Burkhard Müller
Executive Partner, Chief Digital Officer

Social distancing will change us and our society: How we work, learn, shop, communicate and care for each other. The coronavirus accelerates change and will create widespread demand for new, disruptive solutions. 18 domains in which we will see drastic changes:

No crisis in the last 30 years has had a widespread impact on our private lives.

We were always well-off; real change was not decisive and certainly not existentially necessary. Now we are all forced to change, from one day to the next. 

Only 12%* of Germans have had the opportunity for a home office so far, and most likely, fewer have actively used it. For whatever reason, employers did not want to offer it, or employees did not use it anymore – now we all go through our New Work Bootcamp and are learning the advantages and disadvantages. This will not merely disappear with the end of the pandemic.*Stern, January 2019 

Where will there be changes?

1. Remote Work: Meetings and workshops on the road

Up to now, it was good manners to appear in person at appointments. Trying to join in from home via video had the smack of not taking the matter seriously. Even #Fridaysforfuture didn’t change that – except that some people preferred the train to the plane. 

Now we experience that Chemistry Meetings, voting, pitch presentations, even workshops via video conferencing not only work well but are even more efficient, take less time, protect the environment, and above all cost less money. 

In the future, videoconferencing will be the logical first choice, without any smack. 

2. Remote Learning: Learning from home

The schools are closed, but the lessons have to continue somehow. Schools need to go digital now. E-learning is nothing new; children are already learning playfully on smartphones and tablets. It is particularly new for teachers, who can change their curriculum and the way they teach their class within a very short time. Just as with home offices, children now have to take on more responsibility and organise themselves better, but in return they are given more freedom and flexibility. This could give our education system the necessary impetus to renew itself. 

3. Telehealth: Diagnosis using video chat

Probably everyone knows the unpleasant feeling of sitting in a doctor’s waiting room next to all the supposedly sick people. But it took the corona virus to establish preliminary diagnoses by telephone or video chat. It is fast, efficient and does not endanger anyone in the waiting room or on the way to the doctor.

Video consultation services like Kry, now have their blockbuster moment. The Swedish startup is reacting with solidarity and cunning: until 31 March, they are offering their services free of charge.

ada, the health start-up from Berlin, on the other hand, relies on AI-supported symptom analysis. Patients can enter their symptoms in dialogue with a chatbot and receive a preliminary diagnosis (picture below), including probability and recommendations for action. In turn, ada supports physicians, in the same way, to make better diagnoses in less time. In this way, the app learns continuously. Doctors benefit from the knowledge of all other doctors, and patients receive better symptom analyses. 

4. Drone Delivery: Have medication delivered without infecting others.

Many people are currently in self-isolation as a precautionary measure and want to be tested for the corona virus.

Drones could deliver the necessary tests to these people without leaving the house or coming into contact with other people. In the future, it will be possible to treat people in this way entirely without contact. Also, the chance that diseases will spread less quickly will increase.

5. Digital Inclusion: Enabling older people to participate in social life

Older people who live alone have a particularly difficult time these days. They are the target group that we have to protect most from the coronavirus. But social connections are especially important for them. Visiting family and friends is the only highlight for many.

As digital natives, we have quickly found workarounds. At Mutabor, we have simply moved our cocktail hour, which takes place every Friday evening, to Microsoft teams and arrange to meet with colleagues for breakfast or lunch.

A tablet with Skype, Teams, Zoom or Twitch can now help older people in particular not to become lonely and continue to participate in social life.

6. The Share Economy: Neighbourhood help

We are currently experiencing a wave of solidarity. To help each other, neighborhoods are organizing, local Facebook groups are being founded and web services are being launched. Nice examples are the #Coronahilfe Hamburg, https://wirhelfen.eu, to help each other.

nebenan.de now has its moment in the limelight. The app and website provide the entire infrastructure, including a map, messages and news, to organize, inform and help each other locally.

Initiated by Pro Senectute and the Swiss supermarket Migros, the social shopping platform AMIGOS, which was discontinued at the end of 2019, was reactivated to help people who cannot shop independently. It’s great that the concept gets a second chance right now.

7. Digital Administrative Services: Government in the cloud

What do we actually do when our authorities are all in home offices? The Online Access Act (OZG) obliges the federal and state governments to digitalise their administrative services by 2022 at the latest. I hope that the current crisis will not be a reason to rush the timetable, but will provide motivation to finish earlier.

8. Airbnb Hospitals: hotels as hospitals

Hospitals are not a place where you want to spend several nights. Hotels are not equipped for medical care. If you combine the two, you have a »holiday that makes you healthy.« The idea is not new, many beauty resorts already operate this way. At an acceptable price, this concept could now be very popular and help one or the other hotel through the crisis.

9. Post Pandemic Fashion: Face Masks als Fashion Item

Only in January, the Grammy Look of Billie Eilish went viral with a Gucci face mask. That the new Slovak government was sworn in with a face mask was also a story for many media. Especially the face mask of president Zuzana Caputova, which matches her dress.

In Asia face masks have long since become a permanent feature of street fashion. Many of them are customs that only play with the look and image of brands. Off-White, Supreme and A Bathing Ape on the other hand have been offering face masks in their collections for years.

At the latest, when the first wave of infection is over, rules for public life are needed. It will also be good manners to wear a face mask, e.g., to protect the environment from a cold. Face masks will find a place in our everyday life. And because it is visible for everyone, a market for fashionable face masks will develop.

10. Contactless Authentication: Authenticate and pay contactless

Contactless payment is now possible, almost everywhere. However, you still have to enter the pin here and there or touch a pen to sign. I would be happy if I could pay at cash registers and vending machines just as easily as I can unlock my iPhone right now.

