The New Social Order
Remember running to the grocery store for a bag of chips? Or dropping your kids off at school in the morning? Do you miss sitting in rush hour and dawdling in morning meetings? What about chats around the coffeemaker and spontaneous lunches with colleagues? Can you conjure up the feeling of crowded elevators and walking in a shopping centre?
The coronavirus pandemic has altered the fabric of our lives and will likely continue to do so for years to come. The question is what the new normal will look like, once the shadow of pandemic no longer looms at our doorsteps.
No one has a crystal ball (or at least, one that gives accurate future predictions). But based on the changes taking place under pandemic conditions, this is our take on what the new normal will look like in the aftermath of COVID-19. One thing is certain: it will be quite different than the world before coronavirus.
The Rise (and Staying Power) of E-Commerce
On the cusp of the coronavirus pandemic, Statista published a projection of global e-commerce salesfrom 2014 to 2023. In 2020, the e-commerce industry was projected to hit $4.206 billion USD in sales, rising to $6.524 billion USD by 2023. That was before COVID-19.
Now, coronavirus has revealed how formerly fragile online businesses have deepened their roots to gain real staying power.
Before the pandemic, online shopping was for those who needed convenience or were trying to find a product that they could not acquire in person. Otherwise, why go to the trouble of getting it shipped when you could run to the store and get it yourself?
Now, with people across the globe confined to their own homes and isolated from any contact with other people–even items that other people have touched–e-commerce has emerged victorious. Beyond e-commerce, any companies trafficking in services that offer digital over in-person interaction will prosper.
A few well-known successes in this category include the original retail giant, Amazon, as well as remote work services like Slack and Zoom and streaming services like Netflix, among others.
Equally victorious are the logistics companies that support these online efforts. After all, if people no longer serve as their own logistics hauler, e-commerce platforms, food delivery services, and others who need to move items from Point A to Point B will need trucks to do it. And because consumer buying habits become entrenched alongside lingering fear, these habits are likely to stick.
The Struggle for Brick and Mortar
On the flipside, brick and mortar companies and others who rely on in-person services will find themselves struggling to catch up.
The very success of e-commerce is contingent on the failings of brick and mortar businesses. These days, when everyone in the world is subject to social distancing and quarantine rules, brick and mortar businesses are realizing their own lack of preparedness.
Stores are not built to account for six feet of distance between all customers. Restaurants are not designed to keep individuals from different households six feet or more apart. Workplace cubicles are a social distancing nightmare.
Unfortunately, coronavirus also exposed dangerous digital divides in all areas of life. Communities with fewer resources may not be able to transition to online-only services. Schools without laptops or online platforms may not be able to provide distance education to students, and those students without internet access at home will be at a greater disadvantage than ever.
Then there are businesses. Those without digital functionality may not be able to keep their workers on a remote basis–assuming they have work to offer once the pandemic is over. Many brick and mortar businesses will simply disappear.
Work-From-Home and Remote-Capable Revolution
Part of the issue is the 180-degree shift from in-person services to remote work.
The work-from-home revolution has been burgeoning for some time. Now, with coronavirus restricting millions of workers to their own homes, working from home is the new normal.
This means a fundamental change in the way that workers go about their day. Commute times that were previously growing (the average American, for example, commutes an average of 27 minutes one way) have shrunk down to the time it takes to stroll out of bed to your laptop.
This will directly affect their schedule. They will no longer have to account for losing time in commute, getting ready, and grabbing everything they need. And because they have to adjust to working from their own homes, workers will learn to accommodate their habits.
For example, they will become better at self-motivating without the presence of a colleague on the other side of the cubicle. They will learn how to allocate tasks. They will learn how to communicate when they cannot pop down the hall to knock on someone’s office door.
Work-from-home tools will also strengthen to reflect changing demand. Mingling previously reserved for in-person meetings will occur online. Task-sharing that used to require project meetings will occur digitally.
This will also be reflected in changing demand for commercial real estate. Workers will continue to demand work-from-home options when the pandemic is over and it will become increasingly difficult (and expensive) for employers to deny that option. Reduced in-person staff translates into smaller offices and a dramatically reduced demand for commercial real estate options.
Plus, jobs that were previously in-person will become remote-capable in order to remain competitive. This may mean redesigning jobs to account for remote work, while in some cases it may mean outsourcing jobs to digital workers in other countries.
The World After COVID-19
The world after COVID-19 will be quite different from the one we lived in before. Our workdays will consist of more time in front of screens than ever. Businesses will change their fundamental structure. And the strongest industries will be flipped on their heads.
Ultimately, the one thing we can rely on after the pandemic is change. The pandemic altered our understanding of how the world works, and our concept of normal will be similarly altered. The question is whether your company is ready to take a leap into the future.
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