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The Student Insider

2020: The year the world worked from home


Written by
Allie Fitzgibbon

Covid-19 has impacted nearly every aspect of our daily lives. One by one, governments around the world instructed their people to stay at home and we have had to adapt everything from how and where we work, to how we socialise, shop, access healthcare and much more. The pandemic has rocked the world of business, with some industries – such as travel and hospitality – left devastated. In contrast, one area that saw a boom was ecommerce, with many companies evolving rapidly to meet new online demand.

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As the vaccine rollout picks up speed and economies begin the long process of recovery, we ask: what will be the lasting effects of the year the world worked from home? And how can an MBA prepare you for post-pandemic success?

Shops, restaurants, gyms and hotels closed. Flights were grounded. Events were cancelled. 2020 and the outbreak of the global pandemic launched an unprecedented change to the way we live and work. More than half the global workforce worked from home. Online meeting software, Zoom, became an almost overnight success and a whole new lexicon was spawned, with “you’re on mute” arguably the catchphrase of 2020.

While it may not suit everyone, for many, working from home full-time was a welcome change. Latest data indicates that more than 80% of workers say more remote work opportunities would make them happier at their job and more than 70% of recruiters believe that remote working will be increasingly important when recruiting. Indeed, a number of global brands have already confirmed a shift in the way they operate, with Google and Facebook both adopting partial homeworking permanently.

Jerry Yen-Ju Su is Customer Experience Lead, Europe at Ring Security, Amazon. He believes home working will become the new normal: “I don’t think my team will go back to five days per week in the office – probably a maximum of three or four. Working from home has benefits but sometimes the line between work and private time can become blurred so I think a balance between the two will be best.”

The stay-at-home mandate, as well as our growing familiarity with online meeting tools, has of course impacted business travel, creating a huge gap for commercial airlines for whom business travellers make up around 12% of passengers but an astonishing 75% of profits. With fares expected to rise steeply in a bid to stabilise struggling travel companies (the International Air Transport Association (IATA) has estimated fares could go up by as much as 54%) and an increasing focus on reducing environmental impact, it is unlikely that business travel will return to pre-Covid rates for some time, if ever.

The broad curriculum provided by an MBA gives candidates perspective on all areas of business and provides a greater understanding of how different components of a business change and adapt to external shocks, like the pandemic.

In retail, it was the best of times and the worst of times. As ‘non-essential’ stores were ordered to close and staples of the British high street, such as Topshop and Debenhams, met their demise, one sector that enjoyed unparalleled success was ecommerce. Experts believe the pandemic accelerated the shift to online by at least five years and it is now predicted that US ecommerce will reach $1 trillion in 2022 thanks to the lasting effects of the pandemic.

Not only did this represent astonishing growth for existing online giants, such as Amazon, but also a very strong uptake of ecommerce in emerging economies. Latin America’s online marketplace, Mercado Libre, reportedly sold twice as many items per day in the second quarter of 2020 compared with the same period in 2019. And African e-commerce platform Jumia experienced a 50% increase in transactions during the first six months of 2020. While in Thailand, downloads of shopping apps shot up 60% in just a week during March 2020.

Some retail titans were slow to adapt to new online demand. Fast fashion retailer, Primark, had no online sales and predicts it lost around £1.6 billion due to the pandemic. However, for some smaller companies who adopted digitisation quickly there were unforeseen wins. Grind, a UK-based coffee roaster, reported online sales more than 30 times higher than pre-lockdown, which helped them recover more than half the sales they lost through closing high street cafes.

While many people can’t wait to return to an in-person shopping experience, analysts believe that the buy online, collect in-store hybrid model will continue to be popular even after the pandemic. In the US, so-called buy-now-pay-later online shopping has increased more than 200% year on year and that popularity is also expected to continue.

In a global economy where the future is far from certain, one thing you can be sure of is the need for business leaders who are flexible and resilient enough to adapt and evolve with the times. Studying a Global MBA with the University of London will help to build your business acumen and equip you with the knowledge and understanding needed to face these challenges head-on.

Greg Strelzow is Director, Relationship Manager for UK and Middle East at MFS Investment Management. He explained why having an MBA is an advantage during a period of uncertainty and change: “The broad curriculum provided by an MBA gives candidates perspective on all areas of business and provides a greater understanding of how different components of a business change and adapt to external shocks, like the pandemic. Understanding these changes or requirements enables us to be more flexible and nimble to change the way we work.”

Find out how you can lead your business into post-Covid prosperity with the University of London’s Global MBA, with academic direction from member institution, Queen Mary University of London.