or not this is a temporary disruption, or “[…] a transformational moment that will change the economics of air travel forever, as even after the pandemic, the public will want to see some social distancing exercised, etc., is still unclear,“ remarks Rafiq, adding, “Optimists say we will return to 2019 levels in about 18 months, while pessimists believe it will take a decade at least – if ever – before we return to normal.”
Those involved in these activities are going to continue to face difficulties and will need to be creative in attracting customers while ensuring a safe environment. Many are reluctant to fly even as airlines continue to fill seats while grounding other aircraft, and local road travel may increase instead. Business travel is likely to decline and those catering to this segment may be particularly impacted.
How work has changed
Remote work has become the norm as employees remain at home, and this is likely to continue in the future, even if many offices may begin to open. Productivity, for the most part, has not been affected adversely, and companies such as Twitter and Shopify have announced that they intend to operate entirely remotely. Others are likely to follow.
There are drawbacks to remote working, such as social isolation. “When individuals no longer have a social connection with their colleagues, the risks of mental health concerns arise,” says Saif, and “Being alone at home all the time can feel lonely, and individuals (and society as a whole) will need to prepare for it.”
Zabeen Hirji, Executive Advisor on the Future of Work at Deloitte Canada, explained the significance of this change in work locations as being “[…] all about humanity. It’s about breaking down the structure, going from a hierarchy of title and level to knowledge and ideas.” She added, “And so now we’re all connected at this very human level. We’re not going back to where we were.”
While the ‘gig’ economy has suffered in this healthcare crisis, Zabeen contended that knowledge workers may choose work as freelancers, as they may prefer the flexible hours to which they have become accustomed, with employers having to “[…] manage culture across the many types of work arrangements.”
There may now be global competition for jobs, another challenge that Saif points out. With a remote team, geographical location becomes less relevant. Competition for each may be global and some managers may be inclined to hire talented international workers at a lower cost, risking jobs at home.
The way forward
So, with changes in the economy, how businesses may operate, and technological advances, what should the Jamat prepare for ? Navigating personal space and combating isolation is one area to consider with remote work, to maintain stability in the family and mental health. One needs to watch out for family and friends in this situation and suggest professional help if necessary.
With regard to employment and careers, Saif suggests that one should “Consider what one’s individual competitive advantage might be compared to someone else in another part of the world. Consider what else one can learn or contribute that would make one more valuable than someone else who is simply following instructions they're given (which is how some offshore teams operate).” Critical thinking skills, wide areas of expertise, and the ability to think outside the box become important skills to possess.
For those at the start of their careers, it may be useful to look at industries doing well under current conditions, and that may have a good future post-Covid, such as online platforms and applications. Other areas that may see growth, according to the World Economic Forum, are digital payments, robotics and drones, and 3D printing.
It is the industries and technological innovations of the future that they may need to consider, rather than the traditional careers of the past. The coronavirus has indeed created a topsy-turvy world and many career changes may be ahead. As Lewis Carroll’s Alice said, “I knew who I was this morning but I have changed a few times since then.”