COVID and forced experiments

Benedict Evans

Many organisations, and many people who work in those organisations, have just discovered that their work is less bound to physical space and to being in the physical presence of other people than they used to think. For the moment, there is no alternative to working in a new way, however imperfect that new way might be or be thought to be. But at some point this long moment will be over. What then?

This post explores that question and others like it, where the intersection of technology, need and perceived possibility has changed. There are at least two levels to the answer. The first is relatively straightforward technology adoption: lots of people are suddenly doing things differently – the surge in video conferencing in both work and family lives is the most obvious, but far from the only one. The level of use will no doubt fall back in a post-COVID world, but it would be surprising if it were to fall back to the levels of a few weeks ago.

The second question is more interesting and much more difficult to answer: how do the existence and acceptance of different tools lead to different ways of interacting and different ways of getting things done? Moving a conversation from a meeting room to video conference is more than just a channel switch – moving one from a coffee shop even more so:

Every time we get a new kind of tool, we start by making the new thing fit the existing ways that we work, but then, over time, we change the work to fit the new tool. […] We’re going through a vast, forced public experiment to find out which bits of human psychology will align with which kinds of tool, just as we did with SMS, email or indeed phone calls in previous generations

We have been forced to do things differently. We will have choices about how – and whether – to use that experience to do things better.

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