What will the new normal look like? European startups and VCs gave us their opinion

Last week we released a survey to ask the European startup and venture capital scene what they expect the ‘new normal’ to look like over the next 6-18 months. This small-scale research forms part of this week’s deep dive into what the startup community can expect in the coming period, alongside our daily interviews with sector-leaders. 

It’s becoming clear that as restrictions open up, many aspects of both personal and business life will be left with a COVID-shaped scar. Whether this means following rules on wearing masks and gloves in public areas, or only being able to gather a certain number of people at once for events, these new sets of practices could continue for some time.

Additionally, there may be new ways of working brought about by pure innovation. Far from ‘enforced’ measures, like temperature checks at airports or maintaining a wider personal distance, these new habits will have been brought about by innovators being forced into a tight spot and simply finding a better way of doing things. These new practices will be the only ‘golden lining’ of the pandemic, and will be the progress stories that we carry into our future.

So with all this in mind, here are the results of our readers survey. We see this data as a short snapshot of our community’s opinions in June 2020, frozen in time and ready for us to reflect back on retrospectively in 6 months. 

Is remote work really here to stay?

The continuation of both home working and co-working is somewhat contested online, with some companies itching to get back to face-to-face business, and others having discovered successful new routines of flexible, home-based working. 

So we put it to you, the startup community. We asked whether you expect more than 25% of the working population to continue working remotely. The response was very clear: 83% said ‘Yes’. Interestingly, Station F, Europe’s biggest startup hub, also recently found that 47% of companies plan to increase remote working. If you’re interested in reading more insights on this topic, we just interviewed the CEO of Happeo, a fast-growing internal communications startup, about what they’re seeing with their business customers. 

Coworkings uncertain

Opinion on the future of coworking spaces was less transparent, with an almost 50/50 split over whether coworkings will be more, or less, popular than before.

Coworkings are more than just a place to work – they are often a tight-knit community where members can grab a beer, meet new partners, and learn from each other in workshops and talks. COVID-responsive measures like a wider desk distribution and workplace sanitisation can mediate the ‘work’ aspect, but it’s yet to become clear how the social side can be navigated.

To dive into this topic further, this week we did an in-depth interview with Davide Dattoli, CEO of Talent Garden coworking spaces (a network of 26 campuses spread across 8 European countries). Davide told us he believes that coworkings are here to stay, due to the continued trust people put in the benefits, such as unexpectedly ‘bumping into’ new connections that widen our network, and shared experiences with others, that you just can’t get from homeworking. 

Optimism and motivation, despite low job security

Approximately 57% of respondents stated that they are uncertain about their job security in the next 6 -18 months. Despite this, only 25% of feel that the crisis has negatively affected their happiness and motivation at work, indicating that despite a tough situation, some of those who might lose their jobs are managing to stay upbeat. 

It seems that the pandemic has actually had a positive business effect for some startups. Around 37% say that the current crisis does not seem to affect their level of happiness and motivation at work at all, and 54% feel optimistic about the new normal and its impact on their life/work during the next 6-18 months. Similarly, Station F’s survey found that 78% of startups are planning to hire before the end of the year.

A boom in local travel

There is growing optimism online around the demand for travel services soon returning to a pre-COVID level, or even expanding further in new ways. 

In our survey, around 25% of respondents are planning to travel internationally for a summer holiday this year, with a further 43% planning to travel locally/regionally. This echoes the ‘glocal’, local and rural travel trends that we spoke about with founder and CEO of Culture Trip Dr Kris Naudts, and co-founder and CEO of Stasher (a luggage storage startup) Jacob Wedderburn Day. To hear more about business travel, keep an eye open for our interview this week with Travel Perk’s CEO Avi Meir, a traveltech optimist.

Offline events in 2021

When looking at business travel and big international startup conferences, there is a consensus that they will happen offline again in 2021. A weighty 51% of respondents are expecting big events to take place at the beginning of next year (Q1-Q2 2021), with a further 34% seeing them happening in autumn/winter next year (Q3-Q4 2021). Only 9% see these events coming back this year, and less than 6% put them way ahead in 2022. 

Funding needs 6-12 months

Where funding is concerned, 66% believe it will take at least another 6 -12 months to return to a funding landscape equal to that of 2019. At EU-Startups we’ve seen a renewed flow of funding news, but it’s worth remembering that as funding rounds usually take weeks or months to close, these operations could likely have been started before the crisis hit. Similarly, Station F’s survey found that 40% of startups had been affected by a delay in funding. In any case, as our ‘Coronavirus vs. startups’ article discusses, it’s worth using this time to reflect on your own sustainable business model instead.

Sectors to watch

Unsurprisingly, the vote on which sectors are expected to grow faster included the usual suspects: e-commerce (91%), home delivery (74%), health/medtech (60%), foodtech (43%), AI (43%) and gaming (40%) (note: multiple votings possible). We have already covered the online supermarket delivery and food delivery box startups that are zooming ahead this year. Stay tuned for our upcoming interview with Mindful Chef’s cofounder Giles Humphries this week, to dive further into the topic of foodtech, deliveries and e-commerce.

Overall, the aspects that have most enlightened us through this survey were the levels of optimism, motivation and happiness of respondents, despite testing times. We look forward to repeating a similar survey in 6 months, to measure our collective progress.

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