Reflections of Pandemic


One Year Later: 8 Reflections From The Pandemic

Despite the enormous and unimaginable loss of life and livelihood many have endured this year, there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, as vaccine distribution kicks into high gear. And while so much has changed over the past year, this global disruption presents an opportunity to take a step back and reflect. What lessons have we learned? Here are eight to consider.

1) Appreciate the moment

We always knew it, but the last year confirmed it. We are fundamentally social creatures at heart, relying on each other for support, motivation, appreciation. Pre-pandemic, we were rushing towards the future, anticipating our next moves, and having a hard time staying in the moment. 

For all the challenges that working from home and home-schooling provided, we did spend more time together. For some, with very young families it was a precious year, with parents able to experience first steps, words and experiences that would otherwise have been missed.

COVID-19 placed our focus squarely on family and loved ones. Where possible, we have taken more time to be with family. Whether that is visiting someone at a distance, playing a game on-line, watching a movie together or simply using Zoom, Teams or Facetime to chat. 

For all those who have bemoaned the COVID-19 (pound) weight gain, there are others that have been able to engage in fitness and wellbeing, such as mediation and yoga, as individuals try to find a new rhythm, meaning, and balance in their lives.  

2) Change is a constant, transform on your terms

We all know the pace of change is getting faster, and the need to transform getting more important. But with the pandemic, businesses were taken to the same baseline. It’s like every business (and every employee) is in a game of ‘Who Moved My Cheese’, with the objective not being to find out who moved the cheese, but finding new cheese or optimizing the existing cheese.

Pre-pandemic, some businesses were focused on the need to address digital transformation. Others less so  – ‘we’ve always done it like this’. However, since the pandemic, according to a new McKinsey Global Survey of executives, their companies have accelerated the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations by three to four years. And the share of digital or digitally enabled products in their portfolios has accelerated by a shocking seven years.

Now is the time for creativity, new solutions, failures, learnings and new approaches to dealing with old problems. 

Businesses need the foundations in place to be agile and responsible to customer demands and prepare for future disruption. 

If you haven’t yet reviewed your business with a view to future-proofing it, now is the time to start.   

3) Safety first  

According to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in 2020 International passenger demand in 2020 was 75.6% below 2019 levels. 

Pre COVID, I was a frequent traveler – both for business and personal. Since April last year, I’ve flown only for essential family reasons.  It’s been a strange experience.

My thanks to the airlines, for putting passenger safety first, and for putting precautions in place to minimize the spread of the virus. On my most recent flight, I saw signs of the airline starting to put the ‘frills’ back into the experience. 

Air travel might change, but it won’t stop. There are many individuals who cannot wait to travel again. Question is when, and where? And what will the new standard be? After every terrible event in aviation, we learn. Protocols change. 

Will we see a continued focus on cleanliness in the friendly skies and carbon emission reduction as key differentiators and value propositions for an airline to garner your business? After all, who doesn’t want to arrive at their destination healthy?

Selecting an airline based on their safety rating, cleanliness policies and, negative test requirements, will be key for as long as nations protect their borders, and their citizens. 

4) Put the planet first

Whilst individuals are looking forward to vacationing again, business travel will take longer to recover. Businesses have discovered that video meetings can be just as productive and much less costly.

That in conjunction with businesses’ public commitments to reduce their carbon footprint will mean that options other than flying will be considered. 

Indeed many airlines are retiring fleets of their larger aircraft in order to meet their carbon targets and reduce the impact of air travel on the environment.

Flying is necessary for long distances, but what about the role of the car? As many companies start to shift to work from home or hybrid models, the role of the car is at risk. 

With remote work a long-term possibility, the car is now the recreational travel vehicle for those that want to travel more locally or more sustainably. 

Electric vehicle usage is growing, especially in Europe where the EU seeks to reduce carbon emissions and is targeting 30million electric cars on the roads by 2030.  By 2040, over half of all passenger vehicles sold globally will be electric.

Many people are rediscovering trains as a way to city hop. With reliable services, low carbon footprint, and no long security queues, taking the train for short and medium distances will become more popular. 

In fact, in Austria it’s already been mandated. As part of the conditions attached to a €600 million ($680m) government bailout, Austrian Airlines has agreed to remove domestic flights that can be provided by rail in less than three hours to help reduce carbon emissions. There are many advantages to train travel including more space, time to work and of course less impact on the planet.

Starting July 20, Austrian Airlines will partner with the Austrian national rail operator ÖOB and offer 31 rail connections per day up from the current three trains per day that are operating now.

The AIRail service will offer passengers the same airline loyalty points they accrue when flying with guaranteed connections.

People who regularly fly business class will travel first class on the train. Therefore, they will be entitled to use the rail operators’ business lounge before departure. Passengers using the AIRail service will also get a voucher that they can redeem in the ÖBB restaurant car.

