By Shell on Dec. 14, 2021
Predicting the future is a bit like playing darts blindfolded. Still, Anders Sörman-Nilsson, a global futurist and the founder of strategy think tank Thinque, has been known to hit a few bullseyes.
Sörman-Nilsson says it’s a pretty safe bet that the coming 12 months will continue to be impacted by the pandemic. But while we saw global disruption throughout 2020 and 2021 as businesses struggled to shift how they operate, many of those same businesses now factor unforeseen disruptions and potential lockdowns into their plans.
“We've all been thrust into this future work experiment, and it's an ongoing one - it’s not like we're going to go back to 2019 in 2022,” he says. “One of the things I do as a futurist is scenario plan both utopias and dystopias, and for brands that weren't doing that or organisations that weren't doing scenario planning and real risk planning, the pandemic has been a huge wake-up call and given them a burning platform for thinking about all eventualities.
“Once that’s done, they can pivot towards digital forms of working, or perhaps rethink their supply chains. When a big tanker goes sideways in the Suez Canal, it shows you how fragile that international supply chain is. So organisations now have a burning platform for transforming the way they work so they will be better prepared next time around, because this might not be the last superbug to spread.”
On a slightly less macro level, the working-from-home model that became a necessity during the lockdowns in 2021 will also have a significant impact on where and how we work moving forward.
“There will still be working from home, but I don't believe that every staff member will keep working from home forever,” says Sörman-Nilsson. “We're social animals at the end of the day, and certainly when it comes to collaboration, creativity and innovation, we still like to come together for off-sites or more creative workspaces.
“We will see people still hitting the road and getting to work - many people bought a new car during the pandemic, or a secondhand car, so Aussies will definitely be back on the road to go to work, but it just might mean that it's a little bit different. We see mobility data now showing that fewer people are going to work on Monday and Friday, but they might go Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. So I think everyone's going to have to be pretty smart in terms of how they try and beat the traffic and get a bit of a sense for maybe how to avoid those days.
“I think we might see this kind of notion of doing two days of work from home, or from a remote hub. There's the rise of the ‘15-minute city’ that Paris and other cities are really driving, which is that you should be able to meet your friends and family or go to work and have all of that within 15 minutes driving of each other. You'll increasingly see co-working spaces popping up in lifestyle destinations, too.”
Sörman-Nilsson also believes that work travel involving flights to far-away destinations will also look different as we move into 2022. “People are going to become much more discerning about how far they travel and which meetings they go to,” he says. “I had a board meeting I went to yesterday, a long strategy day retreat, and we spent time face to face, and we made it count.
“Before, it might have been that people didn't question travelling, or it may’ve been that they enjoyed flying - ‘I might just duck down and see this client’, that kind of thing. If you now make that trip, you really want to make it count. So I think people are just going to be way more discerning about that.
“It used to be the default option that you travelled to work or flew somewhere for a sales meeting, and now the default option is actually that you do it digitally. And then if you choose to invest your time in the physical world, there's going to be a newfound appreciation that someone really puts in the effort. The same goes for physical conferences, and they'll have a bounce back, but they might not be on the same scale as they once were. But if you do go, then there's a new level of appreciation for people actually showing up in the flesh.”