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Our Social Distance Dilemma

Our Social Distance Dilemma

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, will all jobs reappear or will some become obsolete? Read on to learn more about what going back to work could look like on Day 1.

by Haytham ElBendary, Professor of Marketing at IE Business School.



With the COVID-19 pandemic striking aggressively across the world, we are experiencing a turning point in human history. In addition to the cost in human lives, we are being forced to change how we live, communicate, and interact with each other, as well as how we do business on the individual, corporate, and government levels. Will anything be the same?

In the current global health crisis, we are facing an enemy that doesn’t differentiate between nations, societies, religions, ages, or genders. This pandemic is destabilizing global markets and threatening the survival of individuals and organizations. It is a turning point for our daily lives, forcing us to revisit our choices, priorities, and values. We would be foolish to expect our post-COVID-19 lives to be the same as before.

We are also in the midst of an economic crisis. Over the past few weeks, many jobs have been lost, including some that have become redundant and will likely be replaced by technology and online applications post-COVID-19.

The same as before?

A simple question: Why should certain jobs reappear after the COVID-19 crisis? We shouldn’t expect that everything will be the same when we go back to work. More and more jobs are gradually being replaced by technology; the pandemic will simply accelerate this transformation.

Companies that were already used to online transactions in their day-to-day operations are facing less pressure in the current pandemic than those that still depend on human intervention.

COVID-19 has forced organizations and governments to take certain services online. Some have gone completely online, accelerating the shift towards technology. Now is not a time for human interaction or face-to-face dialogue; it is a time for social distance! We are looking at a paradigm shift in the way we do business.

In the current pandemic, the classic human skills of the frontline team can be replaced by a suitable application supported by simple processes, with engagement as needed. The skill set required to handle customers—negotiation, dealing with objections, and customer management—is not the same in the era of online transactions.

Time to upgrade skills

Now is the time for more insights and data. It’s time to understand your customers’ preferences and profiles, as well as your competitors’ capabilities. On an individual level, frontline teams need to upgrade their skill set for the online era and adapt to new technologies and applications. Meanwhile, organizations need to become more aware of their competitive advantages in the technology arena and acquire competitive intelligence through technological capabilities.

The central message of our social distance dilemma is that individuals and corporations need to develop the capabilities and skills to deal with social distancing. Individuals need to upgrade their skills to operate online, understand analytics, and provide insights on customers, while corporations need to increase their online transaction capabilities, competitive advantages, and business intelligence.