8 minute read 20 Aug 2020
Groups of children on playground

13 insights to reframe your future beyond COVID-19

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

8 minute read 20 Aug 2020
Related topics COVID-19

The best of our insights on the working world that might lie beyond the pandemic and how to transform to navigate it.

In brief
  • COVID-19 has been a catalyst for accelerated change – some of it clear to see already, some less so. Companies should begin planning now for low-probability but high-impact trends and scenarios by using a future-back approach.
  • Location strategy and real estate are obvious areas of potential change, but business needs to rethink the nature of work itself to identify what should go on as before and what can be reimagined to deliver long term value for all stakeholders.
  • Consumer behavior will shift permanently to favor direct-to-consumer models, authentic brand positioning and reward a recognition of increasingly blurred distinction between work and homelife.

The world beyond COVID-19 is going to be very different. Old assumptions about working processes in offices no longer hold – indeed, the office itself may become obsolete as long-promised mobile working practices become the new reality. Businesses – even industries – that have been particularly heavily hit may never recover. Some may find themselves radically reshaped. Others still might seize new opportunities opened up by new market dynamics and configurations. 

Looking far ahead after a period of unprecedented change can be challenging, but it’s essential for any organization anticipating a long-term future in a post-COVID world to understand the possibilities that lie beyond. The future of the working world may look very different in the aftermath of the crisis, or it may look similar to what many have been anticipating – just a lot closer.

Either way, this time of disruption is also a time of opportunity. By looking ahead through a new, transformative lens, your organization can reframe its future. Here, we collect some of our best thinking around what comes after the pandemic, and what your business needs to know to find a place in this brave new world.

(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 1

Transformation realized

Adapting to the post-COVID-19 world.

1. Analyze the long-term impact

Kicking things off is our general-purpose guide to what to expect from the post-COVID-19 world. We explore four major areas of life and analyze the impact from top to bottom: from what Coronavirus means for the international system that once provided global order, to individual societies and economies, to work and businesses, and finally to individual behaviors and household structures. Leaders need to know how navigate all this, and this guide helps point the way. Read more: Beyond COVID-19: Will you define the new normal or watch it unfold?

2. Then see that as part of the bigger picture

Supplementing the long view is EY’s megatrends report, looking at the impacts of the pandemic on the dynamics of global growth. As well as a reset S-curve, we can also see more positive long-term futures, including new attitudes to technology, working conditions, international relations, poverty and inequality, and the climate, among other areas. We outline five key steps to building strategies fit for this post-pandemic future. Read more: Are you reframing your future or is the future reframing you?

3. Rethink your location strategy

Before COVID-19, the central business districts in the world’s 21 most important business cities housed nearly 4.5 million workers over 100 million square meters, and headquartered 20% of the global fortune 500. Now they are all being threatened. In this article, we look at the consequences of this shift, from talent attraction and retention, to sustainability and resilience, to creating more inclusive city centers – for businesses and for residents. Read more: Is this the end of the central business district?

4. Rethink your real estate

US corporate real estate survey


of real estate executives foresee a shortfall in their space requirements.

It may well turn out that the most visible lasting impacts of the pandemic will be the emptied tower blocks and offices of business districts, as more and more companies wake up to the new economic and operational norm of home working. And this has a big impact for the real estate industry: 53% of real estate executives foresee a shortfall in their space requirements. In this article, we dive deeper into the implications of this shift. Read more: COVID-19: Why this means farewell to a golden age of real estate

5. Digitize cash

Another long-term change being accelerated by COVID-19 is the transition from hard cash to digital payments, as more and more people do more and more of their shopping – even for essentials like groceries – online. In the UK alone, cash transactions dropped 50% in the first few weeks of the outbreak. For payments provision companies, all this means a radically redrawn business landscape. Read more: How COVID-19 is reshaping retail payments in Europe

(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 2

Work reimagined

A new working world.

