Covid 19 – What is really going on here? – A rant in 3 acts

– A rant on the post Gen C19 world in III Acts, – exeunt left with biting irony and cynicsm…snow, rain, hail, earthquake…

Our anti-hero enters centre stage right, addresses the audience, soliloquy

Act I – Gen C19

We are living in unprecedented times. In fact the use of “unprecedented” is probably unprecedented.

Having gone into lockdown, several weeks ago, we are now emerging from our burrows like Punxsutawney Phil on Groundhog Day in the States (not the film) and see what it’s all about. And like Groundhog Day (yes the film with Bill Murray, love him and Scarlett in Lost in Translation) we have lived through day after day, blurring into repetition.

We are now a generation, defined not by age, but by common experience.

2020 will go down in infamy. Global economy paralysed, lives lost and changed forever. Some needlessly because of the chase for big bucks and austerity – it’s ok for some. “We’re all in this together” – oh yes we are, but some more than others it would seem…

Not forgetting all those on the front line, NHS, careworkers, delivery people, retailers, takeaways, newsagents and emergency services everywhere for whom life has taken on a continuing intensity, edge, emotion, sacrifice, cost and life all its own. – #GreatRespect.

But of course for those with time on their hands and time to think, we’re wondering about the post lockdown world.

We’ve seen the photos from space, the pollution has retreated. Fish in Venice, dolphins and unicorns everywhere, and wild goats, kangaroos and koalas roaming the streets.

Covid 19 has achieved more in that sense in a few weeks, than Greta in several months. Apologies Greta – I love you really! Don’t we all?

Similarly I’m sure we’ve seen the pleas for a kinder, fairer, just world coming out of this. I wonder how those that are holding the purse strings feel, watching the bank balances dwindling, debts rocketing and wondering how this ever will be squared up. I think we can guess. V shaped recessions and all that. Nations, governments, businesses, people, families, we’re all in hock to the future now. And HMGov and the Bank. They have us where they want us boys.

But – Has our underlying culture really changed at all?

We will soon know very quickly. Humans backed into a corner revert to their underlying type, pressure mounts, heat in the kitchen increases, and like a tea bag, the true essence oozes out. And the pollution sadly will return because Profit will win out over Planet, as it usually does, every time.

Act II – An industry in lockdown

In lockdown, we have experienced more and more the joys of conference and video calls, web chats, screen shares, pets photo-bombing video conferences and all the rest. (Did you come across Goat2Meeting?) We have discovered we can get more done at “home” than we thought, and that will surprise some digital laggards. But also we’ve discovered that sometimes we need to be together to collaborate effectively. But nevertheless it’s opened up the possibility of more remote working, perhaps even considering down sizing office spaces to something more adaptable and flexible, and of course more economic.

Our national IT and comms infrastructures generally seem to have coped with the strain perhaps much better than might be expected.

For some this may well be the new normal and more remote working and flexibility will be the norm.  For others it will be the old ways are best.

We’ve seen 3D printers rolling out PPE instead of architectural models and parts, whole production lines re-appropriated to health equipment instead of aerospace and construction components.

So underneath it all, yes there is something better that brings out the best in humanity. But will it last? Can it survive?

Perhaps this now is the defining point, the fulcrum around which not only digital transformation but also community transformation begins to turn. People have been forced to stop and think, and suddenly they can see a better way. A wholesome way of life, admittedly part funded by HMGov and governments around the world!

Indeed many are questioning if we’re returning to “normal” what kind of “normal” do we actually want to return to anyway? Whether the politicians can see this or not who knows and if they can what can they do? Is there the collective will to do anything to change from the stars quo that we had before?

Act III – The great divide

At this point, we can see a divide developing on two fronts I think.

Firstly on the digital front.

Those that embraced the technology shift in this lockdown time have been able to continue working, perhaps achieve more than they thought, and with the full support and encouragement of their management. All the benefits analysis and ROI calcs have been turned on their head as suddenly this tech BIM stuff  and digital collaboration, really actually makes sense, and has kept them in business. For this group it will be more of the same please, leadership and investment fully on side, thrusters on full, and accelerating tech adoption and implementation.

And then those that didn’t.

Oh dear!

They are already behind their competition. Choice is now to invest to catch up or move into different markets. Few businesses coming out of this period will be cash rich to invest time and money now, together with the innovation learning curve.

So I suspect we will see the digital gap opening up, between “those that do” who see the possibilities and potential, and “those that don’t”. For the second group I think the future will be less than rosy. Blood, pain, frostbite…

Secondly the society divide.

Funny we haven’t discussed Brexit or IR35 for a few months. I wonder why?!

