Historically, new breakthrough technologies have tended to emerge every 100-150 years: the steam engine in the 18th century, electricity in the 19th century, and the internet in the 20th century. At the start of the 21st century, 500 million people owned a personal computer with a crippling internet connection.
Today, 5 billion people have a smartphone in their pocket, each more powerful than the average satellite in space. We are in the middle of a global transformation where politics, society and the economy advance from analog to digital. It is a tectonic shift in business, and a redistribution of wealth, that we have not seen since the industrial revolution. The real tipping point however, during which this transformation reaches mass adoption, fundamentally changing society, politics and the economy, has not yet happened.
Software has eaten the world but has it really?
The internet of information has been in particular a tremendous success. The advent of the internet and the mobile have connected and empowered billions of people by providing access to the world’s knowledge and information as well as a range of associated services. By doing so, the internet has changed almost every aspect of our lives. Nearly everything became available on the tap of a finger.
Despite this progress, and the apparent benefits to individuals, organisations and society at large, the mass adoption of these technologies to enable organizations to harness the power of digitalisation to increase productivity, efficiency and reduce costs has been limited. Ecommerce as an example, which many take as the prime example for the progress of digitalisation, has only had a 11.2% revenue share of the total retail market in the US at the end of 2019. And still in 2020 pre-Covid-19, billions of employees worked from physical offices in much the same way as they did 20 or 100 years ago.
Covid-19 as the tipping point - A once in a lifetime opportunity
Whereas much of the world is understandably preoccupied with the negative consequences and risks associated with volatile financial markets and the shock to the economy induced by Covid-19, we see a once in a lifetime opportunity. The world will be a different place post-Covid-19. The consequences of the virus, the associated responses by governments and businesses as well as the behavioural changes of the population are right now fundamentally altering society, politics and the economy. This is the tipping point for the mass adoption of technology and digitalisation.
The stringent measures implemented to stop coronavirus from spreading have changed everything: how we work, socialize, exercise, shop, manage our health, educate our kids and take care of family members. Most people long for their pre-Covid-19 lifestyles but many have not yet realised, life will not go back to normal after a few weeks, or even a few months. Social distancing measures are here to stay and they are radically reshaping the way we live, in some ways forever.
Scientists and politicians across the world agree that every country needs to “flatten the curve” by imposing strict social distancing measures in order to avoid the health care systems to collapse and cause potentially millions of deaths. As a consequence, the pandemic will last until herd immunity is achieved (assuming immunity lasts for years, which has not been proven yet) or a vaccine is developed (12-18 months). Accordingly, we expect a second wave (summer/autumn) and a third wave (winter) of Covid-19 outbreaks across the world, leading countries to iterate between tightening and loosening of social distancing measures for many months to come (see Imperial College study for more information on the topic).
The result is clear: Everything will go digital. This is the tipping point where the business world will radically change by adopting the available technologies to go fully digital. Most companies will have a large part or the entire staff working remotely from home, not just now but for the years to come. Video conferencing and working with people you have never met will be the norm. There will be no more commuting, there will be no more physical meetings and there will be no more business travel. And this is just the start. All other aspects of life are about to be transformed as well.
Numbrs is pioneering the first fully virtual organisation
At the beginning of March, in anticipation of the worsening of the Covid-19 situation, we were one of the first companies globally to implement a mandatory home office policy for every employee. At that time, many were convinced that the decision was unnecessary and, if at all, premature. As the fast evolving situation has illustrated, it was exactly the right decision at the right time.
With this in mind, in anticipation of further waves of Covid-19 outbreaks and the associated fundamental changes in society, business and politics that are about to materialise, we have decided to go fully remote with Numbrs and pioneer the introduction of the first full virtual organisation at scale.
A virtual organisation is defined as “a new organizational form which manifests itself as a [...] permanent collection of geographically dispersed individuals, groups, organizational units [...] belonging [...] to the same organization -- or entire organizations that depend on electronic links in order to complete the production process”(1). The term “virtual” in this context refers to "not physically existing as such but made by software to appear to do so"(2).
In other words, from today onwards, Numbrs will have and keep its entire personnel working remotely for an infinite time period by implementing a long-term mandatory home office. We will adjust all our processes to enable our entire organisation to adapt to the new reality we are living in and harness technology to substantially increase the efficiency and productivity through fully digital workflows. By doing so, we turn our traditional company into the first fully virtual organisation at scale.
We have not taken this decision lightly, and it was done only after an extensive assessment by our management and board of directors. We have taken this decision not just to increase the efficiency and productivity of our organisation but rather because we want to lead by example and enable our employees to live a better and healthier life while making a positive impact on our environment. The introduction of the virtual organisation will substantially reduce the carbon footprint of our company by removing commuting, travel and office maintenance requirements. It will at the same time increase the wellbeing and health of our employees by significantly decreasing the risk of Covid-19 infections and increasing quality of life by spending more time with their families.