6. Rethink work

The new era of normal should not just be business as usual – it can and should be business as better. In this article, we introduced our own methodology for creating better ways of working – the EY Lens for Better – and its five key focus areas: health, connectivity, relationships, ingenuity and accountability. It’s designed to help organizations determine what parts of their operations can go on as before, and which need reimagining in the post-pandemic world. Read more: Will “normal” be business as usual or better?

7. Identify new consumer preferences

EY Future Consumer Index


increase in the average online transaction value year on year.

The rise of lockdowns turned direct to consumer (D2C) selling from an option to a necessity overnight, with average online transaction values rising 74% year on year, and the EY Future Consumer Index finding a marked increase in preferences for e-commerce. We developed our D2C business assessment framework to help businesses decide where to play as they look ahead to the changed world of the post-pandemic era. Read more: How to accelerate online direct to consumer strategies beyond COVID-19

8. Become a market maker

The ultimate consequence of all these trends is the imperative to transform from a market player or leader to a market maker. Market makers are businesses that can accurately identify opportunities in the post-COVID-19 world for the creation of long-term value, and quickly reinvent their model and operations to seize them. This will require ensuring employee centricity at work, fostering customer intimacy without proximity, and matching scaled innovation with redefined patterns of growth. Read more: How can you transform from market leader to market maker?


(Chapter breaker)

Chapter 3

Reality recast

What the long-term consequences of COVID-19 will be for the world at large.

9. Track shifting social norms

The pandemic has left a mark on the world in intangible ways, like the transformation of human behavior. For example, the enforced domesticity of remote working has meant an unprecedented collision of our home and work lives – pets and babies now semi-regularly crash-in on conference calls. While the impact of this change in behavior may be subtle, it could point the way to a new normal for workplaces – and a new way of thinking that could fundamentally change how we think about people’s roles in society. Read more: Beyond COVID-19: How a crisis shifts cultural and societal behaviors

10. Understand pandemic politics

What might be surprising is that from a geostrategic outlook, COVID-19 may have not so much as altered prevailing trends as accelerated them. Nationalism and regionalism have been bolstered by closed borders, technology accelerates even faster to address operational and medical emergencies, and countries with aging populations face even greater demographic pressures. In this article, we look at these trends in closer detail. Read more: What the COVID-19 crisis means for the geostrategic outlook

11. Pursue sustainability

Although those pictures of dolphins in Venice were fake, our willingness to believe them reflected the hope that lockdown might give ecosystems a break from the strains of human industry. As economies move beyond the crisis, the hope remains. In this article we break down the stats, and look at what eight key regions – China, Greece, Chile, Finland, Japan, Ireland, France and Italy – have begun doing to promote long-term sustainability. Read more: In the wake of a human crisis, do climate goals take a back seat?

12.  Unleash innovation

Moments of crisis, while devastating and disruptive, can often inspire radical new solutions: necessity is, after all, the mother of invention. For instance, synthetic biology (synbio), which takes an engineering approach to cells and genetics, and aims to use genetic engineering tools to perform biological research. The urgency of COVID-19 has opened the door for this cutting-edge technology to demonstrate its value. It’s just one example of a new way of thinking that could radically change the world for the better. Read more: How the COVID-19 outbreak could provide synbio’s breakout moment

13. Reimagine the economy

In June, the World Bank forecast that global GP will shrink by 5.2% in 2020, making the post-pandemic recession far worse than the last financial crisis, which only led to a 1.8% drop in global GDP in 2009. Such a drastic impact offers a rare strategic opportunity for governments, financial institutions and businesses alike to rethink and reshape the future to rebuild economies that are more resilient, productive, equitable, collaborative and sustainable. We identified six key areas to focus on to build a better working world in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis. Read more: Will the road to recovery lead to an economy that’s revived or reimagined?

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COVID-19 promises to leave behind a radically transformed world. Business strategies will need to be fundamentally rethought as the economy and society are reshaped. The organizations most likely to survive and thrive are those that take a step back to reframe their futures. To reimagine their transformation agendas in the light of the catalyst that is the pandemic and its aftermath.

About this article

By EY Global

Ernst & Young Global Ltd.

Related topics COVID-19