The New Normal: Trends brought to us by Sars-Cov2 and COVID-19

Gustavo Grodnitzky Employee Engagement, Socioeconomics

As you can imagine, I’ve spent the last month helping clients adapt to a dynamic, ever-changing crisis that was brought to us courtesy of the Novel Coronavirus, Sars-Cov2. It’s now time to start looking at the trends that will help us all continue to adapt as we settle into this ‘new normal.’

As with any crisis or critical, societal event, a cultural shift is a natural consequence. Those who identify the subsequent cultural shifts first are optimally primed to adapt to the ‘new normal’ due to the benefit of foresight and time.

Here, we will discuss two kinds of trends: existing trends accelerated by the crisis and trends that are new but likely to remain-in-place.

‘Old’/Existing Trends Accelerated by the Crisis:

  1. Working from Home:  U.S. employers have had access to data since the 1970s that prove that when people are allowed to work from home, performance goes up 10% – 15%, with two important caveats: employees must have the right metrics and rewards in place. In this HBR article from 2014, data that existed in the U.S. for 40+ years was corroborated by a work-from-home study done in China. Due to the Coronavirus crisis, all-but-essential employees in a manufacturing environment are working from home. And, as expected, they are proving to be just as productive – or more productive – in their home environments. It will be difficult for businesses to make a rational argument as to why those employees should return to a centralized working location if productivity may decrease.
  2. Technology for Social Connection: I wish I could count the number of times I’ve heard a Baby Boomer derisively talking about his/her Millennial child who had a “dance party” on a Friday night using Skype or spent the night video-chatting using FaceTime or WhatsApp. They were simply mystified by the behavior, asking, “Why don’t they just get together in person?!?” Today, we see almost everyone having “virtual happy hours” and “watching movies” while #alonetogether. Whatever resistance to using technology for social connection existed in older generations has now rapidly evaporated.
  3. Remote Hiring Based on Technical Competence: If you think back to a-month-ago, we were all in a war for talent. There was a small-but-present trend of hiring people outside of a company’s geographic area, if a particular skillset could not be found. As some companies are now shrinking, there are some very talented people back in the job market who may not be in your specific geographical area. Given the acceleration of working from home, this trend of hiring remotely from geographically-disparate areas is only likely to accelerate.

New Trends Likely to Remain in Place:

  1. Reduction in Office Space: Given that more people will be working from home, many companies – from SMBs to large corporations – are looking at the expense of leasing office space and asking themselves, “Why?” With more people working from home there will simply be less need for offices with a large footprint. The real estate and utility cost savings to be realized by this reduction is another potentially huge benefit.
  2. Healthcare Delivery: Prior to this pandemic, Medicare and other insurers were not reimbursing physician’s offices for telehealth (video conference doctor appointments). But now, that horse has left the barn! Everyone is reimbursing physicians to see patients via video conference. Unless you need a specific procedure, why would anyone go to a physician’s office if they can be diagnosed using video conference without the added risk of exposure to a bacteria or virus carried by another patient in the waiting room?
  3. Reduced Airline Travel: TSA data shows us that the number of travelers in the U.S. has declined by 96% in a matter of weeks.

In this article, Ed Bastian, CEO of Delta Airlines, predicts a long, slow recovery for the airline industry. His timeframe: three years. Given the relative ease-of-use of technology to get work done efficiently; the cost savings to be realized in Travel & Expenses; the continued apprehension for travelers until adequate testing, isolation, and contact tracing, or a vaccine is available; and, the fact that countries like Spain and Italy – who rely heavily on tourism to support their economies – are considering a ban on all foreign tourists until 2021; business and personal travel are likely to be reduced for some time.

The global pandemic has both accelerated trends that were present (but not prevalent) while creating entirely new trends. These are the trends I see becoming the ‘new normal.’ Businesses that can identify these and other trends early on will be the ones that have the best chance of successfully adapting. Those that cannot or do not, will go the way of the dodo bird.

I’d love to hear your questions and comments. If you would like to discuss this further, just drop me a note.

Keep cultivating your culture!