Will there be a normal to go back to after COVID-19?

The COVID-19 Aftermath

Until November last year, not one of us would have expected life to take such a dramatic turn in as short as 4-5 months. Yet here we are – confined to our homes for over a month now. Suddenly social distancing has become a buzzword, washing hands has got an all-new meaning and some of those surreal scenes from apocalypse movies are playing out in front of our eyes. While there are a bunch of us who have lived through wars, natural disasters, and economic shutdowns before, a massive scale pandemic that has brought the entire world to a standstill is a first for most of us. Pretty much why we do not have a readily available guide to get through these tough times.

Somewhere deep within, we all know that this is going to be a time of major transformations. Life as it was before COVID-19 may never be reinstated. What once was might become irrelevant while new ways of life and doing business crop up.

While we might trudge through these uncertain times for a while, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Melinda Gates in one of her interviews with Business Insider shows immense optimism in research and science and believes that if a vaccine for Ebola can be developed, so can one for COVID-19. While this happens, which can potentially take up to 18 months, we need to give our healthcare systems the breathing space to keep the pandemic in control and save lives. And social distancing is our primary and most effective solution in hand. Until the vaccine reaches us, we, as a global community, will script our new normal. A normal which either has no COVID-19 or has the disease in control.

Covid 19 infographic

(Infographic source: Informationisbeautiful.net)

Naturally, there is a lot of speculation around what this new normal is going to be like. While a new-world order is in the distant future and we can’t yet completely say how it would look, we are in the phase of creating it right now. Every action and change is contributing to what could be a new way of life for humankind. And if you have been following the trends and patterns that are emerging, there are some things that very evidently fall into one of the three categories: things that will change, might change and must be considered for change in the post-COVID times.

Things that WILL change.

The Coronavirus is causing disruptions in the economy, businesses and our personal lives. It has become a catalyst for some major shifts in the business, and our personal worlds, most of which are doors opening to something better and improved than before.

  • Artificial Intelligence has proven its worth.

There is no putting this genie back in its bottle. From enabling frontline workers to monitor patients, robots to reduce human contact, to drone-based transportation and telehealth, digital has emerged a trustworthy ally in this time of crisis. AI and big data have clearly demonstrated their worth. This means digital transformation will be at the forefront in post-COVID times, in a more powerful way than before. Robots, machine learning, drones, automation, and advanced data analytics will be at the core of new business models that will emerge in the near future.

  • ‘Work from Home’ may not be a choice but a mandate from now on.

Even industries that once believed that work from home wasn’t an option for its employees were forced to give it a go, with social distancing being our most effective weapon against coronavirus. And the result? Many of them are seeing immense benefits from this work model. Savings on real estate, transport, and other costs, more productive time with fewer hours spent traveling being some among those. No doubt, there are teething issues as there would be to any new model of working. But this is the time to understand, build and formalize this new working style for your organization.

  • Technology just secured a permanent seat in our personal lives.

To say that technology has been a big saviour during these days of self-isolation would be an understatement. Technology has made food & grocery delivery at the doorstep possible. Paying bills has become super convenient. And we now have the choice to catch up on shows and movies from the comfort of our couches. In fact, virtual classrooms are ensuring continuity of education for children cooped up at homes. In a lot of ways and more, it is technology that has actually made social distancing workable, giving us the ability to continue working, learning and being entertained even from the confines of our homes.

  • Cybersecurity will become a hot topic.

With the growing dependency on technology and the internet combined with the plausibility of real-time monitoring of citizens by governments to keep COVID-19 in check, cybersecurity will emerge as an important point of discussion. While privacy may be foregone in this critical time, eventually regulations to safeguard privacy and build cybersecurity will have to be discussed and brought into action.

Things that MIGHT change.

Our lifestyle during this world-wide lockdown may inspire permanent behavioral changes that can impact the economy and businesses alike.

  • A lifestyle sustained by essentials.

There is a high likelihood of people shifting to a lifestyle based on necessities over luxuries at least for some time. This could be because of the huge hit that the economy has taken, negatively impacting people’s purchasing power. And an expected dry spell of unemployment that lies ahead of us. Or, because the coronavirus pandemic is also expected to raise the consciousness of individuals towards a simpler lifestyle, to an extent that luxuries or extravagance could be frowned upon.

  •  Surveillance might take on a new face.

After 9/11, security screenings became tighter at airports and other public places. On the same lines, COVID-19 may prompt the setup of temperature scanners at airports, malls, movie halls, restaurants, etc. A health passport could also come into play as predicted by a few experts which would not only track your health but may also have a history of your movement through any hotbeds of diseases.

  • Entertainment will see a possible shift.

Virtual will possibly become the next big thing. People may opt to tour the Eiffel tower virtually or have a Virtual Reality experience of a zoo. Homes will become the entertainment centers with the new-age online entertainment and old-school offline interactions gaining momentum. Restaurants, movie halls, and other events may rejig to either accommodate social distancing at venues or move things to online portals as much as possible.

And things that MUST BE CONSIDERED for change.

Not everything must go back to as it was before. The pandemic has brought with it important lessons that we must not ignore. These lessons should pave the way for changes and enhancements that we embrace whole-heartedly.

  • Purpose-driven organizations can thrive.

The crisis has had people grappling for a sense of purpose for themselves and everything that they interact with. This means a brand that is driven by a strong sense of purpose might enjoy higher preference among job aspirants and consumers alike. And interestingly, the way a lot of brands have responded to the crisis and people’s reactions to their responses unravel a big truth: people can see when brands are faking it. Trust, authenticity, and purpose will potentially come up as keywords in boardroom meetings and marketing team meets.

  • Labour market regulations to extend support to gig workers.

With the gig economy having been on the rise before the public health emergency, a lot of people will find themselves out of jobs with little to no security. The downside of gig working is the lack of employment benefits that come with permanent employment. And this includes insurance coverage, sick leaves, and even a monthly pay check that you can look forward to. The current crisis can trigger a change in terms of better protection and provisions for gig workers and contract employees in many countries.

  • Preparation for the next pandemic.

It could be a second wave of COVID-19 or a new pandemic, we are susceptible to diseases now more than ever before. And in the last decade, from Ebola to Nipah and more, we have seen diseases with the potential to spread uncontrollably mushroom in many parts of the world. None brought with it the storm of uncertainty and loss of control that Coronavirus did but this is a big eye-opener. This means that in the years to come, we need to be prepared. Investments in science and research, and vaccine development should find a more central seat in national and international conversations.

Histry of viruses

(infographic source: Visual capitalist)

Conclusion…

A pandemic of this scale is not something that any of us have faced before. On one side, there is a deep uncertainty and fear that we are dealing with and on the other, we are trying to make sense of this new way of life. Working from home, home-schooling children and managing household chores for days at the end is new. Spending time with family, connecting with friends virtually and only shopping for the necessities are new too. While this transition may not be as smooth and easy as we want it to be, we are all in this together. Time and again, humankind has demonstrated great resilience in building back the society ground up. As a global community, we will do the same this time around too, fully embracing the rise of a new and healthier normal.

By Anita Raj

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