The world will emerge changed from the COVID-19 pandemic. The closure of transport, business and schools has forced the world into a sharp learning curve in using new technologies and ways of living and working. These are some permanent shifts we’re likely to see:
1. A continued rise in remote working (and learning)
The pandemic has forced many reluctant organisations to finally permit remote working. Most of these will discover that it can work – and even improves productivity – for many employees. Not to mention the saving on the bottom line from reduced office rent. For workers themselves, it’s a split picture. Some discover that they thrive being able to work independently, without wasting time on a commute. Others will struggle with the lack of colleague socialisation and the more regulated routines of office-based work.
2. A permanent downturn in commercial leasing
Many retailers that were struggling and have now “Temporarily Closed” will not reopen. This, combined, with organisations choosing to allow continued remote working and renting less office space, will be a huge hit to commercial leasing. Something else will need to be done with all the CBD space that remains vacant. Some of it may get converted into residential accommodation, breathing life into business districts that are otherwise dead on weekends/after hours. Alternatively, smaller companies may move from the fringes of cities into (now cheaper) central CBD locations.
3. A new protocol for flying
Once available, vaccination certificates for COVID-19 and future infectious diseases may become a requirement for air travel. In the same way that pet owners in the UK have to get a recent vaccination certificate to take a pet to France and back, people will need visit their GP in the weeks before a flight and obtain the necessary documentation to be permitted to board. Similarly, the cruise ship industry will be permanently changed, with prospective passengers far more concerned about health and sanitation. Large ships may become a relic of the past, with people choosing smaller vessels, if they choose to cruise at all.
4. A decline in business travel
Business travel will see a huge decline post the coronavirus pandemic: it will never return to “normal”. The cost in money and time, not to mention elevated risk, is no longer justifiable, particularly as people are becoming accustomed to video conferencing. Many formerly physical meetings will move permanently online – this also includes some seminars and expos which will stay virtual. The MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions) industry, is already one of the hardest hit and may be one of the most permanently affected in the years to come.
5. A change in coffee and food consumption
With cafés forced to close in some countries, there has been a subsequent surge in people buying coffee machines. Some of them, realising the savings from home-made drinks compared to a daily or twice-daily flat white from their local café, may continue the habit. Others, particularly those continuing to work from home, won’t be returning to regular CBD caffeine haunts – home neighbourhood outlets may benefit as a result. The same may apply to food, as people are forced to make more home-cooked food and realise the savings.
6. A heightened focus on frugality
While there’s likely to be a temporary shopping surge and celebratory splash-of-cash immediately after the shutdowns end, the financial pain of the pandemic will have lasting effects. Many people will still be struggling financially when it ends, with not all business and jobs surviving. KPMG has identified a permanent shift in consumerism, with the current experience changing how people think about money and material goods, and how people live and shop. They anticipate a focus on health, wellbeing, home environment and family time, with consumers prioritising price and sustainability.
7. A shift in global relations
As countries fling accusations at one another over the cause and true statistics of the coronavirus, when the final picture is eventually clear it will permanently change global perspectives and perceptions. Some experts are predicting a shift in power and influence from West to East, given the better responses in countries such as South Korea and Singapore, and a move away from US-centric globalisation to a more China-centric globalisation as America’s brand is tarnished by its slow and haphazard response. But much will depend on the actual extent of the pandemic in mainland China, if and when the WHO is able to obtain accurate and reliable figures.
We can all expect a brief, intense celebration when the shutters come up again. But the lasting impacts are issues that everyone will have to cope with.