I’ve been talking to a lot of people about how Covid-19 has affected their work lives–often inseparable from their home lives, given the sudden explosion of home offices and homeschooling–and it generally comes down to these three phases.
First, we went a little nuts. Panic. As one person told me, his firm’s IT burden went from 6 offices to 6000, each with a different IT setup and many with too few computer screens to meet the sudden work+education need. Central offices were often ill-equipped to deal with the sudden reality of dozens or hundreds of people using VPNs to access their work lives, placing a lot of stress on systems that were intended to support a handful of road warriors plus the occasional person working from home. It wasn’t pretty, but most companies were able to get to some level of productivity (even as we spent far too much time trying to figure out what’s on that shelf behind so-and-so on the Zoom call. Not me, of course. I’m focused).
We could call that the “Respond” part of the timeline — every day brought a new crisis, whether in IT, collapsing supply chains, new government guidelines, grocery shortages, and so on. We weren’t thinking, we were reacting.
Once we got past that phase (here, at Schnitger Corp that was in late April), the thrill of the new died down and it all became a slog. We had figured out what we could and couldn’t do, how to structure our days at home, and what to do when we couldn’t buy flour. It was a bit of a breather between the fear and panic of Respond, and a time to start thinking about what came next, starting to return to a new normal.
That phase has been labeled “Recover” or “Reset“. We have to figure out which projects in AEC were going ahead and which likely were stalled as government funding switched to critical infrastructure or create-jobs projects. In manufacturing, we need to dig through supply chains, figure out where things are, what’s missing, and how we can get back to production with a mandated 6 foot/2 meter gap between all of our people. Reset is about getting back to the old normal, in some way. Or compromising to get as close to the old normal as we can, given Covid-related restrictions.
Alongside Reset, though, is Reimagine. If what we’re doing now works, why do we have to go back to how it was? We’ve learned to do more things, more remotely., which can be both efficient and eco-friendly. Unmanned operations became even more critical in power generation, data centers, and the other industries that made work from home, possible. If we can monitor our production facility from home, why should we need to go to the plant to do it? Couldn’t we be more productive, monitoring five plants from home? Remote monitoring has been possible for a long time; new visualization, data cleaning, machine learning, and augmented reality tools make it better, easier, and lead to new insights. But but but
We also have the opportunity to radically change how we do, what we do. Keep the parts of our processes that work and jettison those that don’t. If working from home makes employees happier and more productive, why force them into central offices? The real-estate savings could pay for a lot of IT infrastructure improvements. If using cloud CAD or virtualized PLM turned out to work well, why not keep that alongside the traditional toolset? Maybe transition over in time? One of the few good things to come out of this whole pandemic is the fact that a lot of people had to try things they wouldn’t normally have considered — remember and use those lessons!
That’s all great and I know from my contacts that many of their companies are reinventing along these lines. Today, though, I realized that this isn’t enough. I was listening to Schneider Electric CEO Jean-Pascal Tricoire speak at AVEVA World Summit Digital, where he used this image in his presentation:
Mackaycartoons is right: we’ll respond, react, recover, reimagine, reset, whatever after Covid, but that’s hardly sufficient. What we need to do is build resilient and adaptive businesses that can deal with whatever economic fallout comes next — a recession seems likely but how deep or how long is unclear. Retail outlets may be re-opening, but if consumers aren’t confident enough to buy, what then? It’s very early days where I am (outside Boston in the US) but so far, there doesn’t seem to be much pent-up demand.
Right behind these immediate and very real problems is climate change. The pandemic will eventually play itself out. Business will return to some level of success. But our planet is getting warmer, our coastal cities are in danger of flooding, and we need to do more to stop the decline.
Digitalization, luckily, ties into both sets of problems — Covid and climate. Remote everything means fewer miles driven and flown. Working to resolve the supply chain issues that became obvious as a result of Covid could, perhaps, lead to using more locally-produced components or recycled materials. Maybe a production plant that’s a net energy consumer could become neutral — or use alternative sources of power.
My point? Reimagining is about my job and your job, and our companies. But it’s also a bigger opportunity to call into question many of our assumptions and to look for new and better ways to do business.
Technology plays such a huge part in our response to the Covid shocks, that we have to address the inequalities that became visible over the last few months. Someone figured out that a million children in one large US city didn’t have ANY schooling during their physical distancing –lots of reasons, including parents who had to work outside the home and couldn’t facilitate, lack of computers, lack of Internet, lack of the basic skills needed to make this style of teaching work –which won’t help them at all when they need to figure out how to work remotely as adults. We all need to get involved with the public/private/charity consortia that are working to address this critical issue. It can’t make up for what was lost over the last few months, but it’s a start. Go here for a lot more about this issue.
The cartoon is from M. Tricoire’s presentation because I couldn’t find the original on https://mackaycartoons.net/ — but check out Mr. Mackay’s cartoons and the Hamilton Spectator, at https://www.thespec.com/, for a Canadian view on all things.