What’s changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic? What’s likely to come back? And when? Innovation Leader’s “What the Future Looks Like” report seeks to answer that question. Kaitlin Milliken, Multimedia Editor at the publication, shares data from the report. Stephan Chase, a futurist and founder of the consultancy Chase Intel, discusses how the pandemic has affected life downtown and the hospitality space. Peter Berger, Director of Innovation for the aircraft manufacturer EmbraerX, explains why drastic innovation cuts are short-sighted. 

Additional Resources: 

  • Get data on what people have stopped doing during the pandemic, and what they’re eager to restart in slides from our ”What the Future Looks Like” report. 
  • Watch this interview with futurist Steve Brown, who talks about opportunity to “un-freeze” frozen and risk-averse systems at the present moment. Brown also discusses how COVID-19 is actually three overlapping crises.
  • Find out how COVID-19 has increased consumer trust in technology in this interview with futurist Lauren Xandra

Transcript

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Kaitlin Milliken: Hi everyone, you’re listening to a special audio segment from Innovation Leader. For those of you who don’t know us yet, Innovation Leader is a media and events company. Our team is focused on providing resources for research and development teams and innovators at large companies. I’m Kaitlin Milliken, IL’s Multimedia Editor.

The current COVID-19 pandemic has completely transformed the world. A sense of uncertainty — both professional and personal — pervades everything. No one really knows what to expect each day, let alone each month or as the fall arrives. However, as the world reopens, many activities from before the crisis are coming back in altered forms. Like outdoor dining, drive in-movies, and extra-precautions at the barber. Some other aspects may be put on pause indefinitely.

In our latest research report, “What the Future Looks Like,” our team spoke to members of the corporate innovation community and futurists to forecast what the “new normal” might be. We’ll be sharing some of those insights in this broadcast.

So what’s changed? What’s likely to come back? And when?

Our team sent out a survey to the innovation community to ask them what they’ve stopped doing during the pandemic. We also asked if they planned on resuming those activities in the future.

We heard back from 133 corporate innovators. Over half said that they are spending less time in physical office spaces during the pandemic. Of those respondents, 75 percent said they were unlikely to return to their normal in-office schedule in the future.

Business travel has also become a less desirable activity: 61 percent of survey participants said they were not likely to resume travel for their jobs. One respondent even wrote that they were done “catching a flight for a single meeting.”

Stephan Chase: I’ve been through a number of different downturns… Typically after this, it was personal travel that came back first, and business travel second. But this has really added a whole new dimension to it. And it could very well be that business travel stays away for longer… Because earnings are going to be compromised, chief financial officers are going to be looking at travel budgets.

Kaitlin Milliken: That was Stephan Chase, a futurist and founder of Chase Intel. Stephan spent 20 years at Marriott International, doing consumer insights and analytics work.

In addition to flights, Stephan points out that remote work has changed the way people relate to their homes. Prior to the crisis, living in an urban environment allowed commuters to reduce their time in traffic while enjoying the bustling social aspects of downtown. Now, remote work has eliminated the need to commute. And stay-at-home advisories leave apartment dwellers craving more space.

Stephan Chase: So the downtown was already in danger, because you have a lot of people moving out and a much smaller generation taking its place. But now you’ve got a fear of disease. … If you don’t need as much office space to get together, and you don’t necessarily need to be downtown as a central place, there’s another industry or area that’s challenged. The owners of downtown office properties could be in for a tough ride for the next three years or so.

Kaitlin Milliken: Right now, people are staying out of the office and for the most part off of planes. In major cities, we’re already seeing a shift to the suburbs. One pronounced example is Manhattan. According to the New York Times, 5 percent of the city’s population vacated the area for some period of time during the pandemic. There’s also lots of anecdotal evidence that people are buying homes in the ‘burbs, on the assumption that they won’t need to be in the office every day in the future.

Out in Silicon Valley, Peter Berger works as Director of Innovation for the aircraft manufacturer EmbraerX. He says he thinks about the future in two buckets. We’re currently at a point where COVID-19 is spreading. In order to preserve safety, people have to shift their behavior.

Peter Berger: Past that is this post-COVID world where I think that there’s going to be behavioral components that are there, that may not be rationally related to actual infection and disease — that people will just be more cautious. They’ll have a tendency to do things more virtually. More working from home. But I don’t believe that the transitions are going to be as tectonic because humans themselves are creatures of habit, and the habits that we have formed socially weren’t just formed the six months prior to COVID. And they won’t be solidified the six months to a year during COVID.

Kaitlin Milliken: Peter also says that teams should avoid severely making cuts to innovation in response to the crisis. Even though the economy has entered a recession, the pace of changes and customer expectations will continue to accelerate.

Peter: Eliminating innovation essentially a short-sighted cut. You can’t just sort of stop thinking about the future and then start thinking about the future five years later, because even though there’s a lot of reward for certain short-term cuts, long-term the world will still go on. The sun will rise tomorrow, and having innovation as part of that — whether it’s as robust as it was right before the COVID lock downs is another issue — but I think that there’s a lot to happen; and in fact, the innovation teams can be the most flexible part of the entire corporate operation.

Kaitlin Milliken: Peter and Stephan also shared tips for how teams can pivot to meet the demands of the current business environment. Stephan recommends that innovators spend more time connecting with customers to understand their current needs. For example, he says, teams at many companies may need to design new experiences where customers feel safe.

Stephan Chase: We’re going to provide you a safe environment. This is how we’re going to clean, these are our standards… That now has become a base expectation.

Kaitlin Milliken: Additionally, Stephan points to the benefits of financial flexibility. Customers who are experiencing financial hardships now may respond well to good faith actions. That can inspire loyalty later on.

Stephan Chase: The customer who is 35 right now, who may be suffering, might become a very good customer when they’re 50. All right, well, you can’t necessarily carry a customer for 15 years, but it might make one think differently about what they do today.

Kaitlin Milliken: Peter recommends that innovation teams work to change how they’re viewed in their organizations. Traditionally, he says, innovation is seen as a cost center. Now teams should focus more on creating money-making opportunities.

Peter Berger: The correction, and I would encourage this as a positive correction, is towards innovation teams to be more monetization-focused as opposed to larger research-focused. And frankly, this is just going to be sort of a sharpening environment where you’re going to say, “Okay, what projects were a little too fluffy? And we need to focus on a more hardcore opportunity.”

Kaitlin Milliken: Additionally, teams should focus more on the challenges of today, Peter explains.

Peter Berger: Remember the core values of your team and see how those can be applied to the current circumstance and not say, “Oh, you know, our three years down the road solutions are going to be hurt.” Think about how you can provide solutions for your organizations now.

The mantra that we use internally is “change by leadership.” Not in the sense that the leaders of the company changed, but look we lead and then the change occurs. There’s a lot of hypotheses but limited proof. And so if you can go out and prove your hypothesis really well, change through leadership becomes a lot easier, when innovation groups can actually go out and prove things, because you’re good at proving small stuff that can become big.

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Kaitlin Milliken: Thanks for tuning in today. I’m Kaitlin Milliken from Innovation Leader. Molli DeRosa provided additional reporting for this segment. Our “What the Future Looks Like” report includes additional interviews, videos, and a downloadable slide deck with data. For all of those insights, visit innovationleader.com/research. To stay in tune with everything we do, subscribe to our email newsletter or follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn. Have a great rest of your day, and see you next time.