As the world opens up, what can we expect?
By Mike Switzer
Most people probably agree that we were caught unprepared when COVID-19 was officially declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Many businesses were familiar with disaster preparedness: hurricanes, tornados, floods, even cybersecurity issues. But not a virus run amuck. Although lengthy almost beyond tolerance, the event has brought changes to doing business that may indeed become permanent.
First and foremost, no business will be caught unawares by a pandemic again (at least not for another 100 years!). And as such, many now have contingencies and protocols in place in their disaster preparedness manuals. Most will have a reservoir of face masks and sanitizer in their supply cabinets, and all employees that can, will know how to work from home. Which brings me to the first trend we see continuing post-pandemic and its effects.
Trends in the workspace
While virtual working has been going on for some time in the software industry, others have discovered that employees can be as much or even more productive working from home. This is already having an effect on the office real-estate market. Economists do expect that many companies will not renew leases and continue with the virtual workplace after the pandemic. But some reports also indicate that companies want additional office space to accommodate the same number of employees while allowing for more space between them to keep them healthier. Also, our state’s top economists are expecting states like South Carolina to be beneficiaries of the virtual work trend because of our lower urban density and cost of living. This, they say, could lead to an influx of corporate relocations and conversion of some of our empty office buildings into apartments and condominiums.
Air quality demands from employees are another new trend. HVAC companies report that existing building owners and new construction contractors are installing higher quality air filtration systems as a response not only to the virus, but to increasing needs for keeping employees healthy.
Trends in technology
If you’ve been to any restaurants during the pandemic, you’ve noticed another trend that looks like it’s here to stay: QR code menus. Even though senior citizen restaurant-goers aren’t too happy about this, eatery owners are convinced that paperless menus are the future. Of course, while anybody who says they would really prefer the old-fashioned way will still receive a “hard” menu, this trend will help keep costs down and add flexibility to menu planning. Any restaurants that already had easy take-out ordering and outside tables fared well, so expect any who did not, to be planning their longer-term futures with those features, too.
Lastly, a trend that became obvious very early into the crisis is e-commerce. Many brick-and-mortar businesses realized that if they didn’t have much of an online presence, they were going to be in trouble. So, expect almost all businesses to not only have a website and social media pages (which of course they should have had all along and yet, surprisingly, many didn’t), but to also have these vehicles available for product and service purchases, as well. Just overall better communication and interaction from and with business-to-customer and to potential-customer is going to be essential because if you’re not doing it, you can bet your competition is.
The bottom line
So, while we’re all busy getting vaccinated and hoping for a complete return to normal later this year and into 2022, the business community is preparing, focusing, and acting on these lasting trends that have emerged from the pandemic: an expanded definition of disaster preparedness, virtual working, a higher emphasis on employee health, and e-commerce in its many forms. Stay safe and have a happy new normal!
Mike Switzer hosts the “South Carolina Business Review” on SC Public Radio and is president and CEO of Voterheads.com, a local government monitoring service.