As many of us sit at home and deal with the global pandemic, complying with physical distancing, we are learning some new realities.
We now realize all the little things we’ve taken for granted like sending the kids to school, eating in restaurants, getting together with friends, watching and playing sports, freedom of travel and visiting elderly family members. Just prior to COVID-19, with the exception of our traditional energy sector, the Canadian economy was strong.
Unemployment in most sectors was very low. It wasn’t long ago that many Canadians were inconvenienced by gridlocked traffic and fearing supply chain disruption because climate activists were protesting in the streets and blockading the rail lines. It’s amazing how quickly everything has shifted and the perspective hindsight can bring.
As I think about the future, here are some thoughts as to what a post-pandemic world might look like.
Health care workers are the new heroes
Health care workers, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, paramedics are our new heroes, putting their own lives at risk for all of us. Our new celebrities are our leaders of health authorities like Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer; Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for B.C. and the provincial health officers across the country. I hope there will be new, long-lasting respect for these folks and others like pharmacists and home care aides, as well as frontline service workers like cleaners, janitors, grocery store clerks, food supply providers, truck and delivery drivers.
Digitization of everything
Restaurants and small business owners have heard for ages the importance of an online presence. Those who had resisted going digital are now suffering. With schools closed, school districts are strategizing e-learning opportunities, while virtual trade shows and events replace in-person ones.
Work from home
Companies like mine have allowed work from home for numerous years but many companies, even those in technology, had rules against remote work, citing distrust of staff or the fear of reduced productivity. In a few short weeks, companies have suddenly shifted hundreds or thousands of people to remote work, somehow finding ways to stay connected, productive and collaborative. I predict many will maintain some level of remote work allowances after the pandemic .
Acceleration of AI and robotics
Robots don’t get sick, tired or sleepy. Will COVID-19 be the push manufacturers, the service sector and other businesses to accelerate adoption of artificial intelligence and robotics? History has shown that automation tends to occur in bursts, often in times of recession and economic downturn.
Universal basic income
For even many die-hard libertarians, the supports being offered by the various levels of government to individuals and businesses during current crisis seem mandatory to avoid economic freefall. The big question is, how long will it all go on and how much does government have to offer up to facilitate economic recovery?
Retrenching of manufacturing and supply chain
Nobody could have imagined that globalism and our dependence on other countries for our manufacturing would suddenly come back to bite us and bite us hard. Certainly, with Trump in power, the move towards shifting manufacturing from China back to the U.S. is already underway. Will Canada and the rest of the world follow suit?
Accelerated decline of cash
Just weeks ago we saw the Bank of Canada urge retailers not to stop accepting cash during the COVID-19 pandemic as there are still many people, including the most vulnerable in our society such as the unbanked or elderly, that use cash as their primary method of payment. For everyone else though, the lack of in-person transactions taking place during these months ahead will surely speed up the move towards a cash-light society.
Many people across the country have called 811 in the last month as an initial assessment towards determining whether they are a candidate for COVID-19 testing. I expect to see an expansion of telehealth services, both in type and number, as more virtual clinics get up and running and increasing numbers of doctors gain authorization to bill for telemedical consultations.
Change in personal daily behaviour
I’m a long time self-professed germophobe, carrying hand sanitizer around for years, opening doors with paper towels and pushing elevator buttons with my keys. With health professionals promoting the importance of hand-washing and no hand-shaking, folks like me welcome not only these changes in personal behaviour but also greater integration of technology like automated doors, motion sensor faucets, voice-command or motion sensor buttons.
Decimation of certain industries
I suspect for some time there will be a surge of staycations that will affect tourism around the world. Will virtual tours of world museums, cultural sites and other tourist attractions be the wave of the future? What about the restaurant industry? Even with support from government, many restaurants, food court kiosks and cafés will likely not reopen.
Recognition of importance of industry associations and advocacy groups
If you’re not a member of your local chamber of commerce, board of trade, Canadian Federation of Independent Business or industry association, the membership dues are well worth it. For many businesses, the advocacy, mutual support and expert advice these associations provide can be a lifeline.
Re-emergence of job security
Post pandemic, will the generation coming out of school now and the innovative young start-ups we’ve grown accustomed to seek out so-called “secure” jobs rather than letting their entrepreneurial spirit flourish? Will the new generation re-prioritize job security over purpose?
B.C. is a province of entrepreneurs and small business (98% of all businesses). We pride ourselves on innovation and resiliency. Well, this global pandemic is a true lesson in resiliency if there ever was one. We know we are months, maybe years, out from anything resembling our pre-pandemic economic reality. My hope is that business owners and entrepreneurs can weather this storm, shift where they need to and look deep to see what opportunities are at the other end of this crisis.
Cybele Negris is CEO of Webnames.ca Inc.