Leeds Business School

Life after Covid-19: Applications of futures and foresight thinking.

In March 2020, the global Covid-19 pandemic was in relatively early days, and people spoke of life soon returning to normal. As the pandemic has continued, through first and second waves, lockdowns, tiers and tears, the welcome (to most) news of a viable vaccine brings hope and a shift in terminology to an imminent return to a ‘new normal’.

Abstract image of the glass ceiling of the Rose Bowl

Futures and foresight thinking is most usually applied in an organisational context, and gives a very valuable perspective in the development of strategy and strategic plans. It will, however, also be applicable on an individual basis, for those grappling with the concept of life after Covid-19 and a future that just one year ago was unimaginable.

Much of the ‘life post Covid-19’ discussion in the media and social media seems to consider the impact that the disrupted external environment will have on organisations and on the individual, assuming that the individual remains constant. For some that will be true, the new normal will be similar to the old normal; life will continue pretty much as it was before, in an external environment where the pandemic has merely accelerated changes that were previously in progress, such as increased online shopping (Figure 1, Box 1). For others, there will be few personal changes but a disrupted external environment; there may have been a shift to remote working, which for some will be positive and for others the opposite (Figure 1, Box 2). As examples, some will have moved to the countryside and a larger house accommodating a home office (demand for houses has increased, and house prices are currently accelerating at the fastest rate since January 2015). From another perspective global data from UN Women suggests that 25 years’ worth of work on gender equality could be lost in a year, with a loss of opportunity for education and employment for women; women have been picking up more domestic chores and family care during the pandemic.

1: The Known Known - No significant personal changes. No significant external changes. 2: The Known Unknown - No significant personal changes. Very significant pesonal changes. 3: The Unknown Known. Very significant personal changes. No significant external changes. 4: The Unknown Unknown. Signifanct personal changes. Significant external changes.

Figure 1: Possible post Covid-19 future positions

However, for those who have been bereaved, faced business closure, unexpected unemployment, including the 25000 from Arcadia and Debenhams, breakdown of, or trauma in family life or changes to personal mental health, there will be a ‘double whammy’ impact. Coping with a new and different life in a constant environment (Figure 1 Box 3), is hard enough; coping with a new, different, unplanned life in a ‘new normal’ context may be unbearably difficult (Figure 1 Box 4). It is most of all in this context that application of the Futures and Foresight view may add valuable perspective in the process of comprehending an unrecognisable future; a way to introduce a light at the end of the tunnel.

One powerful aspect of the futures and foresight approach is that it encourages the imagining of a best-case and a worst-case outcome in a real time future, say 5 years’ time. Apply a coaching mentality to this, and the old adage that ‘if it can be perceived, it can be achieved’, the future perspectives can be analysed and reverse extrapolated to inform immediate actions and attitudes. Personal survival strategies can then be developed to work towards a better future, an acceptable and rewarding ‘new normal’.

No imagining of the future will make the emotion of coping with now any easier, however, what is valuable is to see, and know that there is a way out, and that there can be a possible, positive and optimistic future ahead.

Karen Trem

Senior Lecturer / Leeds Business School

Senior lecturer in the Leadership, Governance and People Management subject group at Leeds Business School. Doctoral studies were a Phenomenographic study of the variation is individual perceptions of values. Current teaching specialisms include the development of student employability skills and self awareness.

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