In the future, we will also experience authentication via face or iris scan in public space and be much more open to it.

11. e-Commerce: Try it on online

Anyone who has not yet shopped online will discover it for themselves now by the latest. When shopping for clothes online, the biggest problem is that you can’t try anything on. Augmented Reality can solve this problem. Nike has developed the feature Nike Fit for its shopping app. Using AR and AI technology, the optimal shoe size is determined via the camera in the smartphone camera. 

12. Digital Gym: Treat back pain professionally from home

After only a few days in the home office, you miss the ergonomic office chair. Sports and exercises that improve the back and posture are very important in the long run. Trainers have the task of motivating and making sure that exercises are carried out correctly.

The health app Kaia offers a movement coach who monitors posture using the smartphone camera and AR and helps to perform exercises correctly.

13. Social VR: Virtual participation in live events

Trade fairs and conferences were the first to be massively affected by the coronavirus. The industry has been in a state of flux for years, as Nina Wiemer described in her article Form Follows Followers as early as 2019. In recent years, trade fair stands have already been transformed into sets on which brands, influencers but also normal visitors produce content for social media channels – always with the aim of bringing the experience closer to as many people as possible.

Trade fairs can now learn and profit from VR start-ups.

NextVR is a platform on which you can take part in sports, music and other entertainment events live from your sofa. You can even talk to your virtual seat neighbor, mute him if necessary and change seats at any time.

The total dance theatre has shown how an opera can be interpreted with modern VR technology.

Virtual worlds have always been places where brands have presented themselves. Even in the first car racing games, there were advertising boards. Fortnite has reached people far beyond the boundaries of multiplayer games with a Star Wars trailer hidden exclusively in the game. With Facebook horizon, an open VR world will be opened this year, where people can meet, talk and play, but above all, they will be able to create their own world.

Of course much of the classic live experience is lost: Arrival, hotel check-in, the drink at the bar. On the other hand, in virtual worlds there are no limits to staging.

Future product presentations, events and press conferences will use virtual worlds to inspire people all over the world with impressive live experiences.

Die physische Live Experience wird trotzdem bleiben, wie Nina Wiemer, ECD bei MUTABOR, vorhersagt:

»Social distancing is a major challenge in the fight against the coronavirus. We can do without many things these days, but we especially miss our social contacts. Therefore, I strongly believe that there will be a renaissance of the live experience. The events will become more and more popular, as companies and customers will feel the need to catch up. But the face will change: The digital portion will increase and cover the informative portion. We will devote ourselves all the more to the shared experience.«

14. Virtual Architecture: Designing spaces that are not built

The further we advance into virtual worlds, the more often we will need architects for complete buildings and spaces that will never be physically built.

An inspiring example is the work of André Nakonz, which I discovered here on LinkedIn only a few days ago in my stream. An inspiring example is the work of André Nakonz, which I discovered here on LinkedIn only a few days ago in my stream.

15. Tourism & VR: Virtual holidays

In case holidays are cancelled this year, we need a plan B too. After all, not everyone lives in a fancy apartment in an old building with a view of the park. Just climb up a mountain from the sofa, lie on the beach in the Maldives or travel to a completely different age – so far this has been a topic for nerds. But that could change quickly once we have spent a few weeks in our apartments and don’t even dare to believe in holiday planning.

Everest VR and Inside Tumucumaque are already beautiful examples. 

16. Autonomus Vehicles: Contactless from A to B.

Currently, driving a taxi or over a road always involves the uncertainty of whether the person driving the car might be infected. Autonomous vehicles can offer security here because they do not need a driver who can act as a super spreader. In an autonomous vehicle, I travel alone and with the appropriate materials. The vehicle could disinfect itself automatically after each journey.

The LOCI Podcar from Daniel Buening, Co-Founder NOWLAB, BigRep is a fully 3D printed autonomous vehicle for the last mile. The concept car also solves the problem of production.

The same applies to delivery services that bring food or other goods home. The delivery robot of Starship Technologies is already being tested by Hermes and Dominos. We will surely see them more often in the future.

17. 3D printing: Local production

Large-Scale 3D Printer from BigRep

The outsourcing of production facilities to other countries will be discussed in a completely new way. We are currently feeling our limitations. In the future, we must be able to produce critical goods independently. 3D printing can provide an answer here. Flexible production lines would enable us to produce parts for protective masks today, respirators tomorrow and spare parts for machines with supply bottlenecks the day after tomorrow. Perhaps Adidas will also give its Speedfactory a second chance. 

There is already a first successful example: an Italian hospital ran out of respiratory valves and the official supplier was unable to deliver at short notice. The local start-up Isinnova was able produce the vital parts in less than 6 hours thanks to 3D printing.


18. Virtual Dating: Digital coffee break

But what we all feel the most: we miss our friends and colleagues. So far, eating together in front of the webcam has been a rather bizarre trend from Asia. In less than two weeks, it has now become an integral part of our everyday lives.

It is entertaining to see that the nerds are suddenly the cool kids. The otherwise so often rather quiet colleagues are suddenly the more witty ones in the chat, with the better comments and the funniest memes.

Ready or not – social distancing will change us forever.

Despite all the concern about the current situation, it is clear to everyone that the time has come for countless innovations because the coronavirus and, in particular, social distancing ensures that a vast majority of the population has a great need for new solutions. 

Many domains are undergoing lasting changes. However, the change creates new potential, new companies, new jobs and entirely new professions.

I’m going to change! 💪