Virtual events, teleworking, home office hours: are these just temporary solutions, or have we really discovered a completely new way of working? There has been a lot of talk about “going back to normal”, but some suggest that this crisis may also offer a few opportunities, lessons that we can learn and take with us, to create a better, more sustainable future, both for ourselves and the planet. And there are some habits and possibilities, which emerged during the extended periods of quarantine and social distancing, that we realized we do not want to abandon. That is why we believe a large part of our professional activities could remain virtual even after the COVID emergency has passed.
Our new digital life
First of all, we must distinguish between what we know for certain and what we can reasonably imagine for the future. What we know for sure – either directly or through the experience of friends, colleagues, and family – is that it is possible to do a great deal of work without physically moving around. Even in processes that have to do with the production and movement of material goods, not all activities have to be done on-site. For this reason, many companies have only kept essential staff in the workplace – for instance, machinery operators, drivers, and assembly-line workers – but have moved all employees with administrative, accounting, and organizational functions to teleworking mode. It is now generally accepted that anyone whose job is mostly performed on the telephone or in front of a screen does not need to show up at the office. And many have been shocked to find that they can be much more productive this way, that they are less stressed and that they find it much easier to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Those who had to spend hours in traffic or on public transport to get to work have more time at their disposal and those who are forced to go to work anyway feel safer in knowing that social distancing won’t be hard to keep. Of course, this way of working is not everyone’s cup of tea: some prefer to work surrounded by colleagues and miss the organization and companionship of their workplace. But more and more people are wondering why – since the quality of the work itself was not affected – should they be required to return to the office and why they can’t keep “the new normal” after the COVID emergency has passed.
A healthier environment (well, almost)
The collapse of air traffic and, for a rather extended period, of urban traffic as well is having global consequences. Some of them are negative, such as the loss of jobs caused by the airline crisis, some are detrimental to the market, such as the collapse of oil prices, and others are definitely positive, such as the reduction of CO2 emissions. The latter has generated a great deal of speculation, some of which are perhaps a little naive, about how the epidemic is a means by which the planet “defends itself” from us and how the consequences for the environment will be entirely beneficial. This is a partial way of looking at things. Of course there is no such thing as a “green” pandemic: nature will certainly not thank us when landfills are full of non-recyclable waste and disposable plastics, gloves and masks. But there is no denying that travelling less by car and plane may be a good and viable idea, now that we have seen that we can work from home and participate in digital events.
We will continue to organize virtual events even after the COVID emergency?
This third point concerns our industry directly. Will we really continue to organize and attend virtual events even after COVID? We probably will. Although the most likely solution will be to organize hybrid events. There is a growing awareness among organizers that, by opening up to a global audience, we can increase earnings without a corresponding increase in spending. This is particularly interesting for international trade fairs, whose audience, until now, was limited to the few companies that, in addition to being able to invest in a booth or the entrance fee, could also afford to pay for the travel and accommodation of their representatives. What would the trade show market look like, if not only big companies but also SMEs from all over the world could join in? Of course, as soon as the option is available again, we will also want to go back to direct and immediate interaction between people, but both organizers and attendees will likely want to keep their newly-discovered options, ensuring the possibility of virtual access to their physical events even after the COVID emergency no longer makes it compulsory, thus creating hybrid solutions that could lead to interesting developments in this market.