The world has seen four major pandemics in the last 100 years. The Spanish Flu or H1N1, of 1918, H2N2 of 1957, H3N2 of 1968, and H1N1 of 2009. The Spanish Flu was the deadliest in history, infecting approximately 500 million, a third of the world’s population at the time. In the US itself, there were more than 675K fatalities . Urban overcrowding due to industrialization, war response, and movement of troops across the world transmitted the H1N1 infections rapidly in 1918.
Along with these pandemics in the past, we went through the “dot-com” recession, 9/11 tragedy, 2008 mortgage downturn, Brexit, other geopolitical tensions on tariffs, and more.
Now we face the next pandemic – COVID-19. At the time of writing this, the global cases of COVID-19 stood at 3.51 million. The numbers are still growing . Many underlying reasons for this virus’s transmission are similar to 1918, like, movement of the infected people across cities and countries leading to infection spread to healthy individuals. Physicians, healthcare professionals, and community leaders are sharing similar advice as was shared in 1918: we all are to avoid social gatherings and observe social distancing.
Under such unforeseen circumstances, the world is rife with uncertainties, disruptions, turmoils, dynamism, and ambiguity about the future. The world now reminds of the concept of ‘VUCA World’. VUCA stands for Volatility (the speed of change around us, fluctuations, and overall dynamism of the world), Uncertainty (the limited ability to predict and understand about the future), Complexity (the number, variety, and relationships of factors that we need to consider to make decisions), and Ambiguity (the lack of clarity to understand something that we need to survive in this world) . VUCA’s elements have direct implications on us, irrespective of our demographic, economical, education status. Hence, many pundits, experts, and business leaders had already been analyzing, discussing, and advocating to accommodate and align with the VUCA World.
Our whole understanding of VUCA’s magnitude has been overhauled since the pandemic started. It originated in Wuhan in the Hubei province of China on November 17th, 2019, and spread to over 210 countries across the globe by mid-April 2020 . With it, COVID-19 has also exponentially increased the sheer magnitude of volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity in the world now.
Nations and their economies have been stalled to save precious lives. Leaders and healthcare experts have been addressing their nations frequently to appeal to their citizens to keep calm and maintain social distancing. Individuals are torn in between ensuring safety for themselves and their families and protecting their jobs. Unemployment numbers across the globe are increasing and lockdown durations have been extended to months. Nations are collaborating to discover a vaccine while ‘flattening the curve’ measures are being debated on television and social media platforms.
It is a situation of uncertainty and anxiety around the world with disruptions happening across all dimensions of life.
Yet, amidst this scale of uncertainty that has been never seen before by a living individual, the world is optimistically looking to build and adapt to a “New Normal” where countries and businesses are operational and safe. Because if anything that the past pandemics have taught us, it is that we can defeat turmoil and uncertainty and build a new world order.
We will have to wear masks while stepping out of our homes to ensure we are safe from the virus. Students will seek their education online and most of the white-collar workers will continue working remotely. We will shop more online. Industry conferences will be hosted on digital platforms and we will have to go through antibody testing and temperature checks frequently. We will think twice before attending social gatherings and non-essential traveling and prefer to connect, interact, communicate, and work virtually. The New Normal will redefine our relationships, interactions, healthcare, productivity, work, and more.
The pandemic will influence many of our decisions in the next couple of years and probably even after that. For instance, till the time a proven vaccine is available, we will be observing social distancing and avoiding social events. If traveling is unavoidable, we will follow strict personal hygiene rules and will take extra care of ourselves even in cases of seasonal flu. We will prefer to work from home than exposing ourselves to possible contagion.
In fact, a lot of these shifts are already happening now as the New Normal is beginning to set in.
The world as we know, perceive, and experience is changing and we need to take a fresh look at businesses in this context. Now, a business is more than a system to achieve numbers and goals. It is also its people, their experiences, sense of belonging, connectedness, a shared vision, and the tools and techniques to achieve it all. A business is layered; the layers being, namely, physical, intellectual, and emotional infrastructure layers . And each layer works synchronously towards a better organization with a stellar outcome.
We also need to understand how the New Normal impacts each of these infrastructure layers and how a business should respond to minimize disruption and maximize value.
Based on our understanding from various trends, our client feedback and our own experiences, we have developed a 6-dimensional framework that has shaped the New Normal. As we study the disruption across these 6 dimensions, we propose immediate measures that leaders can take across their organizational infrastructure to adapt rapidly to the “New Normal”.