Scott Galloway has some sobering news for those hoping that the post-pandemic business world will resemble the workplace as it was pre-2020: The coronavirus triggered a decade’s worth of changes in many industries in a matter of months, and things will never be the same.
Many changes, such as the acceleration of e-commerce and remote work, have helped rich and powerful businesses, including tech titans, grow even more dominant, Galloway writes in his latest book, Post Corona: From Crisis to Opportunity (Penguin, 2020). Additionally, major segments of the economy are now ripe for disruption and revival, says Galloway, a professor of marketing at the New York University Stern School of Business. At the same time, the pandemic has the potential to imbue a generation with a new appreciation for community, cooperation and sacrifice.
Post Corona suggests work-from-home arrangements will become the new normal at many companies. What can employers do to help remote employees be productive?
Ensuring that employees working from home have the necessary technology is the cost of entry for this new era. The difficult issues will be the subtle ones.
Working from home might be a convenience for a senior executive with a well-appointed home office in a suburban McMansion and full-time child care, but a burden for a younger junior manager living in a crowded apartment. And someone who works at home because they have caregiver responsibilities risks missing out on building relationships and a reputation by being around the office. When promotion time comes, managers are likely going to unconsciously—or consciously—favor people they see at their desk every morning.
Ensuring that increased work from home enables opportunity rather than reinforces inequality will be one of the central challenges for organizations over the next decade.
You suggest that ideas best flourish in person. So will companies move to a hybrid work model—combining remote work with regular in-person brainstorming and decision-making?
This is almost certainly going to be where a lot of organizations end up. We are a long way from creating the technical equivalent of an in-person interaction, and likely will never capture the serendipity of the casual workplace interaction. Ideas need to flirt and have sex, and that doesn’t happen over Zoom.
What business trends has the pandemic accelerated?
All of them. Take nearly any trend in your business or personal life— e-commerce, remote work, in-home entertainment, for example—and project out where you thought it would be in 10 years, pre-pandemic. That’s likely where we are now.
You recommend an “electronics fast” for families to allow them to reset their nervous systems and slow things down. Is this something that might work in the business world as well?
We are all human animals, and our nervous systems are all under constant stress from our electronics addiction. In that sense, people should think about an electronics fast for their health, across all aspects of their lives.
As to whether a company could encourage or even mandate that, that probably depends on a company’s culture. Those organizations that need a respite the most are probably the places where it would be most difficult to implement.
The book refers to “Yogababble”—the abstract, spiritual-sounding language of visionary company founders. Who in a company is responsible for translating and developing a solid and sustainable corporate culture around that?
To be clear, when I see a company spouting Yogababble, that’s a red flag because you can’t build a solid culture or business around “selling happiness.” Ultimately, it takes leadership—and that can come from anywhere—to define a company’s real purpose, and then to ruthlessly measure its investments and opportunities against that. When it is done well, then a vision can be a tool for every department. That is really hard to do well, however.
Which businesses or industries stand to gain in a post-coronavirus world?
Let me give you a counterintuitive example: hospitality and in-person entertainment.
Many billions of dollars in value have been shed in these businesses, and so for the equity holders going into the pandemic, it was a disaster.
But when a cruise ship company goes bankrupt, the cruise ships don’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. And when we come out the other side of this, we are going to see a surge of excitement in just being around other people again.
Can you imagine seeing a concert with thousands of other people dancing and singing along all around you?
The terrible thing about crises is that they always happen, but the wonderful thing is that they always end. And when they do—when the rains return—there is more space and light for new growth.
Interview by David Ward, a freelance writer based in North Carolina.