Many other European airlines are following suit, partnering with local rail services to offer airline style travel, but by train. In conjunction with existing hotel and car rental partnerships, airlines are becoming the new ‘travel agent’

Even the most polluting oil & gas companies are looking to transform their entire businesses to refocus on clean energy to power our homes, businesses, and transportation. The world oil price may now have reached its peak and as governments and industry pour billions into green recovery strategies following the COVID-19 pandemic, the shift to green energy is likely permanent.

Whilst the Oil and Gas industry would have needed to transform in the next few years the pandemic just accelerated this shift.

5) Rethinking education for individuals vs. the masses

Social interaction plays a critical role in the ability of most youths to have a voice, to be heard, and to be motivated to learn. Long periods of home learning have seen even the most promising pupils ‘give up’ for, “after all, what is the point?” 

Home education isn’t the future most want for their children, but there may be advantages we should consider as schools go back to normal. For instance, how about considering whether some pupils may do better with a different teacher, geography, or time zone.  

The better the teacher and child relationship match, the better the results for all concerned. With technology, and virtual classrooms why not have smaller groups of individuals matched with a teacher that can support their style of learning?

For example, can you mix individuals from different schools? Would this motivate pupils more? 

Would it result in better cross-cultural understanding? Individuals from across the country or the globe sharing class time – time zone permitting?    

If nothing else, we now have more individuals who could potentially be home schooled and take advantage of a hybrid learning approach. Clearly this relies on access to technology, denied to many children during this pandemic.

Whilst it shouldn’t be a permanent alternative to in-person learning there are huge benefits to a hybrid model, with schools embracing the opportunities digital learning could provide. 

Students get the social interaction they need, but perhaps with smaller, focused class sizes. Lessons can be recorded for pupils to access for revision or catch up. 

Pupils unable to attend school, but still well, could learn from home and access the same lesson as their class. Whilst everyone delights in seeing children return to school, let’s not lose the progress we made in “digitizing” education.

6) Experience matters  

Some businesses just haven’t been able to fully digitize during the pandemic. For instance, theatres, sports, and live entertainment can’t recreate or substitute the experience of being there in person, but they have tried.

Take restaurants, most have valiantly switched to take-out, re-furbished outside spaces for outdoor dining and worked with delivery partners but restaurant owners are eager to welcome customers back to the indoor dining experience.

Restaurants are part of the fabric that makes a neighborhood thrive. Food is one of our basic needs and restaurant survival being determined popularity, great food, and a strong relationship with their customers before the pandemic started. 

Those experiences go a long way and customers will reward the businesses that have continued to innovate and tried to support their communities. Wok from Home by Wagamama was one of many examples of restaurant chains which shared recipes online during the first lockdown to keep customers engaged with their food and looking forward to visiting their restaurants again.

In many cities around the world non-essential retail is still closed. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to online retail – but despite the trend, the majority of spend in the US in still in person, even in the year of the pandemic, according to Statista.

This proves that the in-store experience is still valuable. It offers a personal experience the online retailers just cannot deliver, despite their best efforts.  

A challenge is where to go from here. Customer experience in PPE is not something any of us relish. Mask wearing hinders communication and screens provide a human barrier. 

Whilst most of us want to retain many of the advances in cleanliness and sanitizing, stores need to bring back experiences, dining, entertainment, and advice. All good reasons to visit a store in person.

7) Fitness: A World Wide Audience

Annual gym memberships and subscriptions – are they a thing of the past? New business models have evolved such as ‘Mirror’, ‘Peloton’, ‘NordikTrak’, and Pro-Forma – that offer the same service in the comfort of your home, with virtual social interaction to provide the motivation necessary with the added benefit of being able to tap into a marketplace of skills.  

The traditional gym will always have its place for many with additional facilities for swimming, tennis, squash and other sports as well as cafes for social interaction. But gym owners will need to move to a hybrid model, offering online as well as in person training and could consider a subscription/charge for use model for equipment, making it affordable and hassle free for members.

8) Whatever Your Industry – There Will Be Change

A lot of lessons learnt in this past year. For governments especially. Many have managed to keep businesses open by locking down borders. For all the sacrifices that entails, life has gone on as near normal.

For businesses, who have had to think on their feet. Reinvent themselves and go on a journey they may have been ill prepared for.

For children and parents adjusting to home schooling and social lives on Zoom.

The world has changed and whilst we are all looking forward to a return to “normality” let’s not forget the valuable lessons learned and the adjustments we’ve been able to make along the way, largely as a result of human creativity and digital transformation.

By Helen Dwight

By Helen Dwight

Global Head of Marketing, Intelligent Enterprise and Industries, SAP