At the World’s Watercooler: The Next Normal takes shape

How has the last year changed content sharing on LinkedIn?

February 26, 2021

At the World’s Watercooler: The Next Normal takes shape

It goes without saying that the world is a very, very different place to a year ago. When we analysed the most influential content on LinkedIn at the start of 2020, there was no mention of the coronavirus or the lockdowns that would arrive in its wake. The world’s Watercooler buzzed with conversations about companies’ role in combatting climate change (Microsoft had just announced its intention to be carbon negative by 2030), about accelerating progress towards gender equality (Goldman Sachs had announced it would no longer do IPOs for all-male boards) and about work-life balance and the prospect of a four-day week. Audiences on LinkedIn responded to innovative new technologies, jumped on insight into effective leadership, and watched the growing personal wealth of Tesla founder Elon Musk.

The most striking thing about the most shared content on LinkedIn during January 2021 isn’t the degree to which COVID-19 has eclipsed these content themes – it’s the extent to which it hasn’t. The subjects that made a post influential a year ago are still likely to make it influential today. Audiences still respond to news of breakthrough technologies and innovative start-ups (AI systems that create images or the latest unicorn coming out of Brazil). They are still passionate about work-life balance and better styles of leadership. And they still pay attention to the fortunes of Tesla and Elon Musk. As professionals imagine how a post-pandemic world will take shape, there’s much in what they think about and aspire to that remains the same.

As always, these themes compete for attention with high-profile regional stories. They also play out in the context of a wider-ranging discussion on what the post-pandemic world will look like and how businesses should respond. A report from McKinsey & Company setting out 13 trends that will define, “The Next Normal” was by far the most shared post worldwide in January – and the only piece of content to feature in the top ten in every region. It pulled no punches, arguing that the effects of the pandemic will be enduring – and that businesses need to make long-term adjustments if they are to compete. Its predictions for a post-COVID era include accelerated digital transformation, fundamental shifts in work and business travel, a wave of entrepreneurship and unprecedented investment in a green recovery. The changes it predicts are profound – but judging by the issues that have long motivated professional audiences, many of them will also be welcome.

The Watercooler for Europe:

1. The next normal arrives: Trends that will define 2021—and beyond

From McKinsey & Company

2. DALL·E: Creating Images from Text

From OpenAI

3. Insurers must pay many small firms for Covid lockdown losses

From The BBC

4. Good Leadership Is About Asking Good Questions

From Harvard Business Review

5. 2021 : Edgar Morin espère que les forces "créatives" et "lucides" vont s'imposer face à la crise du Covid-19 même si elles sont "encore très faibles"

From franceinfo

6. The power of quiet leadership

From The BBC and The Open University

7. Des composés du raisin bloquent une enzyme clé du virus de la covid-19

From Vitisphere

8. WhatsApp gives users an ultimatum: Share data with Facebook or stop using the app

From ArsTechnica

9. La Molisana e i formati di pasta fascisti. Storia di un’aggressione incredibile

From Gambero Rosso

10. Bottega Veneta Shutting Down Its Social Media Accounts Might Signal A Trend

From Forbe

Lessons from Europe’s Watercooler:

Of all regions, Europe is the most focused on the long-term impacts of the pandemic. This determination to look forward drove strong sharing for the McKinsey report but also for other posts exploring how the role of business leaders is changing.

Leaders have always assumed that employees look to them for answers – and that their job is therefore to come up with convincing ones. Writing in The Harvard Business Review, former Deloitte executive John Hagel III urged them to reconsider. When everyone knows that the future is uncertain, making bold assertive statements suggests that you are either clueless or untrustworthy. Learning how to ask for insight and expertise is the key to rebuilding authority.

The BBC and The Open University took up a related theme. Their short film argued that traditional ideas of how a leader should behave favour extroverts, whereas the current situation would benefit from more introverts in senior roles. Their quieter style of leadership enables them to absorb insight and gives employees the space they need to thrive

Debates around the roles and responsibilities of social media accounted for three of the ten most shared posts, including concerns about a new privacy policy at WhatsApp and a passionate post from an Italian cookery column warning of the dangers of cancel culture and online bullying of brands. However, the digital technology driving the greatest interest came in the form of DALL-E, a neural network developed by OpenAI that can generate images from the descriptions that users type in. The images that DALL-E has come up with include everything from an armchair shaped like an avocado, to, “an illustration of a baby daikon radish in a tutu walking a dog.” Let’s face it, that’s something you just have to share.

The Watercooler for Latin America:

1. Ford encerra a produção de veículos no Brasil

From G1

2. Ford anuncia fim da produção de veículos no Brasil e fechamento de fábricas

From UOL

3. Espanha equipara licença paternidade e maternidade, e avança na igualdade de gênero

From El Pais

4. The next normal arrives: Trends that will define 2021—and beyond

From McKinsey & Company

5. Novo unicórnio brasileiro: MadeiraMadeira recebe aporte de US$ 190 milhões

From Exame

6. Marcos Lisboa: lições da saída da Ford do Brasil

From Brazil Journal

7. Magalu dobra número de contratados em trainee de negros, após ataques

From Folha De S. Paulo

8. Ford anuncia fim da produção de carros no Brasil e fechamento de três fábricas

From CNN Brazil

9. As profissões em alta em 2021

From Valor Econômico

10. Ford decide fechar três fábricas no Brasil e encerrar toda a produção local

From Exame

Lessons from Latin America’s Watercooler:

Half of the top ten most shared posts in Latin America covered the same story: the decision by Ford to stop manufacturing vehicles in Brazil. This has resulted in the closure of three factories in the country threatening thousands of jobs. The company blamed the decision on the impact of the pandemic, setting off a round of discussion about the lessons other businesses should learn.

