Why I wouldn't focus too much on the "1.5 meter economy"

Guido Heezen

In recent years, organizations have discovered the importance of constant innovation, creative thinking and agility. Rapid technological developments have also necessitated this change in approach. Those who are the first to enter a particular sector usually end up with the biggest market share.

1.5 meter economy

Systematic approach

Now that our freedom of movement has been significantly reduced, all of a sudden we need to be a different kind of “agile.” Fortunately, many organizations are very inventive. They have found a number of different, often creative, ways to keep their businesses running. They have adapted and are doing what works right now.

For example, take the Italian restaurant that I wrote about previously — within just a few days, the restaurant had switched to a great takeaway approach. This didn’t require any significant restructuring. With just a few small changes, this restaurant was able to transform itself into a takeaway and delivery pizzeria.

Many larger and often more slower-paced organizations are taking a more strategic approach. Making rapid changes is not in their DNA and they are often averse to making quick decisions. They feel that they need to take a more structured approach to preparing for the “1.5 meter economy.” However, I question how useful this approach is. After all, the situation is sure to have changed again by the time that the changes are implemented. Would ad-hoc solutions not be more effective?

The advantages and disadvantages of the 1.5 meter economy

It seems to me that keeping everything and everyone at 150-centimeter distance is not sustainable for our society. Take a moment to think about how people all around the world get to work. A large number of these people use public transport. And in the workplace itself, it will certainly not be possible to maintain the required distance at all times. Think of mechanics, healthcare providers and construction workers who work together with a variety of different people on a job.

In addition, it will be difficult to force people, the social creatures that we are, to keep our distance forever. No tape or plastic screen can withstand our need for proximity. I have witnessed increasing social restlessness and disobedience in my local vicinity. People are increasingly seeking out each other’s company. Particularly if the weather is nice and we can sit together in the garden or in the street.

The markets are gradually beginning to open up again and when IKEA stores were finally re-opened to the public, there were incredibly long queues outside. It must have been a significant mathematical challenge for each of those customers to stay 1.5 meters apart from everyone else while inside the stores.

Find the flexibility

I very much doubt that the 1.5 meter economy is a realistic option for the long term. We may experience alternating periods of optimism and pessimism that will see us going through periods of “intelligent lockdown” to help relieve the strain on intensive care units. This will also make it difficult to prepare for the coming months in a structured manner

We are already seeing more and more resistance to unilateral approaches to the coronavirus crisis. There are increasing calls to better accept our own mortality and focus on quality of life rather than worrying about what might happen.

This is not to suggest that we should abandon all of the rules. That would be unwise. It is important to use the capacity of intensive care units as a guide to how much we can relax the rules.

It is, however, a warning to organizations — don’t make too many structural changes in anticipation of a 1.5 meter economy. If organizations want to stay afloat, it is much better to rely on creativity and flexibility. This is less about strict compliance within the rules, but rather looking for the flexibility within these rules.

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Make some tweaks

Look at NS. As a large organization, it has taken a very smart approach. From the end of April, the company began testing adjustments to its trains that make it easier to maintain the 1.5 meter distance. NS has taken a particularly agile approach. There were no long, far-reaching renovation projects to completely overhaul the train system. NS simply put some film, stickers and signs to an inventive use. They rose to the challenges of these unusual times without risking being left with unusable and inefficient trains from the coronavirus period forever.

This example shows how large organizations can achieve a lot by simply tweaking the existing situation a little. Companies who have the most agile response to these circumstances will eventually come out on top.

Short-term solutions are not always bad

If you are a larger organization that inevitably works at a somewhat slower pace and that is now developing plans for the 1.5 meter economy, there is a significant chance that, by the time those plans are implemented, our reality will have changed once more.

This is also a result of the human tendency to be fooled into thinking that this new abnormal is the new normal. Because things normally work out differently than you expect, you may end up making some mistakes now. If life returns to normality, you may find yourself on the back foot, despite your foresight.

Act wisely and take the right amount of care. Do not put anyone at risk unnecessarily. Above all, try to come up with creative and intelligent short-term solutions, keep an open mind and think about what is being touted as “the new normal” but doesn’t really line up with our human nature.

Improvising constantly and making small adjustments will help your company to make the most progress now and in the future.

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