COVID-19: When Things Get Back to Normal, They Won't Be

Fri, Aug 7, 2020

Read in 4 minutes

COVID-19. New cases. School closures. Deaths. Shortage of test kits. Cancellations. When we get through this, how will everything look? Completely different, to be sure.

COVID-19: When Things Get Back to Normal, They Won't Be

Frightening and crazy times.

However: inside the news, there’s a sense that with luck, the right guidance, and societal attention, today’s very real concerns will begin to diminish in the not-too-distant future.

Indeed, this too shall pass. In time, the many measures of infection will begin to level off, perhaps decline. The level of community anxiety will diminish. Schools and theaters and sporting events will begin, cautiously, to re-open. Friends will once again exchange hugs instead of awkward waves from five feet away.

And many will breathe a sigh of relief, as things get back to normal.

Except they never will.

It’s more a guess than a hypothesis at this point, but COVID-19 might just usher in a new “new normal.”

It may be a Grovesian inflection point, a Chambersesque market transition. In years to come, we may mark our calendars from Q1 2020, because that’s when the rules changed.

How? We truly won’t know for years.

But in our small world of technology, commerce, and voice assistance, I think there might be three places in which COVID-19 will leave lasting scars.

1

The use of remote, tech-based connection—whether for business, education, or shopping—will take another lasting leap ahead. Remember the 2007-2008 recession? In corporate halls, it brought with it a big decrease in corporate travel and meeting budgets and a big increase in the use of the then-new voice-video web conferencing tools. (Even, one year, as a replacement for the big Vegas-based blow-out corporate sales meeting).

As revenues and margins returned, so did the Vegas sales mega-meetings. But multi-modal web conferencing became a firm fact of corporate life.

COVID-19 is right now again accelerating the adoption and use of remote, tech-based connection. And not only for conferences and corporate gatherings. It’s how students enrolled in traditional and prestigious research universities are taking classes. It’s how patients are now connecting with physicians without risking contact—on either side.

And it’s how shoppers—unwilling to wait in long lines, nor touch grimy carts or fingerprinted shelves—will increasingly make their purchases. Especially with those grocers and mass merchandisers (Amazon, Walmart, Target, and Kroger, to name a few in the US) who offer the convenience of online purchasing and at-curbside or to-home delivery.

Yes, when restrictions are lifted and budgets restored, some will go back to face-to-face behaviors. But many will find that remote connection—remote meetings, remote learning, and most of all, remote shopping—is better, cheaper, time-smarter, and just plain more effective.

And they won’t go back.

2

There will be an increased search for trustworthy safe harbors throughout our life. In places we go, in people we see, in retailers we shop, in brands we buy. COVID-19 is exploding previous levels of societal trust.

Suspicion and fear now reign. Yikes. Anyone could be a carrier. Children can be infectious and not show signs. A ticket to a football match could be a one-way ticket to the hospital. That airplane tray table? It’s a plastic petri dish. And, my friends, don’t forget—there’s no vaccine.

The search for safe harbors won’t be limited to issues of health.

On all kinds of issues, if you don’t know, you won’t go. Or buy. Or use. Or try.

Which may have an impact on brands. And the importance of brand and technology trust.

3

Trust in institutions (and in credentialed, veteran experts) will be revived to a meaningful degree. If it was the experts of Wall Street that got us into the mess of 2007-2008, it will be the experts of global health systems that get us out of the mess of COVID-19 in 2020.

At a time of a pandemic, are we safer as a society listening to a Dr. Anthony Fauci of the US National Institute of Health, or a late-night cable news pundit?

At a time of a pandemic, are we safer referring to narratives formed by data, or data points selected by narratives?

These are memorable times. Times that create a new normal.