Okay, so let’s assume you’re getting through the virus crisis with your job intact as opposed to the alternative. What will the “new normal” look like? Today is all about random speculation with a heaping helping of experience thrown in for good measure. The honest answer is I don’t know, but what’s the fun of that?
What Assumptions Can We Make?
While I might be wildly optimistic, I’d like to assume that a hard push for “business as usual” won’t come until one or more of the following happen:
- The number of new cases and deaths starts trending downward nationwide (in the case of U.S. businesses) and worldwide (in the case of organizations that need to work internationally.
- A suitable treatment or treatments has been found to enable doctors to care for patients’ symptoms until they’re well enough to return to normal life.
- A suitable vaccine is developed to provide the majority of humanity with immunity to the coronavirus.
The first two are more likely; the last one might take a year or two, from what I’ve been reading.
Expect More Working from Home
It might take months or years for the business-as-usual culture to reassert itself, if it ever does. In the meantime, company leaders will be reviewing lessons learned from what’s been happening now and determining what work can and must be handled remotely. Odds are, a lot more of it will be treated as such (sorry, extroverts!).
This isn’t because managers don’t want to see your smiling face or because they really miss status meetings (though some might). The reality, though, is that they can’t afford the loss of time, money, and efficiency that comes from transitioning between in-the-office and out-of-the-office work. Office space might become a glut on the market.
Business Travel will Remain Rare for a While
Right now air travel is at a level not seen since the 1950s…which is to say the market has contracted considerably. Managers might conclude that travel is an unnecessary expenditure and health risk. Conventions, too, could take longer to recover because, like airports, they involve bringing together hundreds or thousands of people from across the country or around the world.
Health Screenings Will Become More Common
This might create civil liberties issues on the one hand; on the other, some individuals who have not contracted the coronavirus up to now might insist that their coworkers be screened before they return to a shared workplace. There has been talk about health tracking apps so the government would know whether and when you’ve been in contact with anyone who’s been sick with the virus. I’m not saying I’m thrilled with this idea (I’m not). However, if treatments or a vaccine are not in place, we can look forward to more months of the status quo. Suffice to say, the current laws on the books regarding medical records and privacy might end up facing a contentious revision as well.
Even if Government is Slow to Respond, Private Industry Won’t Be
I spent my Saturday afternoon and evening watching one of my guilty pleasures: Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri (don’t judge–we all have our thing 😉 ). What was interesting was watching the restaurant chain commercials, most or all of which were touting their touch-free or carry-out services. I do wonder how long table service at restaurants will take to recover/return as well, but that’s another topic.
Businesses want to survive and unlike governments lack the power to print money. As a result, they’re likely to take steps to reassure customers that their products, personnel, or place(s) of business are safe for their customers. There are security booths at every major theme park in Orlando. Is it unreasonable to guess that they might be taking temperatures when they reopen?
Unions Might Start Growing in Size/Influence Again
People in what are considered “essential” jobs might feel the urge to unionize to protect themselves from unreasonable demands. Mind you, that will require some philosophical shifts on the part of both parties, as folks doing “side hustles” like Uber might need to think of themselves more as a community and unions will have to accept members who are not part of large organizations.
The Future Will Be Different
I’ve suggested more than once on this blog that technical writers read science fiction, not just as a way to approach their work but life in general. SF doesn’t just speculate about what technologies will do, but how they will affect society and individual behavior. It’s worth taking some time to read SF, if only to get yourself comfortable with the idea that the future will be different, and humanity will have to change to accommodate those changes.