George Gottl lives in works in the Netherlands, where the recommendations to work from home and practice social distancing were recently extended to 22 May. As the chief creative officer and co-founder of Amsterdam-based multidisciplinary design agency UXUS – which specializes in developing consumer experiences for retail and hospitality – Gottl has found himself busier (and more productive) than ever before during the COVID-19 crisis, his team included.

‘This comes down to a number of different factors,’ he explains, ‘but notably, now, our commute time is absorbed into our productivity time, and although we are encourage our teams to work only within office hours, many of our work days inevitably bleed into personal time.’ Normally a frequent traveller, Gottl has become accustomed to working remotely and communicating virtually, and he’s been impressed by how quickly his colleagues have adapted. This, undoubtedly, is a situation many professionals are finding themselves in now, raising the question: can we – and should we – really go back to ‘normal’? Certainly not in the case of UXUS, who will need to help clients completely rethink what actually constitutes as a compelling experience to the post-COVID consumer.

We talk to Gottl about ‘new’ modes of working, the future of retail and hospitality post-pandemic, and why, to survive as a business, it’s crucial to embrace the unknown, overcoming mediocrity in the meanwhile.

George Gottl, chief creative officer and co-founder of UXUS.

How are you and your clients responding to the situation?

GEORGE GOTTL: What is incredibly different about the coronavirus is that it is a global crisis, so we are all in it together. In a way, that helps because we understand and accommodate for each other’s personal and business challenges no matter where we are based. A majority of UXUS clients are multinational or international companies. Therefore, we’ve been practicing the ‘new normal’ of virtual meetings versus face-to-face meetings since UXUS’ inception. We are used to holding these conversations across multiple different territories – that is how we operate as a business with our clients, so we have noticed little to no change in the way we work. Most of our projects are on track and have been progressing as normal – the crisis has not had a major impact on the delivery of our work. 

What impact do you believe the current crisis will have on the future of the retail and hospitality sectors?

We have not yet begun to feel the full affect – the future of sectors will be shaped depending on the economic outcome of this crisis. As the pandemic continues, and the economic impact becomes more significant, we will start to feel the decline. However, rather than concern for the industry this year, we are waiting to see how next year will play out, once we are firmly on the other side. It is hard to prophesize because we don’t yet understand the severity of the problem, but we do know that the consequences of the current crisis will likely change the world as we know it.  

 

UXUS devised London's first L'Occitane flagship, offering a sensorial exploration through the brand world of the skincare and beauty label. Photos: Michael Franke

We may be experiencing trauma, but this trauma will stimulate innovation

The retail sector is going to face unparalleled challenges. To succeed, businesses will have to make real changes: brands will have to understand how the consumers of the future – and of the now – want to shop. Those superfluous companies who have been hanging on and doing ‘okay’ will not survive this. There will be a complete rejuvenation of the retail landscape, and only brands who are incredibly innovative will make it. And hospitality is suffering horribly now, but after the quarantine is lifted, people who have been cooped up inside for weeks on end will flock to theatres, restaurants and bars and venture abroad to reconnect, socialize and travel. The industry will see a boom in spending and activity and will return to business much faster than others.

Despite all of this, it is important we do not view the future as being entirely bleak. Yes, some brands will not survive the next 12 months, and we could see a sharp increase in unemployment, but new companies, new opportunities and new jobs will be born from this. We may be experiencing trauma, but this trauma will stimulate innovation.

The Shimano Experience Center in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, creates an 'inspiring lifestyle' centred on Shimano's technical cycling products.

Are there any lessons from the current situation that you would take into account for future projects of this nature?

When we do eventually come up for air, businesses that have been forced into working in this entirely new way will recognize the benefits new systems can provide, from being able to recruit top talent from different cities and even countries, to new forms of creative collaboration.

Business who merely offer mediocre services will have nowhere to hide at a time when individuals become careful about how and where they spend their money

Competition in future projects will be incredibly strong going forward, because of the economic pressure businesses are under. Businesses who merely offer mediocre services will not make the cut – they will have nowhere to hide at a time when individuals become careful about how and where they spend their money.  Unless companies can offer truly innovative and exceptional solutions, they will not be given the opportunity to compete for projects, no matter how big or small. Mediocrity will not win.

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