We’re starting to hear talk from Federal and state leaders about cautiously reopening the economy. In these conversations, you are hearing the idea that we will return to normalcy.
Before you sigh and gaze longingly in the rear-view mirror, be prepared that some experts believe our lives, our psyches, and the normal way that business is conducted in America and around the world will be permanently changed by the COVID-19 global pandemic.
Will we ever go back to the way we were before the virus struck?
One obvious change is a new acceptance for working remotely. Companies having purchased equipment that allows their staff to work from home. Many businesses, large and small, are overcoming their reluctance to allow their staff to work, at least part of the time, without having to make the commute into the office. I never would have thought that we could continue to serve our clients as well as we do with half our team working from home, but there we are!
This could have a ripple effect in other areas. If staff can work from anywhere, companies might consider downsizing their physical offices and instead provide shared desks that anyone who comes into the office can use. Employees who escape brutal commutes might be more productive while enjoying more flexible hours. On the downside, commercial real estate owners would suffer lost rental income and demand for commercial space would decline.
The importance of sick leave and health insurance (or greater access to effective healthcare) is something people who survived the pandemic are not likely to forget. There could be a move to more universal healthcare, which would impact middlemen like pharmacies and insurers.
People who are suddenly forced to work from homes that have young children (who are, of course, no longer trekking off to school) are beginning to realize the extraordinary value of our schoolteachers and caregivers. Men in the workforce, now trying to concentrate while children are running around the kitchen table, are discovering a new appreciation for the exhausting work put in daily by stay-at-home mothers. A bright change: those same full-time workers may be forming new bonds with children that they formerly saw only in the morning and in the evening before bedtime.
Will education ever get back to the “normal” that we knew a few months ago? K-12 schools are discovering that kids can be educated remotely. Colleges are discovering the same lessons as corporations: that sitting in a lecture hall is not necessary when the same lesson can be delivered online. How long before the very best and most charismatic professors in every field, wherever they happen to be, will record their best lectures, accelerating the trend toward online learning without leaving auditory learners behind?
Another major change: people have become more comfortable using Zoom and Google Hangout for remote meetings. When we’re once again free to move outside our homes, will people be as motivated to get on a plane to make sales calls, visit headquarters or otherwise physically travel to remote locations when they can save time and money by having a virtual meeting? Companies might set new policies banning non-essential travel and the post-COVID-19 definition might be strict.
The result of increased virtual meetings? Potential savings of time and money for companies, declining revenues for airlines, rental car companies and hotels, and fewer opportunities to catch disease in crowded airports and even more crowded airplanes.
With the malls closed, people have moved en masse to online shopping. Will they go back to patronizing stores that require a drive? Or, will they elect to avoid the frustrating search for parking? Instead of going to a restaurant, will they opt for takeout and eat in the comfort of their homes? Online grocery shopping has become more popular during the lockdown. Will the trend become a part of our lives going forward?
A catastrophe on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic can also change the psyche in interesting ways. Think of people who survived the Great Depression and the rationing during World War II. The most telling remnant of those times is people living frugally for the rest of their days—including through a long period of abundance. At the very least, people will have an enhanced appreciation of things we once took for granted, like being able to move around freely without gloves and a mask and knowing that toilet paper will be on the grocery store shelves when we need it (who knew that could be so exciting?!).
Meanwhile, millions of people thought putting money away for a rainy day was just a cute saying. Now, through hard experience, they realize now how important it is to have cash on hand for emergencies.
Finally, tragically, friends, neighbors, relatives and people we love are dying from this virus. This must be how previous generations felt during wars, and from this vantage point, it’s hard to tell how high the human cost of this pandemic will be in comparison. As we mourn, we also may feel a renewed gratitude for our own lives and the people we love and be less likely to take our (and their) unique, precious mortal existence for granted in the future.
Everywhere, we see people stepping up with courage and responsibility. Vowing to take the fight to the virus until it is exterminated. Determined not to surrender their lives or the lives of their loved ones. People are finding inspiring new ways to connect and support each other in adversity. It is my hope and prayer that we will come out of this with a new sense of community—all of us fellow survivors of the pandemic—and we may find new energy toward making our corner of the world a kinder, more thoughful, and engaging place to live.
The virus isn’t over, but the changes it has wrought have just begun.