Mark Sullivan, Fast Company senior writer, spoke with tech executives from a variety of companies about how they think COVID-19 is changing the workforce and what they think COVID-19 will change forever. At the time of Sullivan’s article, we were roughly four weeks into the shutdowns caused by COVID-19. While people began adjusting to the new normal, they also started picturing what the world would look like after the pandemic. That’s what drove Sullivan to collect opinions from executives, venture capitalists, and analysts about how the pandemic might change how we think about various aspects of life and work and what specific changes they expected to see in their worlds. The responses that Sullivan collected have been edited for publication. The article below showcases only a few of the 30 executives that Sullivan talked to. For a full list, check out Sullivan’s original article.
What Executives Think COVID-19 Will Change Forever
Working from Home: The New Normal
Matthew Prince, CEO of Cloudflare
The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in what is effectively the largest “work from home” experiment ever conducted in human history. Prince pointed out that the effect is carrying over to the internet, where traffic patterns are shifting. People are beginning to access more educational resources online for their children and finding unconventional ways to connects with coworkers, friends, and family. Additionally, employers are being more flexible in how they respond to employee needs through more dynamic, cloud-based technology. Prince believes that these shifts will last well beyond the immediate fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Jared Spataro, corporate vice president, Microsoft 365
Spataro explained that this time will go down as a turning point for the way people work and learn. People are carrying what they learned and experienced from remote work back to their “new normal,” and we’re all learning more about sustained remote work during this time.
The Acceleration of Digital Migration
Stan Chudnovsky, VP of Messenger, Facebook
Chudnovsky said that the way people are using technology to spend quality time with loved ones, engage with businesses, and perform their jobs is fundamentally shifting to a new normal. Loved ones who hadn’t seen each other in years are now seeing each other daily, people are getting creative with virtual happy hours, and they are keeping up with their formerly “physical” lives with shared workouts and virtual birthday parties on products like Messenger. While Chudnovsky acknowledged that there will be tough consequences when we come out the other side of this, he believes that the growing acceptance of technology as a way to help us feel connected will have lasting benefits.
Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp
As people have been forced physically apart, Cathcart said that he has seen people make far more video calls on WhatsApp than ever before. These conversations are intimate and private, and they are not meant for anyone else – just like if you were talking in person. Conversations should not be shared with criminals, hackers, or a company. Cathcart feels that the shared experience of being physically isolated from one another will cause people to appreciate and value the privacy and security that comes with end-to-end encryption, even more than we did before.
Education Going Virtual
Simon Allen, CEO of McGraw-Hill
Allen explained that the change we are seeing right now in education is not something that is likely to revert back to “normal” in the fall. Although teachers will always be integral to the education process, there will need to be continued flexibility and agility when it comes to things like the delivery of content, testing, and grading. Allen expects to see an increase in blended learning environments that include learning in both the physical classroom setting and online.
Sal Khan, founder and CEO of educational nonprofit Khan Academy
According to Khan, the need for online access and devices in every home is now so dire that it may finally mobilize society to treat internet connectivity as a must-have rather than a nice-to-have. We’re already seeing governments, school districts, philanthropists, and corporations step up to close the digital divide. If this continues to happen, Khan explained that we could get to a state of nearly universal online access at home.
Confronting Old Problems in Healthcare
Dr. Claire Novorol, cofounder and chief medical officer, Ada Health
The adoption of digital health tools – from assessment services to telemedicine – has rapidly accelerated, with healthcare organizations across the world looking to digital solutions to support their efforts against the pandemic, and health tech companies keen to rise to the occasion in support of healthcare payers, providers, and patients alike. Novorol explained that it is clear that we are witnessing a step-change in the adoption of digital health solutions, and that this has long-term potential. The healthcare industry will be greatly affected by the coronavirus pandemic, and we can expect digital health technologies to form an essential part of the way forward.
Ara Katz, cofounder and co-CEO, Seed Health
At a time when misinformation is especially rampant, and in many recent cases, dangerous, it is imperative that those working in science collectively steward and uphold a standard for how information is translated and shared to the public. Katz said that COVID-19 is a reminder of how science informs decisions, shapes policy, and can save lives. The antidote to this current infodemic may be as important to our collective future as a vaccine.
