As we plan for how HCM will adapt to a post COVID-19 world, something that has been on my mind a great deal is what life will be like when the current COVID-19 quarantine is lifted. We are starting to hear from our Governors about cautiously reopening the economy. People are starting to talk about returning to our normal way of life, but will we really?
I believe we will find that the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us a great deal and will allow us to make changes in our lives and how business is conducted that we may have never done without this experience. We may never go back to the way we were before the virus attacked.
Many businesses large and small are overcoming their reluctance to allowing their people to work, at least part of the time, from home, thus avoiding the commute into the office.
This will have results in other areas. If staff can work from anywhere, companies will be able to downsize offices, and utilize shared workstations for anyone who comes into the office. Employees who escape brutal commutes might be more productive while enjoying more flexible hours.
The importance of sick leave and health insurance (or greater access to effective healthcare) is something people are not likely to forget.
People with young children who were suddenly forced to work from home (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 labor of love put in daily by stay-at-home moms. Also, those same full-time workers may be forming new bonds with children that they formerly saw only in the evening before bedtime.
Will education ever get back to the “normal” that we knew just a few short months ago? K-12 schools are discovering that kids can be educated remotely. Colleges are discovering the same lessons as corporations: 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? This could substantially reduce the cost of higher education.
Another obvious change is that 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 hopping on a teleconference? Companies might set new policies banning non-essential travel.
The result? 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 they must drive to and then deal with the frustrating search for parking? Instead of going to a crowded and noisy restaurant, people will be more likely to opt for takeout and eat in the comfort of their own homes. Online grocery shopping has become more popular during the lockdown; this time-saving trend will likely become a part of many shoppers’ 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 residue of those times is people living frugally for the rest of their days, right through a long period of abundance and prosperity. 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. Although, I would be willing to bet that we will all have a few extra rolls on the shelf going forward.
Meanwhile, millions of people who thought that HCM type investment strategies which include safety nets, dividend income and setting bond-ladder money aside for a rainy day were just for worrywarts now understand, through hard experience, how important it is to be prepared for all types of emergencies.
As we mourn for those who have been ravaged by this virus, we also should 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, from healthcare workers and first responders to those keeping the shelves stocked in our grocery stores. People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity. Hopefully, we will come out of this with a new sense of community, and we may find new energy toward making our corner of the world more fun, interesting and engaging.
How are you changing? Will you ever feel comfortable again in a crowded bar scene or sitting elbow to elbow with strangers at a sporting event? Will you be more likely to stock up on supplies in case there’s a new unexpected shortage just around the corner? Will you be more frugal now than you were a couple of months ago? The virus isn’t over, but the changes it has wrought have just begun.