Coronavirus crisis forces the pace of business change
“The revolution was maybe going to happen in one year, two years, three years from now, but it has suddenly been brought to the top of the agenda.”
Olivier Le Lann, the head of EVA, a Brooklyn start-up, was talking about the use of drones but his words are illustrative of how the coronavirus crisis is forcing the pace of business change.
The former Tesla executive says the pandemic is acting as a catalyst for deploying drones in new ways, from police announcements and distributing hospital equipment to disinfecting public places. Car dealers in China are even taking online orders and then using drones to deliver keys to the balconies of new buyers.
A drone in Nice, France, is used to warn people about coronavirus lockdown rules © Reuters
Retail is one of the biggest sectors upended by the crisis. The enforced switch to online sales has led to a huge growth in ecommerce, although, as today’s UK statisticsshow, the trend is far from enough to compensate for lost sales from physical stores.
Banking is another industry rapidly adapting. Trading floors are empty, as technology makes working from home easier but raises fresh questions around governance and compliance.
The biggest beneficiary from this period of unprecedented change is undoubtedly Big Tech, as its customers are forced to accelerate online plans, take up new networking tools and get people working from home. The combined market value of the leading tech companies hit a new record this week, points out US west coast editor Richard Waters, rising back above levels before coronavirus dented investor confidence.
The tech companies themselves are leading the way in changing working practices. Facebook said it would be “aggressively opening up remote hiring” and estimated that half of its staff could work remotely in the next five to 10 years.
The effects on productivity of trends such as remote working are not yet clear. One performance management consultant warned of the risk of “productivity collapse . . . as people burn out, can’t cope, feel exhausted, and opt out. Companies won’t notice until quite far down the road, and will find it hard to recover.”
There is also the danger that colleagues working in isolation — albeit connected online — will lose the creativity and capacity for innovation that comes from face-to-face encounters.
Architecture correspondent Edwin Heathcote bemoans the increasing presence of Big Tech in our domestic spaces, given a boost by the rise of gadgets such as voice-activated assistants, turning our homes into “limitless reservoirs of data”.
“Covid-19 has provided the moment in which we have been finally transformed into a resource,” he concludes.
FT Bussiness Update