Venture Capital Hunkers Down
David Barrett, CEO and founder of Expensify
The COVID-19 crisis has swiftly exposed the fragile underbellies of many companies, especially those in tech that have been propped up by huge funding rounds and strategies that require massive monthly burn rates. Barrett explained that they are now teetering on the edge of collapse, with most facing layoffs across the board and some searching for buyers as the last resort. On the other hand, profitable companies are simply tightening their belts and carrying on with business (mostly) as usual. Going forward, investors’ mindsets and qualifications about what constitutes a truly “valuable” company will change. Rather than focusing on the quantitative aspects like funding rounds and revenue, investors will place a greater emphasis on the qualitative aspects, such as an organization’s structure, team, culture, flexibility, and profitability.
Sean Park, CIO & cofounder at venture platform Anthemis
Park explained that COVID-19 has put a sudden halt on fast money and “FOMO” investing – forcing the VC industry to slow down, resist the inclination to follow the herd, resist the inclination to follow the herd, and refocus on more robust due diligence and analysis. Thesis-driven investors will be able to take the time to spend a month or two (or three) to really get to know the team, understand the business model, capital structure, and the market before closing a deal.
Transportation: Rebound and Evolve
Michael Masserman, global head of policy and social impact, Lyft
Masserman explained that as we look to the reopening of cities, people will be looking for affordable, reliable ways to stay socially distant while commuting – including turning to transportation options such as ride share, bike share, and scooters. Masserman also said that there will be an opportunity for local governments, as well as key advocates and stakeholders, to consider reshaping cities to be built around people and not care.
Avi Meir, cofounder and CEO, TravelPerk
Various countries and regions will emerge from the lockdown at different paces, which will lead to what Meir calls “corridors of travel” between destinations opening back up one-by-one. Meir explained that when travel does begin to resume, domestic travel will undoubtedly be first.
A Manufacturing Wake-Up Call
Ed Barriball, partner in McKinsey’s Manufacturing and Supply Chain Practice
In the short team, Barriball explained that companies are concerned about shortages of critical goods across the supply chain and that some are looking for alternative sources closer to home. In the long term, once things begin to settle, Barriball expects businesses and governments to focus on better quantifying the risks faced and incorporating potential losses into business cases. Businesses will model the size and impact of various shock scenarios to determine the actions that they should take to rebuild their supply chains and simultaneously build resilience for the future.
Amar Hanspal, former CEO at Autodesk and now CEO at Bright Machines
Like many others, Hanspal acknowledged that COVID-19 will have a lasting impact – especially on the way physical products are made. Customers are grappling with supply chain and factory disruptions across the globe, which has been a wake-up call to manufacturers. The current way of building products in centralized factories with low-cost labor halfway around the world simply cannot weather the storms of uncertainty. Moving forward, Hanspal explained that factories and supply chains will require, and businesses will mandate, much more resilient manufacturing through nearshoring and even offshoring, full automation, and software-based management.
New Thinking Changes Old Business
Sarah Stein Greenberg, executive director of the Stanford d.school
Greenberg emphasized the importance of being able to adapt quickly as conditions change. The ability to focus on surviving in the current moment while you also build toward thriving in a future that looks different than what you are used to is a critical skill in these times. Successful leaders need to allow employees to be creative and generate new ideas. In addition, it’s important to separate
Will Lopez, head of accountant community at HR platform Gusto
Lopez explained that COVID-19 will not be the end of brick-and-mortar stores because they are vital to our communities and our economy. However, the way they operate will change. This crisis will force small businesses, that have historically relied on foot traffic as their main source of income, to develop alternative revenue streams so they can weather the next major event. Lopez provided the example of restaurants permanently partnering with delivery service platforms or boutiques expanding their online presence to reach beyond local neighborhoods.
The responses that Sullivan collected have been edited for publication. The article below showcases only a few of the 30 executives that Sullivan talked to. For a full list, check out Sullivan’s original article.