We are starting to hear talk from the White House and elsewhere about cautiously reopening the economy. In these conversations you are hearing the idea that we will return to normalcy.
However, some experts believe that the COVID-19 global pandemic will cause permanent changes in our lives, our psyches, and in the normal way that business is conducted in America and around the world. Will we ever go back to the way we were before the virus struck?
There are obvious changes, like companies having purchased the equipment that allows their staff to work from home. Many businesses large and small are overcoming their reluctance to allow their staff to work, at least part of the time, without having to make the commute into the office.
This could have a ripple effect in other areas. If staff can work from anywhere, companies might consider downsizing their offices, and instead provide desks that anyone who comes into work can plug into. Employees who escape brutal commutes might be more productive while enjoying more flexible hours. On the downside, commercial real estate owners would suffer lost rental income, and demand for commercial space would decline.
The importance of sick leave and health insurance (or greater access to effective healthcare) is something people who survived the coronavirus are not likely to forget. There could be a move to more universal healthcare, which would impact middlemen like pharmacies and insurers.
People who are suddenly forced to work from homes that have young children (who are, of course, no longer trekking off to school) are beginning to realize the extraordinary value of our schoolteachers and caregivers. Even so, those same full-time workers may be forming new bonds with children that they formerly saw only in the morning and in the evening before bedtime.
Will education ever get back to the “normal” that we knew a few months ago? K-12 schools are discovering that kids can be educated remotely. Colleges are discovering the same lessons as corporations: that sitting in a lecture hall is not necessary when the same lesson can be delivered online. How long before the absolute best and most charismatic professors in every field, wherever they happen to be, will record their best lectures, accelerating the trend toward online learning without leaving auditory learners behind?
Another obvious change: people have become more comfortable using Zoom and Google Hangout for remote meetings. When we’re once again free to move outside our homes, will people be as motivated to get on a plane to make sales calls, visit headquarters or otherwise physically travel to remote locations when they can save time and money by hopping on a teleconference? Companies might set new policies banningnon-essential travel, and the post-COVID definition might be strict.
The result? Potential savings of time and money for companies, declining revenues for airlines, rental car companies and hotels, and fewer opportunities to catch disease in crowded airports and even more crowded airplanes.
With the malls closed, people have moved en masse to online shopping. Will they go back to patronizing stores that they have to drive to, or avoid the frustrating search for parking? Instead of going to a restaurant, will they be more likely to opt for takeout and eat in the comfort of their homes? Online grocery shopping has become more popular during the lockdown; will the trend become a part of our lives going forward?
A catastrophe on the scale of the COVID-19 pandemic can also change the psyche in interesting ways. Think of people who survived the Great Depression and the rationing during World War II. The most telling residue of those times is people living frugally for the rest of their days, right through a long period of abundance. At the very least, people will have an enhanced appreciation of things we once took for granted, like being able to move around freely without gloves and a mask, and knowing that toilet paper will be on the grocery store shelves when we need it.
Meanwhile, millions of people thought putting money away for a rainy day was just a cute saying. Now, through hard experience, they realize now how important it is to have cash on hand for emergencies.
Finally, tragically, friends, neighbors, relatives and loved ones are leaving our midst as the virus ravages their bodies. This must be something like what people in previous generations felt like during wars, except that the human cost of this pandemic is likely to be greater than any war that America has ever experienced. As we mourn, we also may feel a renewed gratitude for our own lives and the people we love—and be less likely to take our (and their) unique, precious mortal existence for granted in the future.
Everywhere, we see people stepping up with courage and responsibility, vowing to take the fight to the virus until it is exterminated, and we are determined not to surrender our lives or the lives of our loved ones. People are finding new ways to connect and support each other in adversity. Hopefully, we will come out of this with a new sense of community, all of us fellow survivors of the pandemic, and we may find new energy toward making our corner of the world more fun, interesting and engaging.
How are you changing? Will you ever feel comfortable again in a crowded bar scene or sitting elbow to elbow with strangers at a sporting event? Will you be more likely to stock up on supplies in case there is a new unexpected shortage just around the corner? Are you more frugal now than you were a couple of months ago? The virus is not over, but the changes it has wrought have just begun.
This article was written by an independent writer for Brewster Financial Planning LLC and is not intended as individualized legal or investment advice