More positive news came with the announcement that Brazilian start-up MadeiraMadeira, an ecommerce platform for furniture, has raised $190 million in its latest funding round, which values the company as a whole at over $1 billion. It provides yet more evidence of Brazil’s growing status as a tech innovation hub – something that’s also reflected in the annual analysis of the most in-demand professions in the country. Besides tech, these include healthcare, sales, marketing – and the growing agribusiness sector.

Equality of opportunity is a consistent theme driving content sharing in Latin America. News that Spain is awarding equal paid parental leave of 16 weeks for mothers and fathers was the most shared post of the month besides news of the Ford closures. Attention also focused on an ongoing story that first featured in our October Watercooler analysis. The retailer Magalu had launched an affirmative action leadership programme that was open to black candidates only. In January, Magalu accepted 19 candidates onto the programme, twice as many as originally planned.

The Watercooler for the Middle East and North Africa:

1. Qatar blockade over as UAE, Saudi, Bahrain and Egypt agree to fully restore ties

From Arabian Business Global

2. Ideally situated at the crossroads of the world


3. Emirates Flies High After Massive AWS Migration

From Amazon Web Services

4. The next normal arrives: Trends that will define 2021—and beyond

From McKinsey & Company

5. Saudi Arabia tries to lure multinationals from Dubai

From The Financial Times

6. From 'your brother' Sheikh Mohammed: An open letter to people of the UAE

From Khaleej Times

7. Saudi Arabia and Qatar to open airspace, land and sea borders

From Arab News

8. Saudi Arabia to open borders with Qatar to end bitter Gulf dispute

From The Financial Times

9. UAE secures deal to manufacture Sinopharm vaccine ahead of major inoculation push

From The National

10. End of Qatar blockade will boost the Gulf's jobs market

From Arabian Business Globa

Lessons from Middle East and North Africa’s Watercooler;

As with Latin America, content sharing in the Middle East and North Africa was dominated by a single story. In this case, the restoration of diplomatic ties between Qatar and the four-country alliance of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt that had previously blockaded it. Arabian Business Global, The Financial Times and Arab News agreed that this represents a precious opportunity for the region at a critical moment. Analysts predicted boosts to local economies and job markets but warned that this was just the first step in the careful business of defusing tensions.

Diplomatic progress won’t eliminate all regional competition. The Financial Times highlighted Saudi Arabia and Dubai’s rival ambitions to secure multinational investment and establish the region’s predominant business hub. Much of that investment could be attracted by NEOM, a planned cross-border city in the Tabuk province of Saudi Arabia that promises a new concept in urban living with sustainability at its centre. NEOM has been imagined as ‘The Line’, a city organised on a linear model, with infrastructure buried underground and powered by Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Innovation in the UAE focused more on immediate measures to enable continued growth in a post-pandemic world. Its national airline, Emirates moved its customer-facing systems to the cloud to both reduce costs and enable greater flexibility to meet shifting demand. The news that the UAE will start manufacturing China’s Sinopharm vaccine added to the sense that the post-pandemic world may not be too far away.

The Watercooler for Sub-Saharan Africa:

1. Elon Musk is now the richest person in the world, passing Jeff Bezos


2. The next normal arrives: Trends that will define 2021—and beyond

From McKinsey & Company

3. Olfa Hamdi, nommée PDG de la compagnie nationale TUNISAIR

From Il Boursa

4. Ex-Credit Suisse chief Tidjane Thiam to launch blank cheque vehicle

From The Financial Times

5. Safaricom, NCBA win cashless matatu fares platform contract

From Business Daily

6. Aid spending in Africa must be African-led – it needs a Black Lives Matter reckoning

From The Guardian

7. After months of COVID delays, African free trade bloc launches

From Al Jazeera

8. WhatsApp is forcing users to share personal data with Facebook, and Elon Musk is urging people to switch to Signal, a smaller encrypted messaging app

From Business Insider

9. Africa heralds onset of free-trade pact after years of talks

From fin24

10. Comment diriger quand votre équipe est fatiguée… et vous aussi

From Harvard Business Review France

Lessons from Sub-Saharan Africa’s Watercooler:

The news that South African-born Elon Musk had overtaken Jeff Bezos as the world’s richest person generated widespread sharing in a region that’s always closely followed the Tesla founder’s story.

However, Musk isn’t the only business leader who captures the imagination of audiences. They were also keen to follow the continuing story of Tidjane Thiam, formerly the only black CEO of a major bank, whose treatment in being forced out of Credit Suisse generated a strong reaction in November. Thiam is the latest high-profile finance industry figure to become involved in special purpose acquisition vehicles known as SPACs, which offer an alternative to IPOs for tech firms and other fast-growing companies. Olfa Hamdi, the 35-year-old Silicon Valley entrepreneur newly appointed as CEO of national airline TUNISAIR might well become another name that audiences respond to.

The news that all African countries with the exception of Eritrea have signed a continent-wide free trade agreement generated a cautiously positive response. Despite warnings that much work still needs to be done to reduce tariffs and tackle poor transport links, the agreement promises to turn around recent declines in trade between African countries.

Writing in The Guardian, Dedo Baranshamaje of the Segal Family Foundation and Katie Bunten-Wamaru of the African Visionary Fund struck a similar theme around Africa taking greater control of its economic destiny. They point out that African-led organisations receive only around 5% of funding flowing into the region, with most going to white-led NGOs. Their argument is that empowering local leaders is not only more just. It’s also more effective.