Coming into C19, we had seen years of austerity in the UK. We have seen people in various parts of society marginalized and under supported, and the gaps widening on a lot of fronts. I don’t normally get political but we’re in that kind of territory aren’t we?

Suddenly hey presto, HMGov and other governments are funding a lot of the working population and businesses with extra billions for this that and the other. But some on furlough now will return to businesses that no longer exist. We’re seeing it already, aerospace, automotive, entertaining, leisure, construction, and retail to name a few. Many companies that were struggling in whatever sector, suddenly have to sit on their hands for a few months with no income, bills and wages to pay, leases, agreements to honour. It’s no wonder is it? Bad news grows day by day.

So famous names that we know and love will and are disappearing. Thousands if not millions will be unemployed. I think the job market and the new normal is going to be highly volatile and competitive like we haven’t seen for a long while. A race to the bottom. And you’ve guessed it, higher taxes, recession and all the scrabbling and infighting that comes along with it.

Cash will be king again. And he who can pay the piper….

Across our industry there are going to be a lot of casualties and all those people that sell you peace, love and nirvana will come and go. Believe them if you will but the reality will be quite different. So buckle up for the ride and tighten your belt.

So in conclusion, this has been a bit of a ramble. But what I can see is that something good has come to the surface, the potential for something better, a better new normal if you will, a collective consciousness. On the other hand, the conditions we’re going to face over the next few years will challenge that. Margins will be even tighter, investment and training will be cut back, as they always are when times are bad, so that will challenge the digital go-getters but they have real proof and experience on their side now in really adverse circumstances. So maybe those purse strings might loosen just a tad? As the benefits are just that bit more visible?

And remember, people still build in a recession, so sharpen those pencils girls and boys! (That might be lost on you Millenials, ask your mom or dad.)

Epilogue

So here we are, in our cyclical industry in yet another trough. Maybe the exit to this one will be faster. Circumstances are a little different this time round. The brakes have been manually applied to economic activity, and everyone wants the foot on the accelerator PDQ. For some the time is already running out. Was it Gordon Brown that said he would put an end to Boom and Bust?

The very nice people call for reform of our industry, to deal with the race to the bottom, to make things fair, just and right, but they won’t get their hands dirty.  We need determined and focused pan industry collaboration on a scale never seen that puts all parochial agendas to the side for the common good – a construction war effort in peace time if you will. But I ask again has our culture really changed at all to really make this happen?

Whatever it is you do, the services you provide, the things you make or build, and whatever you maintain, there will always be that bugger down the road who will do it cheaper, faster, and whatever. (Sounds a bit like a Pink Floyd song to me).

So as Seth Godin would say, “Whatcha you gonna do with that duck?”

Our anti-hero exeunt left, pursued by a big brown hungry bear… weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth…

This was #EYNON. This time in a more reflective mood –  itinerant Design Manager, Architect and BIMster somewhere on the south coast. Peace out.

You can catch up with him at zenanddm.com

Or

Thank you, I’ve been #EYNON, and you’ve been a great audience. I’m something to do with architecture, BIM, construction and all sorts of stuff. I’m available for weddings, christenings, bar mitzvahs, dinners, and beach cocktail parties, by arrangement naturally.

And a Post Script…

Recent events have revealed the fragility of our global ecosystem. A sneeze in China and the rest of the world has caught pneumonia, perhaps even worse than that.  Who would have imagined whole economies almost shutting down completely for several months? And it’s still spreading, uncontrolled in some countries, people are still falling ill and dying. Politicians watch, frozen in the headlights like startled rabbits. Businesses closed never to re-open, careers shattered and broken. This will be a real social divide, those that are still doing very nicely thank you, and the rest of us. Underclasses will continue to develop with bitter frustrated entitlement kept more and more in line by disguised totalitarian rule. Apocalyptic? Yes, lightning, frost, hail. Inevitable no.  Sunshine and unicorns. But that’s where we need to change.

How do society and communities actually work for the common good of all?

And yet look how governments suddenly find the cash to prop up what was the status quo.  I say cash, borrowing against all our futures really. There is much they have to lose, look how much they will pay out to keep it just so.

But in contrast to previous global crises, the digital information backbone has become exposed and is much more than alive and well, positively exuberant and vibrant in fact. We communicate, share, alert, question, challenge, in ways unimagined by our forbears. And in that sense global digital information transformation may well not only be our future, but in some ways our salvation.

*This is an edited and expanded version of my blog in BIM Today, June 2020.

Grateful thanks to #AndyJowett – Editor

 

 

 

 

 

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